While we usually focus on the people doing positive things here in our city, we have to give some recognition to our local visionaries who are helping others rise in places around the globe.
In the fall of 2010, Williamsville native Chris Toone and several other college students participated in a semester at sea program, traveling to 37 different countries and learning about their cultures. One of those countries was Ghana. Toone had contacted their guide, Fred Benneh, via Facebook and had asked him to show them the real side of Ghana. Benneh took the group of seven students through the back roads of the country for several hours until they reached the rural village of Senase, where they visited schools and met with children. Though they were poor, these children had the opportunity to attend school in a solid building, were full of life, and had the educational resources to pursue a better life.
Then the group traveled on to the neighboring village of Akatim, where Fred brought them to another school, warning them that it would be a very different experience. The building was a shack comprised solely of a roof and the beams supporting it–no walls, no electricity, no real protection from the elements. And what they found within it was even more eye-opening. A group of children with no basic school supplies, no means to rise out of their circumstances, and no hope. The harrowing scene lit a spark in the group of students and a mission was born.
The Senase Project was launched by these students to help give the children of Akatim a brighter future. Their broader objective is to eradicate poverty through community development, with a primary focus on education. They started with a plan to build a school in Akatim and began hosting fundraisers on college campuses and reaching out to government officials in Ghana. They had the guidance of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who had been a mentor in their semester at sea program and helped them to work with the government and legitimize the project.
Now, two years later, what started with seven students has expanded to a legitimate non-profit organization with big plans for the future. In addition to the school in Akatim, which is nearing completion, The Senase Project has planned construction of a medical clinic that will provide basic services to the village of Senase, slated to begin in 2014. While their initial focus was education, they have expanded it to providing the facilities for which there is the greatest need. This clinic will provide supplies and medical services that are currently unavailable to the villagers in this remote location.
On December 27, the members of The Senase Project will travel to Ghana to see the progress that has been made and meet the children whose lives they have impacted. According to Sophie Herrman, Buffalo State College student and Marketing Director for the project, the group will be comprised of an interesting mix of people–some who have traveled the world, others who have never left the U.S. “It was my dream to work on a project like this ever since I was a little kid,” Herrman said. “This will be my first time traveling to Ghana. I don’t know what to expect scenery-wise, but I can’t wait to see the kids for the first time. We talk through letters and they send us pictures with banners they’ve made saying ‘Thank You’.”
Before they head overseas, The Senase Project team will be hosting a fundraiser on Friday, December 21 at The Vault (702 Main Street). The event will feature several local bands and DJs, $2 beers and visual installations by local artist Louis DeRosa. Admission will be $5 and all proceeds will go toward finishing construction of the school in Akatim, Ghana. Doors will open at 9:30 p.m. For more information on the event, check out the Facebook page.