Education is the key to a better life. Never has that been more evident than it is today in Ghana, West Africa. That simple fact is what energizes E-quip Africa to collect computers and school supplies for distribution to schools in this African nation which honors its traditions even as it builds and strengthens an economy clearly focused on the future.
A friendship between a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and a parish priest in Tarkwa, Ghana, West Africa, which began in the late 1980s has grown to encompass an organization firmly rooted in Willmar, Minnesota, but spreading throughout Central Minnesota and the metropolitan Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Having seen first hand both the learning conditions and the need for the most basic school supplies in Ghana, Doug Wilkowske and colleagues at St. Mary’s Parish began collecting items that Willmar students and schools no longer needed, sending them to the Tarkwa priest. It wasn’t a big leap to see that personal computers which still have many years of service in them but no longer used in the U.S. could be put to use the same way.
After an initial trip where five travelers each carried two personal computers, more than 1,200 have been shipped to Ghana along with text books, library books, notebooks, markers, pens and pencils. That Ghanaian parish priest, Fr. Francis Tawiah, now has Monsignor as his title and has begun building more schools within the Diocese of Sekondi-Takoradi. He along with many other friends in Ghana, Liberia and Kenya assist E-quip Africa in locating schools ready to enter the field of technology education.
Truly an ecumenical effort, E-quip Africa has enlisted the assistance of Methodist churches in Central Minnesota to re-build a Methodist-sponsored primary school in Axim, Ghana, West Africa severely damaged by fire. Computers and school supplies came from those donated to E-quip Africa. Lutheran, Assemblies of God and Covenant churches have contributed as well. Ecumenism as far as education goes is a given in Ghana; families send their children to the closest school regardless of the faith tradition of the sponsoring organization.
Students, teachers, church and community volunteers re-furbish computers before they are shipped. Communities donate clothing for use as packing material which is later distributed to individuals and families in Ghana.
Founder Doug Wilkowske spent five weeks traveling in Ghana during June and July 2005 on a trip sponsored by The Rotary Foundation. The purpose of his trip was to identify schools throughout Ghana, but especially concentrating in the more rural northern half of the country where schools are more remote, with fewer technical resources and where educational opportunities for girls are less readily available. A 2008 container containing over 200 refurbished comptuers was distributed to schools across northern Ghana from Yendi to Damongo.
Doug was accompanied by Kobby Ennin who managed the computer lab and internet café at Star of the Sea Cathedral in Takoradi. Mr. Ennin helped evaluate the physical facilities at each potential school and shared the model of his programs in the early years at Star of the Sea.
Doug and Kobby laid the groundwork for a resource group for teachers and managers across Ghana whose schools and libraries receive computer donations from E-quip Africa. As of January 2012, 'E-quip Africa Ghana' began refurbishing computers in the city of Mankessim, just east of Cape Coast thus employing Ghanaians in the business of IT, providing added economic opportunities for local citizens and reducing the time spent preparing computers for shipment in Minnesota.
Doug ventured forth on another exploratory trip in January 2012 to evaluate the willingness and readiness of schools to implement reading textbooks into their existing English curriculum. He will travel with two elementary teachers having experience using the Houghton Mifflin textbooks in 2012 or early 2013 to plan custom designed in-service experiences for teachers. They will return to Ghana again after the textbooks have been shipped to conduct these workshops.
Accompanying Doug for that January 2012 travel was Greg Martin, owner/operator of Bel Re-Tech, an electronic recycling business near Willmar, Minnesota. Greg explored the existing state of recycling in Ghana with visits to large waste handling companies as well as the less obvious, more hidden methods used by individuals who “live on the dump” scavenging what they know they can use or sell. E-quip Africa's eventual goal is to foster growth in the fledgling recycling industry in Ghana.
Because of the intent to concentrate services in Ghana for the foreseeable future, E-quip Africa has become a Ghanaian corporation with full Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status which will give us easier passage through customs and governmental inspection at the harbor.