Project GROW delivers for women in Africa

University community funds new opportunities for villages in rural Ghana

A grassroots initiative at UBC's Okanagan campus has funded a delivery this month of goats, donkeys, malaria-prevention mosquito netting and other important items to women in a rural northern Ghana community.

Project GROW -- Ghana Rural Opportunities for Women -- was started four years ago by students and staff at UBC's Okanagan campus, and was inspired by the volunteer work being done in her home region of Ghana by nursing graduate student Vida Yakong, who is currently completing a PhD.

Since late 2007, Cindy Bourne, coordinator of the Academic Resource Centre, and many others have been working with a cooperative group of 120 women from two villages (Nyobok-Nkenzesi) who shaped the project to meet their own community objectives.

Bourne and Jan Gattrell, Learning Services Librarian, are in Ghana now to meet the women participating in Project GROW. They will soon deliver livestock and supplies purchased with almost $15,000 raised over the past year through the sale of holiday greeting cards and donations from people on campus and in the wider community.

The delivery is expected to include five donkeys and carts, 41 goats, and 300 mosquito nets, along with an expanded school lunch program.  The exciting part of this delivery is that Project GROW will be wrapping up its initiative in the first village and will move to a new location to begin the same model all over again.

Women in the new village will be mentored by women from the first phase of the project. The long-term goal is to initiate asset-based community development projects and then to leave the participants with enough resources to continue progressing on their own terms.

Bourne and Gattrell will be in Ghana until June 5. Part of their time will be spent working with the local women on a needs assessment to identify future projects and opportunities for basic education.

"Although their formal education is limited, the women of GROW have skills and knowledge that can lead to a better life. They just lack the resources," says Bourne. "They have identified basic resources that would allow them to develop income-generating activities based on their skills, build economic capacity in the region, and improve the health and educational opportunities for themselves and their families."

Bourne says they will be exploring education possibilities such as adult learning programs. They have taken with them two rugged, low power-consumption laptop computers provided by the international non-profit organization One Laptop Per Child, with a view to establishing a laptop computer and education project in the villages.

"These laptops are very basic technology," says Bourne, "but they provide an introduction to computers for primary schools, and offer access to a wide range of books and learning tools."

Self-determination, local knowledge and abilities, and community goal-setting are the key elements of Project GROW, says Bourne, adding that fundraising from the Okanagan has had a direct and powerful impact on the lives of women and children in the villages since the first delivery in 2008.

The community is invited to follow Bourne and Gattrell via an online blog, which will be updated frequently during their time in Ghana:  http://ubcolearn.blogspot.com/

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