Small clubs band together for big results in Ghana villages

A primary school without desks, a secondary school in need of floors and windows, and a health clinic that lacked beds. These are some of the challenges that have faced three villages in eastern Ghana — and that Danish Rotary members have taken on over the last four years.

The Rotarians learned about the communities from Danish artist Hans Kjær, who teaches in the village of Nnudu. They quickly realized they could have a great impact on residents’ daily lives, says Kaj Knudsen, a past president of the Rotary Club of Rudkøbing. “Even a small amount of money can make a huge difference,” he notes.

The Rotary Clubs of Rudkøbing, Sct. Jørgens (Svendborg), Svendborg, and Svendborg Sydfyn pool some of their financial resources in a collaboration called International Activity Group (INTAG). With investments from $5,000 to $9,000, INTAG finances one project each year; it launched its most recent in January.

The first one took place in 2010-11 at the Nnudu primary school, which serves 200 children in grades one through six and needed new classroom furniture. The recent construction of a school on the Danish island of Langeland had left an entire building’s worth of spare school furniture, so, with Kjær as a liaison in Nnudu, Rudkøbing club members and several other groups financed the shipment of a 40-foot container filled with 200 tables, 400 chairs, and educational materials. The Rotary Club of Koforidua-New Juaben, Ghana, helped get the container from the port city of Tema to Nnudu.

The project went so well that the INTAG Rotarians teamed up with Kjær again in late 2011, this time on the renovation of a secondary school serving Nnudu and two nearby villages. Kjær enlisted help from a teacher at the school, Seth Agyarko, to manage the project. Over two weeks, the effort included casting concrete floors and stairs, repairing walls, making doors and windows, and repainting the whole building.

Working with Kjær and Agyarko, village residents participated in every step. “It is a farming community, so money is difficult to come by,” Agyarko says. “The community has embraced the projects. Now people feel proud to say, ‘This is my school’ or ‘This is my community.’ Formerly we hardly did that, because we felt ashamed to show anyone that this is the school I’m attending or teaching in.”

Knudsen concurs: “The genius of the method is that every local link in the chain makes money — the timber merchant, carpenter, blacksmith, bricklayer, and electrician. In that way, they gain ownership, which brings huge responsibility for and pride in the end result.”

Following this model, the group next took on the renovation of a cultural hall and meeting place, furnishing it with tables, chairs, and a computer and setting up Internet access. Last year, they made improvements to a health clinic that serves the three villages, purchasing basic equipment including beds, a refrigerator to store medicine, and supplies such as stethoscopes and thermometers. INTAG funds also went toward health insurance for single mothers. This past January, Kjær traveled to Ghana to purchase computers for the secondary school and to arrange health insurance for more mothers.

To finance these ventures, the Danish clubs hold fundraisers and accept individual donations. A recent event with Danish singer Stig Rossen raised $10,000. All funds go directly to the projects; there are no overhead or administrative costs. Kjær, who travels between Nnudu and Denmark, covers his own expenses.

Knudsen credits Kjær for the partnership’s success: “Every time he has returned from a project in Nnudu, he has brought home a new idea for the next important project.” Last year, the Danish Rotarians honored Kjær, who is not a Rotarian, with Paul Harris Fellow recognition.

Kjær, in turn, says the efforts work “because we start from the bottom, and because we have found a good and intelligent man on the ground, Mr. Seth.”

The INTAG projects have improved the lives of residents in Nnudu and surrounding communities, but the work also has benefited the Danish clubs. “It shows what we, the smaller Rotary clubs in Denmark, are capable of creating when we stand together,” Knudsen says.

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