On 31 July the opening ceremony of the 10th CofA summer camp took place at the Volta Hall, University of Ghana.
Forty excited girls from bacic schools in Berekuso and Pokuase spent two weeks taking part in the activities, learning and experiencing life at a university campus. Our video shares som of their impressions. You can read the full story here.
Somewhat nervous, but keen to start the 2017 CofA summer camp, the girls arrive at the Volta Hall.more
CofA turned 10 in 2016 and this year's Summer Camp saw the largest number of girls taking part since our first in 2006.
On 25 July, 61 girls from Berekuso, Ayim (Eastern Rural) and Pokuase (Rural Accra) arrived at the University of Ghana’s Volta Hall, looking forward to two weeks of learning, creative and sporting activities, as well as getting hands-on computer experience. The cohort included 21 returning CofA girls, already in Junior and Senior High School.
It all began when three professional women saw the need to do address the apparent failure of many girls in rural primary schools to pass the entrance exam to secondary education. Professor Nana Apt, Afua Eyeson, a legal practitioner, and Helen Bedwei, a business women, got together to do something about this. They became the Founding Mothers of ‘College for Ama’ (CofA).
The first training camp took place at Ashesi University College, where professor Apt was the Dean of Academic Studies. The Summer Camps combined learning and social activities. Many of the girls had never been in the country’s’ capital, Accra. But they soon felt at home, as can be seen at the picture left, where they spotted the UN’s former Secretary general, Kofi Annan, while visiting the Nkrumah Memorial and asked him to appear in their ‘group selfie’.
Staying healthy has been part of the programme from the beginning. In 2010, nurse Emilia invited the girls to take part in a physical exercise on abstinence – Watch Out for the Crocs – to demonstrate how hard it is to avoid the dangers (pictured right).
CofA regularly invites successful Ghanaian women as role models. For example in 2010, Gladys Commey, founder of Pure Nature, an organic soap manufacturer, showed the girls around her factory and told them that without a good education, she would never have been able to achieve this. Each CofA girls was invited to join her company as an intern upon finishing school!
A taste of Ghana
Volunteers are the backbone of CofA’s annual Summer Camps. From teachers to university graduates, we have been blessed by many supporters who have become our friends and ambassadors. In 2012, Kasey Furry and Mabel Wong joined us from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada.
For both students, this was their first visit to an African country. Kasey noticed the huge number of NGOs that operate in Ghana and was glad to be part of a movement to see the country make progress, while Mabel thought that Accra was not that different from Canada, perhaps with the exception of chickens and goats roaming the streets freely!
Another volunteer is Daniel Amponsah, who has been working with CofA since 2014 as a Math and Science teacher. He has since joined the CofA Board in the hope that other Ghanaians will see and share in the CofA vision. (See ‘Speaking Their Language’.)
In 2011 we saw the first CofA girl entering Senior High School. Gifty was typical of many girls attending rural schools. She was one of six children from a family where the father completed primary education, while her mother has no formal education. Finances are always stretched and Gifty had problems with Maths and also lacked confidence. With the help of CofA teachers, she passed her entrance exam and completed her first year successfully in 2012.
Another former CofA girl, Lydia (pictured here) entered tertiary education earlier this year when she was accepted at the Nursing and Midwifery Training College in Kwahu-Atibie.
“When I came home after the camp, I was so happy. Everybody could see the change in me.” This was Ayokor’s comment following the 2016 Summer Camp. “The summer camp is such a beautiful thing. The teachers really teach and when afterwards they go over what has been taught again to ensure that we understand. I loved that. The food they gave us was so good.”
This was Doreen’s first Summer Camp: “My first summer camp was great! I was taught why it was important that we abstain from sex. We were taught subjects like Mathematics, Creative Arts and English language. We were taught the importance of respecting the elderly especially our mothers.”
