Porridge & Pens: A letter from the pandemic

Last month, we received a letter from Jemma Williams, Founder of Porridge & Pens, to update on school life in Ghana amid the global pandemic. In 2020, we agreed to fund the salary of Head Teacher Ben Antwi – since then, it sounds like he has gone to heroic efforts to help the children of Brightlingsea Academy. We wanted to share this letter with our supporters as it’s such an incredible story of resilience and dedication, made possible with the funds that all of you help us to raise. Porridge & Pens is a charity of particular poignance for us as Jemma Williams is a former “Footprinter” having received a grant from Hazel’s Footprints back in 2009!

Porridge & Pens Ghana

 

Dear Bill and Joan,

Thank you so much for your recent grant to Porridge and Pens which has been ring-fenced to employ Ben Antwi as the school’s Headteacher.

I wanted to give you an update as we have seen some tremendous impact already.

In Ghana, schools are closed until January 2021. They have been closed since March. For the community we work in, this has been and still is devastating.

It meant children couldn’t have access to our free school feeding program, nor could parents rely on safe childcare for their children while they went to work. This meant, many parents lost their jobs and fell even deeper into the depths of poverty. In many cases, very young children under 5 years old were being left at home unattended.

Since we have been able to employ Ben as the Headteacher he has dedicated himself to solving the childcare issue within the village.

Ben worked with locals from the village and opened seven temporary outreach centres. The outreach centres are large open spaces within the community setting where our 170 children can be divided and safely gather and be looked after by the teachers and staff of the Brightlingsea Academy.

Then, parents can go to work. This has been a lifeline for parents who live in extreme poverty and without going to work, can’t afford to put food on the table each evening.

Ben has also been working on our school feeding program. Usually, we provide each child with two meals at school, for most of the children, these are the only hot meals they receive during the week.

Since the school has been closed, we haven’t been able to do this until recently. Ben has worked with our 4 school cooks very carefully to develop a safe and efficient way of getting a hot and nutritious lunch to the children each day.

The school cooks have been cooking the food early in the morning, Ben then collects the school lunches in his car and delivers it to the seven outreach centres for distribution by the teachers. This way, we are feeding all the 170 school children.

Sadly, our only hurdle has been the news of our temporary school feeding program spreading to other children who are going hungry. Often, each child who is enrolled at the Brightlingsea Academy brings along 2 or 3 of their friends or siblings and they share their meal with them. These children don’t attend the school.

We have found this a difficult situation as many children from the community and further afield have been affected by the pandemic and consequently haven’t been able to find regular meals. Sadly, no other schools in the area have been able to offer feeding.

We are fortunate because we have had funding from one of our corporate donors to supply the hot meals to our school children through the lockdown.

Ben has been truly inspirational; he is a key figure within the village and people see him as someone who they can turn to in desperate and difficult circumstances that have been forced upon them by the pandemic.

Ben is now focusing on reopening the school in January. We hope the Ghanaian government does not put any barriers up and allows our school to open again then. We are confident we have a safe and happy learning environment ready and waiting for the children when the doors open again.

I have a lot to thank HFT for. I first met Ben in 2009, when I travelled to Ghana funded by HFT as a Footprinter, at the age of 19, (I’m now 31)! This first trip to Ghana was the inspiration behind Porridge and Pens.

During this first volunteering trip I met Ben and his wife Beatrice, at the school I was then volunteering at as an English and ICT teacher. Ben is a very well-known teacher and exam officer within the area of Kumasi. Our friendship formed and grew. Ben has guided Porridge and Pens and our work in Ghana for over 10 years since our first meeting and is co-founder of the Brightlingsea Academy.

The first trip I took to Ghana really did change my life and consequently has changed the life of so many others in Ghana through the charity Porridge and Pens, which I went on to form.

I wouldn’t have been able to afford the cost of my gap year trip if it hadn’t been for HFT so I wanted to take this opportunity to say a thank you, again. I still can’t believe the amount Porridge and Pens has achieved and HFT was at the start of the journey.

Have a fantastic Christmas and keep safe,

Jemma

 

Back to school update! January 2021

We are so pleased to hear that, since Jemma’s letter, the children are now back in school. They returned on 18th January 2021 – and don’t they look pleased?!! Lots of COVID-safety in place, of course.

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