CofA turned 10 in 2016 and that year's summer camp saw the largest number of girls taking part since our first in 2006.
On 25 July 2016, 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 in 2003 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 then 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.”
Moving forward to 2021, Eunice, another former CofA girl and volunteer, graduated from Ashesi University.
Earlier, Ernestina graduated from the University of Professional Studies in Ghana. Following her year of National Service, she is now employed at the Ministry of Finance.
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?
From its inception, CofA helped young girls realise their potential. During the summer break, girls aged between 12–19 years were invited 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 away from their villages, the girls were exposed to life outside their communities and see other girls and women in roles other than the ones they 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, CofA identified the most disadvantaged areas where the CofA programme can make a real impact. We talked to the teachers to identify girls that have the potential, but lack the opportunities to complete high school education successfully.
Parents' involvementWe then talked 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, female professionals and university students were recruited to volunteer at the camp. Their knowledge and experience provided a useful role model for the girls.
During their stay at the camp the girls received 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 were three years away from these exams were recruited to the camp. When they returned to their communities, CofA then monitored their progress and offers additional tuition through paid teachers at their own schools. During the period before they took their junior high school entrance exam, the girls were invited back to camp so we could help them with their final exam preparation.
In 2019, CfA held its last summer training camp in this format. Since COVID-19, we had to halt our in-person activities. We are using this period to reflect on how best to resume our services to young women and live up to our mission.
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 entering senior high schools.
Clara: a fire fighter in the making.
Now reading Fire and Disaster Management at the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Sunyani, Ghana, Clara Mensah attended CofA’s 2016 summer camp, where “teachers took their time [helping me with] Mathematics, English and other subjects.”
As is common for many CofA girls, Clara lives with her mother – a trader selling children’s clothes – and her six siblings. “Our dad is not taking care of us, and mom is struggling ...”
After completing her university course, Clara hopes to become a fire fighter, “hoping to rescue people who are involved in fire accidents”.
Eunice: Ashesi University graduate
Eunice Opare – one of Ashesi's Class of 2021 student – is presently doing her National Service with the university, following her graduation. Here is Eunice's story:
“With God's help and some destiny helpers I was put on my way to "lessen my yoke."
Growing up, I saw myself doing more to succeed academically although I did not know how it would all end. I just loved the challenge and did my best. Little did I know that God was going to crown my efforts with success eventually.
I got into the CofA program with the help of my then headmistress and a few teachers who believed in me and what I could offer. Joining the CofA program was a truly great experience; I interacted with people from different backgrounds who had different beliefs and thinking patterns. Although I did not embrace the diversity fully then, I must say, all those moments shaped me into who I am today.
I developed new habits which broadened the scope of my understanding and honed my skills for the better. From the classroom experience to all the extra curricular activities, I cannot really pinpoint the exact things that intrigued me but all I know is, it was all good in those moments!
I cannot thank CofA, and all those involved in this great initiative, enough. I know God will reward every donor, teacher and volunteer helping to make these young girls' lives worthy of emulation."
Ernestina: a CofA girl from age 11
Another success story is Ernestina Marfo, graduated from the Univesity of Professional Studies in 2020. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and now works at Ghana's Ministrry of Finance and Economic Planning. From her first CofA summer camp in 2011 and aspired by meeting some of the professors at the University of Ghana's Volta Hall, she decided that she wanted to go to university. She did, succeeded and has a good job and career.
College for Ama (or CofA, as we call it) started in 2006 helping girls to continue their education at secondary level. This was done through its annual summer camps, a mentoring program and financial assistance.
COVID-19 meant that we had to stop our program. CofA is using this pause to reflect on past achievements and ways to improve its program when it can safely relaunch its activities.
Here is what we achieved at our 10th aniversary in 2016.