Another first-timer was Felicia, who was particularly impressed by learning about Information Technology and Creative Arts. She added: “COFA is ten years old! Wow! I pray for COFA girls during this anniversary that God protects them.”
Augustina from Pokuase added: “The training was different from the way my normal school teaches. COFA’s training built my confidence and now I can boldly answer questions in class. I told a lot of my friends about COFA and they are now learning hard so that they join the camp next year. I enjoyed how the teachers interacted with us. It was a lot of fun. The teachers gave me an idea of what I want to be in future.
“Last but not the least the Accra tour was very exciting!! As COFA celebrates its tenth anniversary, I pray that CofA continues to help rural girls achieve better education and break out of the cycle of poverty.”
Many of the girls had never had a chance to actually touch a computer – it is really the only way to learn!
CofA offers a way out of this poverty trap. We challenge girls to see that they have a purpose in life and that through education they too can play an active role in modern Ghanaian society. How do we do this?
CofA helps young girls realise their potential. During the summer holidays we take school girls aged between 12–19 years out of their villages to spend three weeks at a university campus in Accra where they interact with their mentors (female university students), teachers and other role models. During this period the girls are exposed to life outside their communities and see other girls and women in roles other than the ones they have experienced at home. We open their minds through self-esteem programmes, mentoring, counselling and cultivating better study habits.
Where can we make a real impact?
With the help of the Girl Child Units of the Regional Ghana Education Service and the District Assemblies, we identify the most disadvantaged areas where the CofA programme can make a real impact. We talk to the teachers to identify girls that have the potential, but lack the opportunities to complete high school education successfully.
Parents' involvementThen we talk with the parents about the CofA training camp and seek their permission for their daughters to take part in the programme. This often means that the girls will not be able to help their families over the summer holidays, which means an economic loss. However, at the end of the parents meeting they will see the long-term benefits of an education and so far no one has refused for their daughters to take part.
Next, we recruit female professionals and university students to volunteer at the camp. Their knowledge and experience provides a useful role model for the girls.
During their stay at the camp the girls receive extra tuition in Math, English and life skills in preparation for their junior high school entrance exam or senior high school final exams.
Ideally, girls that are three years away from these exams are recruited to the camp. When they return to their communities, CofA then monitors their progress and offers additional tuition through paid teachers at their own schools. During the period before they take their junior high school entrance exam, the girls are invited back to camp so we can help them with their final exam preparation.
Our work began in the summer of 2006. Since then it has touched the lives of many girls in rural Ghana in three regions: Greater Accra, Central and Western.
We have raised the consciousness of the girls who have attended our training. We challenge them to see themselves in settings other than their own.
They arrive at the training camp timid, and lacking confidence but leave with hope, a can-do spirit and attention from skilled teachers. The real impact of our programme is becoming evident as we see CofA girls from entering senior high schools.
2012 saw the first cohort of CofA girls completing their first year senior high school.
Gifty was one of the CofA 2008 girls, who has now completed her first year at Takoradi Senior High School where she came fifth in English, 11th in Computer Science and 7th in Physical Education. Her grades were above average and she passed all her core classes.
Gifty’s story is typical for many girls from rural Ghana: one of six children - two boys and three girls – ranging in age between 6 and 22 years, in a household where mother is a farmer and father is a driver. Also typical is that Gifty’s father completed Junior Secondary School, while her mother has no formal education. With all children in formal education, finances are stretched and they may not always be able to pay school fees on time. When this happens, Gifty – like many other students – is sent home the family can pay the school fee.
Before joining CofA, Gifty had difficulties with her Maths and lacked self-confidence. In her own words: “CofA taught me to be proud of myself and not be intimidated by maths.” After some help from the CofA Maths teacher, she found that this wasn’t as difficult as had thought. She also lacked self-confidence: “I also was not confident to talk in public; now I can talk in public,” she says. Building confidence is part of the CofA programme and this has also helped Gifty passing her exam and completing her first year at senior high school successfully.