'Gone to Ghana': Sellwood couple reports on volunteer work
In early February the Woodstock "Better Bones and Balance" class, taught by Lisa Revell at Trinity United Methodist Church, was invited to the Sellwood home of Revell and David Stone – to learn about the couple's volunteer work in the Nabdam District of northern Ghana. Students would be missing eight classes while Revell is in Ghana, and she wanted to satisfy their curiosity about their work there.
For fourteen years, the couple has made that trip almost every year to work with local Ghanaians. The overall goal has been to improve and empower the lives of villagers in northeastern Ghana.
Revell and Stone usually go in January, during the dry season when temperatures are a little "cooler" – usually 95-100 degrees during the day, and in the low 70's at night; the humidity is often under 10%.
When they first traveled to this West African country in 2005, it was at the invitation of a Portland State University Ghanaian professor and friend, Charles Tobiga, who wanted to introduce them to his country.
After six months in a small village where Revell, a retired chiropractor, performed family and maternal health care – and Stone, a retired music teacher, taught English and music – they knew they wanted to contribute long-term in some way. They decided to make nutrition and better health and education their priorities.
This year, they came back to Portland from Ghana on January 22nd, after a month of working on various local village projects.
"Using contributions from friends, family, and neighbors, we spent $516 on repairs made to a well in a village," explained Revell during her PowerPoint presentation. "Contaminated water can cause the spread of typhoid, Hepatitis A, and intestinal worms."
One of their other projects during the most recent trip was helping facilitate the building of a new primary school in the northeastern village of Piitanga. A Linfield College student, Seth Prickett, went on a month-long college-sponsored trip to Ghana in 2004, and became so impressed with the country and its people that he founded a nonprofit organization, Framework International, that helps build elementary schools in isolated Ghanaian areas.
"The school was finished within budget, and on time," reported Revell. "The desks were handmade in a local village, and we have just learned that they were delivered yesterday, February 7th, to the village!" The school, funded by contributions from individuals in Oregon, is one of the larger schools in that area, and is furnished with an indoor toilet and an accessible ramp – a model for other village schools.
In addition to teaching English during their month in the Nabdam District, Stone has set up a scholarship organization that makes it possible for very low income secondary school graduates to attend training colleges for nursing and teaching. This past January, Stone and several Ghanaians spent ten days interviewing candidates.
"We have now helped 60 students get to training colleges. It is about $800 a year for training in nursing and teaching," reported Stone. "This year the money was contributed by about a dozen friends and family, and people who learned about our project.
"It changes lives, because when they finish training college they can help their families – sisters, brothers, cousins, and other family members – with school fees, and better nutrition."
Revell remarked that women who attend primary and secondary school most often put off starting a family until they have graduated. She says the girls and young women are very eager, and dedicated to getting an education.
A former Sellwood neighbor, longtime friend, and retired social worker – Chareundi Van-Si – has accompanied Revell and Stone to Ghana for two years now, and provides help to Stone in building fences to protect village vegetable gardens, and doing whatever other practical things are needed.
Revell's focus in the Nabdam District is to oversee a feeding program in three primary schools in the remote northeastern area. She has recruited a niece, and several other family members and Oregon friends, to travel to Ghana to help with purchase of the food in village markets, and deliver it to village women – who then volunteer to prepare lunches for the children and their families.
To fund this primary school feeding program, Revell comments, "We create a unique and colorful 'Gone to Ghana Calendar' [each year], both to share our experiences in Ghana, and to help raise [in the U.S.] the $4,000 annual cost of the feeding programs." In addition, Ghanaian baskets were available at the presentation for exercise students to purchase if they wished. Those funds also go to the feeding program.
"Lunches for students are provided during the six months of the dry season, when the food stores of subsistence-farm families dwindle, and most people eat only once per day. In this area of depleted soils and unpredictable harvests, adequate nutrition is key to normal growth, brain development, and ability to learn," continued Revell.
Woodstock resident Sandra Shaw, one of the twenty-seven Better Bones and Balance class members who attended that PowerPoint presentation, said afterwards, "The feeding program is similar to one a friend of mine does in India. It gives people hope." And, in addition to providing physical sustenance, hope helps keep people alive.
Revell and Stone's friends Marilyn and Lou Schuster of Salem, OR set up the charitable organization Yakote Women Farmers, 501(c)(3) number 61-1601382, to improve education, food security, and family health in northern Ghana. Revell and Stone are Board members.
To learn more, go online – www.gonetoghana.org
If you are also moved to donate, your gift can be sent to: Yakote Women Farmers, 1110 S.E. Flavel Street, Portland, OR 97202. To use Pay Pal or a credit card, go to: www.yakotewomenfarmers.org