As agreed upon with Emmanuel after our weekend tour of Jamestown, we showed up on Wednesday afternoon at the doors of the Jamestown Gbekebii school, ready to meet the kids. Well, at least we thought we were ready. From the moment we stepped inside, we were swarmed by dozens of children and their curious, grabby little hands. It was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.
The school is a project of necessity. From what we gathered, the community of fisherman who live on the Jamestown beach constitutes a nuisance to the government, and little else. There are big development plans for this prime section of capital city real-estate, and none of them include a raggedy collection of shacks. Luckily, it’s not easy to forcibly relocate an established population of thousands, so development has come to a standstill. In the meantime, though, the Ga community here barely exists in an official sense. The children aren’t compelled to go to school — indeed, there’s no sanctioned place for them to go, even if they wanted.
That’s where people like Emmanuel come in. The Jamestown Gbekebii School was established just a couple years ago, and only has students because he walks around the village ceaselessly, imploring parents to send their kids to class. Many could care less about schooling; fishing is the family business and hardly requires an ability to read. But others are convinced. Today, there are around 80 kids learning the basics in this school: one of the most charmingly basic places of education we’ve ever seen.
If our reception was any indication, foreign visitors are a rarity at the school, and cause for wild excitement. At least, it’s likely that most visitors don’t submit themselves so willingly to unlimited amounts of of touching, prodding, experimentation, and investigation. For 30 minutes, I was holding hands with two kids (or even three). I had one hugged around each leg. They were fascinated by my hairy arms, laughed at the bluish veins under my transparent skin, and wanted me to pick them up and flex my biceps (the first time anyone has ever been impressed by that particular show).
Jürgen was undergoing the same ritual with a different dozen kids, but he was extra exciting, thanks to his height and especially his camera. They all wanted portraits, and getting them to wait patiently for a turn was hilarious and impossible. “Who was first?” he tried to ask, and twelve tiny hands instantly shot up.
Once the kids had left, we had a bit of time to chat with Emmanuel, and his 14-year-old assistant, Isaac, who helps teach some classes and has aspirations to be a photographer. Without any governmental assistance, the school can barely cope. He showed us the three classrooms, two of which are desperately in need of a new roof, and described his plan to build a fourth. Attendance is rising, because the community is starting to understand the value of an education as more and more of its kids start to learn.
For reasons that are probably miserly bullshit, Jürgen and I have always been skeptical of charity. But this school is transparently a cause worth supporting, and they’re asking for so little. Actually, they’re not even asking. We had to prod Emmanuel, before he finally admitted that they could use secondhand clothes. And I imagine they could use just about anything else, too. Once we’re home, we’ll be sending Isaac a digital camera that we no longer use.
In all our years of travel, we’ve never petitioned like this before, but we’re sharing a P.O Box below — anything sent here will go directly to Emmanuel and to the school, with nobody in between. If you have clothes or English-language primers, or pencils and pens, or something else you no longer need, and can afford the post to Ghana, I know about 80 kids who would be thrilled.
P.O. Box 238 James Town
Emmanuel’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’d like to contact him about anything — he seems eager to meet people from abroad, and will almost certainly answer. He also does tours around Jamestown, such as the one we experienced during our first week in Accra. You can also check out the school’s Facebook profile.