Tools For Schools Africa Foundation is a local non-profit that constantly strives to open new horizons for girls in Ghana.
“We’ve got such a network of people in Ghana, that until you go over there and see, you have no idea the support and relationships that we’ve made. It’s amazing,” said Lyn Goertzen, current chair of the Foundation.
Over 40 years, the organization has evolved and now sponsors over 80 girls through junior high, senior high and post-secondary education in the northern Ghanaian region of Damongo.
Girls from all over Ghana have been sponsored to come to Damongo as they strive for higher education. There are few schools past elementary in Ghana, so many of the girls travel far from their homes and families for a chance to better their futures.
Marilyn Pottage, founder of the organization, explains why the Foundation has stayed in a central area.
“I originally had ties to that community, but we have now developed relationships in that region that are beyond value. The advantage of staying in one community is that people know you. We go to the market, and people greet us. They know that we are here for the good of the community.”
Goertzen agrees, saying, “Until you go to Africa, you don’t understand how the country works. You’ve got to go there. It’s so important to be there and be a part of the community. “
The women have worked tirelessly for years to build a rapport and a reputation for excellence. All funds are accounted for as all the money is sent straight to educational facilities, with students sending their sponsors report cards and tuition slips.
Right now, there is a focus on succession planning to guarantee the growth of the Foundation. Some fresh faces have been added to the board, and Goertzen took over the position of chair from Pottage this past year.
In Ghana, a brand new honorarium has been offered to a retired headmistress, Gabriella, who has worked for free since 2004. A humble but still significant amount of $500 U.S. has been set aside annually to assist Gabriella as she continues to watch over the Foundation’s roots in Damongo.
“Realistically, the life in Ghana is much harder than life in Canada is for us. So that’s a change that we have made – the first person to have received an honorarium,” said Pottage.
Goertzen expands on this notion, saying that the project has grown so large that a main focus has become to ensure that the girls will be able to continue what they have started in education. This means volunteers, mentors and fundraising.
“Sometimes I don’t think people really get the amount of hours we put into fundraising. We dedicate a lot of hours as a board just to keep the organization going and to stay accountable,” she says.
“We’re trying to continue to have succession planning, and to keep growing as an organization.”
Tools For Schools Africa Foundation accepts girls into their educational programs based on four criteria. These girls are then sponsored through junior high, high school and post-secondary education. Currently, there are 12 girls in post-secondary institutions – a first for the organization.
The criteria that girls must meet to be eligible for the scholarships are good academics, good moral character, potential leadership skills and having no way to continue education due to lack of financing.
Goertzen recalls the time she first met her sponsored girl, Aloysita. She travelled 120 km to meet Goertzen. Aloysita’s brother travelled 80 km, her younger sister walked over an hour from school and her uncle stayed home from work so that as a family they could express their gratitude and thanks.
“These people really are appreciative of what we do in the community, and I think it speaks to how hands-on we are. We know everyone there, and they know us. We really build relationships with people, and I think that is so important and that’s what sets us apart from organizations,” she says.
As an organization, Tools For Schools is credible, accountable and dedicated, organizers say.
The members work day and night to secure finances for young girls in Ghana to have the opportunity to better their lives through education.
The main form of fundraising is in the form of a Shine! event, which accepts donations of purses, jewellery, belts, scarves and gloves to sell for tuition funds. More information on the Shine! event is featured on the Tools For Schools Africa Foundation web site.
“I think it’s important to say that it’s very reasonable. It’s amazing what you get for the amount of money that you sponsor. I don’t think people realize how manageable it is to sponsor these girls,” says Goertzen, hopeful that the message will continue to reach the community.