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PASSPORT: I Went To Africa And All I Got Was LOVE

mavis.jpgBY MAVIS LINNEMAN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT I recently traveled to Ghana, West Africa, with a group of 13 students, all members of a St. Louis University-sponsored nonprofit group called Students United for Africa. SUFA has been working with the people of Manyoro village in Ghana for over five years to both restore a decrepit school building and to build a brand-new primary school for the village, which has the highest school enrollment in Ghana’s Upper East region. 1,679 children attend the school, although there are only 18 teachers.

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We flew for 36 hours from St. Louis to get to Accra, Ghana’s capital, and then took a 19-hour bus ride across the entire country to get to Manyoro village. Our goal, of course, was to see the fruits of years of fundraising and correspondence, and to meet all the children we have been helping over the years. As of our visit, the three-room school did not yet have a roof as you can see in the slideshow above, but we brought $5,000 Ghana cedi along with us to cover the costs of that project, as well as three soccer balls for each of the three schools in the village. The children seemed more excited about the soccer balls than the school roof, but who can blame them? Now that the school is being completed, the village elders asked us to help them build a library, a project SUFA is hoping to tackle in the coming year.

As we drove down the bumpy dirt road to Manyoro village, we were astounded when we cameghana.gif upon hundreds of primary-school children lining our path. Most of them donned the state-sponsored, brown school uniforms, but others wore traditional dashikis and other tribal garb. They were dancing and singing and shouting to the beat of the drummers who joined them alongside the road. This was our unexpected welcoming committee. Never before have I experienced such an incredibly generous and hospitable greeting—and this was only the beginning of what would become a daylong celebration of our arrival. As we drew closer to the village, the children ran alongside our cars, and mothers and older men on bicycles continually shooed them away from our tires.

In the Upper East region, we were celebrities of sorts (a very strange feeling, indeed), and we met with a few “important personalities,” such as the director of education, some civil servants, bishops and other priests. Besides visiting the village of Manyoro, we also went to the local babies’ home or orphanage where very young children whose mothers are sick or dead are sent until they are old enough for their fathers to take care of them again. In another village, the Christian Mothers Association showed us how to do a few African tribal dances, and we donated 14 suitcases full of medical supplies to the village’s clinic.

Our trip was not all business, though. We pet a 90-year old alligator in Paga and fed him a live chicken; we saw elephants up close and personal in Mole National Park; we ate fresh coconuts straight from the tree on a beach in Elmina; we toured the slave castle at Cape Coast and climbed through the rain forest canopy in Kakum National Park. Ghanaians are known as the friendliest people in Africa, and my trip there proved it time and time again. Will I be going back to Africa anytime soon? I can only hope. If you would like to donate money or books to Students United For Africa, feel free to contact me at Mavis22@aol.com for more information. Every little bit helps!

SLIDESHOW: CLICK TO ENLARGE

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