“Some people don’t think it’s cool to help others; personally I think it’s the coolest thing in the world” - Prince Harry.
Lack of clean water a health hazard that affects school attendance.
Clean water, toilets and good hygiene practices are essential for the survival and development of children. Poor access to clean water and sanitation in Nigeria remains a major contributing factor to high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five. The use of contaminated drinking water and poor sanitary conditions result in increased vulnerability to water-borne diseases, including diarrhea which leads to deaths of more than 70,000 children under five annually.
On February 22, AEP board member Elaine Chagnon made the trip to Akron, Ohio to meet with board members Angela Dimezza and Paul Frank. At dinner on Friday night, lively discussion took place outlining plans to move ahead with the school renovations in the Kafanchan region of Nigeria. They were joined by Paul’s daughter, Rev. Elizabeth Frank and Angela’s husband Peter.
September: What’s Next?
The AEP Board, teachers, students, and families cannot thank you enough for what you have done. It was an amazing thing to see pictures of students at the school and know that this happened because of you. But this is only the beginning. We would like to acquire a new school bus so that families that cannot provide their own transportation can send their children to Graceland International School. In addition, we are working with an architect on the design for the lab and media center building needed to teach older students the required West African curriculum. Please remember to keep our efforts in your giving plans.
AEP President Don Ghostlaw
Why a school in Gusau?
Nigeria...a land of complexity and diversity...is a land divided by politics, social structures, different ethnicities, religions and economics. A relatively young democracy, Nigeria declared its independence from Great Britain in 1960 and has struggled to create a sense of “being Nigerian” ever since. As tribes and religions strive to preserve their own identity, disagreements and sometimes communal violence arise with some regularity. So why a school in a northern city in Zamfara State, a town that was once a leper colony? Gusau’s past may hold a link to her future. Perhaps Gusau can be made whole by education. Gusau is currently under Sharia law, a Muslim code of behavior taught in the the Koran. Sharia law was re-introduced in 1999-2000 as a way to regain stability and an ordered societyin the northern regions. While minorities such as Christians and those who adhere to traditional religions are not subject to Sharia law, the society conducts itself according to the tenants set forth in the Koran. Although Muslims and Christians coexist, the minority must follow the lead of the majority.
Limited educational opportunities
Educational opportunities are limited at best, with a lack of adequate schools for the population. Students wishing to advance past the elementary level must pass an entrance exam to enter middle school and then high school. There are few state high schools and standards are relatively low. Furthermore, many families lack the financial resources to send their children to school. Parents provide uniforms, purchase books and supplies, provide transportation, and pay tuition. More commonly, children who can afford an education go to schools sponsored and run by religious institutions. Many Christian children attend schools on church grounds. Some Muslim children attend madrassas, Islamic schools run by imams. This structure almost ensures that these children are educated separately, with little opportunity to learn each other’s perspectives and cultures. Bishop John Danbinta has lived and worked among his Muslim neighbors with shared understanding and respect for quite some time. He has a first-hand view of how Christian and Muslim children in the Gusau region could benefit from attending school together, and most importantly, how such a learning model could materially contribute to long term communal harmony. That is the vision for Grace International School. We’ve had the opportunity to visit and experience Gusau and meet the people, making this project extraordinarily special. We were able to see our funds in action.
501 (c) 3 Non-Profit Status
The AEP Board is proud to announce that its request for non-profit status has been officially filed. Working with UCONN Law School, AEP President Don Ghostlaw was able to gather the needed information and make the necessary contacts to get the job done. This will open up our ability to network beyond the church community; our goal is to begin working in partnership with schools, community groups and foundation. It is hoped that AEP will have full 501(c)3 status by the time of the February dinner.
This past August, AEP Board members mourned the loss of their friend and financial record keeper Mike Spagnesi to leukemia. Mike will be greatly missed by us all; not a day goes by that he is not thought of with fond memories.
Welcome New AEP Board Members
We are thrilled to welcome Paul Frank and Angela DiMezza to the AEP Board. Paul and Angela are members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio. Both Paul and Angela come to us with great experience – Angela has been to Nigeria, seen the school site and visited with parents and children, and Paul has for many years been deeply involved in international education focused mission work.
St. Paul’s has partnered with us for several years now – they funded Angela’s and Nan Bartlett’s trip to Nigeria in 2011, and contributed substantially to acquire additional land (quadrupling the property available when the school project began), to erect the perimeter wall around Grace International, and to begin construction on the second classroom block. We are thrilled to have the benefit of Angela’s and Paul’s experience and guidance, and the continued support of St. Paul’s!
After several months of meetings and discussions, the group has decided on a mission and name for their newly formed group - Africa Education Partnership. There is much work still to do, as the members need to figure out the best way to proceed in partnership with our new Nigerian partners.
Telephone calls are difficult at best, with the language challenges (accents!) and cost. Email is slow but perhaps the best option to get started.
Work continues on establishing an initial budget for the school construction. As a group, we also need to develop a logo and a presence. Each group member brings energy and a skill-set...now we just need to dive in!
A meeting was held to review the results of the visit; it was agreed to form a group of interested professionals to build Graceland International School. Don Ghostlaw and Peter Dewberry brought the news and photos from the trip to St. Peter's Church, where their support base is located. Several members agreed to form a group and discuss ways to make the school project happen.
In addition, Bob Chagnon, who accompanied the group and researched the logistics for wire-transferring funds safely, was asked to serve in the group. As he was already working with a similar organization providing medical care, he declined but volunteered his wife, Elaine, an educator. She accepted the invitation and joined the group along with Fr. Tom White, Barbara Hoff-Morris, and Amy Crenshaw, all from St. Peter's Church.