I am recently back from my journey to visit the PoP Ghana team to help celebrate their 10th anniversary. Because of Covid-related school closings and travel restrictions, it marked my first opportunity to see PoP’s work in action. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with excitement as I boarded the plane, but nothing could have prepared me for the week ahead. The experience was so much more than I could have imagined. I have worked in global development for a long time and visited projects before, but this was very different, and so special.
There were so many things. I witnessed the need for our programs first-hand; before PoP, many communities were without safe school structures, adequate learning materials, and had limited access to clean water and sanitation. I saw and felt how just one safe school can transform an entire community – then realized the breadth of impact of nearly 200 PoP schools in Ghana, and 600 worldwide (and counting). But, most importantly, I fell in love with the people. From the team, to the community, to every leader and PoP supporter, our thread of connectivity ran long and deep.
So, where do I begin? First, I was thrilled to finally meet our PoP Ghana Country Director, Freeman Gobah and his stellar team of 43 – they all love and respect Freeman so much. He is an aspirational leader of the highest caliber. I also met our Laos Country Directors, Ya Laoxayda and Lanoy Keosuvan. They came to fellowship with the team, contribute and learn.
The first day’s focus was internal and external relationship building. I met the Ghana leadership team and welcomed Meadow Walker, a long-time PoP supporter, and her guest Grace Burns. The next morning, we kicked-off our first official day of activities in Accra by hosting PoP’s first-ever WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) forum. Attended by nearly 50 practitioners from UNICEF, World Vision, the Hunger Project, and many others, we gathered to learn and share best practices. The event was expertly executed under the leadership of Raphael Bandim, PoP Ghana’s Program Manager, and I heard great feedback from attendees, many of whom asked to be included in the next forum.
The next day we traveled three-hours to the Klo Agogo community in the Eastern region, where we celebrated the opening of a new classroom block with nearly 400 children, community members and government officials. The event was festive and a very big deal in Klo Agogo. It was a treat for the senses – the bright colors of traditional garments, the drum beats in the performances, the dancing, the poetry, the ribbon cutting… I was overwhelmed with the emotion of pure joy.
The next stop was a WASH program visit in Adaklu Kpatove, where Meadow and I had a chance to visit with community members and children featured in the ‘I Promise You’ film. This was a particularly moving experience for Meadow, since the children recognized her, remembered her name and were so excited to meet her in person. I could feel the deep connection between Meadow and everything that surrounded her.
On Friday, I met with a parliament representative in the Volta Region, who could not speak more effusively of the PoP Ghana team, and the impact PoP has in the Volta Region. Afterwards, I was invited to join PoP Ghana staff’s monthly convening and heard about all of the wonderful activities and new benchmarks the team, with continued support, will achieve. As much as we have accomplished in Ghana over ten years, there is still so much to do in support of our children.
On my final day, Freeman took me to Fort Prizenstein in Keta, where slaves would be held on the Ghanaian shore prior to being loaded on boats and shipped across the Atlantic. As a Black person born in America, it wasn’t an easy experience, to say the least. But it reaffirmed my ultimate purpose, and solidified my connection to Ghana and its citizens. I left the fort changed, in community with my PoP family, and with a new understanding of freedom. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to meet everyone and to see PoP work in action. After returning, I feel hopeful, fully invigorated, energized, and with a deeper appreciation for PoP critical, holistic support of communities all over the world, as we move in lock-step to remove the barriers for children to achieve their fullest potential.
To PoP supporters: on behalf of everyone at PoP, I thank each of you from the deepest parts of my heart. As I renew my promise to the entire PoP community, I hope you are inspired to do the same.