GEIG: providing a future for underprivileged girls

The Girls Education Initiative of Ghana has been quite successful for an organization that is just shy of five years of operation.  One highlight has been the graduation of our first two high school graduates. Barbara and Hamdalla are two of thirteen members of the first cohort of beneficiaries that GEIG recruited and started supporting in 2014. In a recent interview, these two young and budding scholars spoke of their respective journeys.

Hamdalla, eighteen years old, is a graduate of Fomena Amadhiya Senior High School where she studied general arts with electives in geography, elective math, history, and economics. She has mapped her future after a careful study of roles for educated young women in Ghana. As she stated quite clearly:” I want to be a midwife because I’ve learned there are a lot of nurses in Ghana but not many midwives.”

For Hamdalla the goal of becoming a graduate meant overcoming some very long odds. She comes from a family of nine girls and she is the only one of her siblings to finish high school. The others are married or working as a hair dresser or as a seamstress. Her dad passed away when she was 3 months old and her mom is a petty trader. Currently she lives with her sister, a food vendor, in Kumasi.

“When I was in class five and six I used to sell water before and after school so I could cater for my school fees and supplies”, says Hamdalla. One of her teachers learned of this and started helping her save the monies earned from selling; As she remembers: “I gave her my daily sales to her. When I was in class 7 she notified me of a scholarship for girls. She guided me through the application. I was interviewed and 3 months later Ms. Elizabeth came to my school and announced that I was selected out of about 15 applicants from my school.”

Barbara is one of two siblings. She is sixteen years old and a graduate of Asanteman Senior High School. Her goal is to study to become a nurse. Her father, a carpenter, passed away when Barbara was six years old. Her mom, a petty trader, has some medical issues: sickle cell disease and has limited mobility in her legs which resulted from complications when giving birth to her younger sister. Her sister also has sickle cell disease.

Barbara’s path to GEIG and success in school is somewhat different. Let’s listen to her as she remembers: “My family is next door neighbors to the founder of GEIG. Ms. Patterson’s mother informed my mom of the organization when it was being founded. After reviewing my grades, I was invited to join the other students for a session in Kumasi. After the three weeks summer school I was invited to join the first cohort.”

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These young girls will have a lifetime of memories that began with their opportunity to join GEIG. Hamdalla remembers the GEIG staff accompanying her to senior high school.”It was me, my brother, Sir Eric, and Ms. Elizabeth. They helped me with my mattress, trunk, and registration fees.”

Barbara’s narrative starts when she was a student at the World Links Academy but had to leave when she was in Class 3. Her transportation to and from school was provided by the family of another student who lived in the neighborhood but that family moved. It became difficult for Barbara’s mom to sustain the transportation and Barbara spent the next year in a neighborhood school.

Eventually, her mother received support from other family members and Ms. Patterson’s parents. With this Barbara returned to World Links Academy in Class 5. When she was in Class 7, a teacher advised her to attempt the entrance exam for high school.

“This was a year ahead of when I would have applied.” recounts Barbara, “The GEIG staff encouraged me and offered extra tutoring during Saturday classes. Thankfully I took the exam and did well. Ms. Elizabeth accompanied me and my mom on the registration day and I began studies at Asanteman Senior High as a science student.”

One of the characteristics of Barbara’s journey was the maturation process she experienced through GEIG’s supportive structure: “GEIG’s 2015 vacation classes also matured me. I was thirteen years old and taking classes on a university campus. We learned how to make PowerPoint presentations from Sir Johan Classen in Presentation Skills.

We cooked our own meals at the hostel and we built a community while there. We also got to meet journalist Peace Hyde and the 2014 Vlisco Brand Ambassador Mrs. Eugenia Tachie – Menson. They both encouraged us to dream high and try to achieve beyond our dreams. We were given the opportunity to visit Ashesi university for the Future of Ghana Youth Leadership Forum.”

With the guidance of the staff under the leadership of Director, Elizabeth Patterson, these two girls became leaders and discovered new abilities:

Hamdalla: “Most of the teachers in my senior high school liked me. By the end of the first year they nominated me to contest for house prefect. After some encouragement I gained enough confidence to apply and served as house prefect for my second and third years of high school. I was also an organizer for the Ghana Muslim Students Association. In this role I convened students and staff to observe and celebrate Muslim holidays while strengthening their faith.”

Barbara:“At Asanteman I campaigned to become the General Secretary of the school. I took roll call and attendance for the administration. I also collected and made announcements on behalf of the school administration.”

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One of the key aspects of the GEIG programs is its emphasis on public service as well as internships. As such, in 2017, Hamdalla served as a teaching assistant for Beautiful Beginnings International School while Barbara did her internship service at GDS consults, an architectural firm in Kumasi where learned how to design and build homes on a computer.

Both of these bright stars have not forgotten their roots. As Hamdalla says: ” I want to assist my sister with her trade so she knows her investment in me hasn’t been in vain. I also want to return to Beautiful Beginnings International to volunteer again as I await my results and admission to university.”

Barbara is rather direct and matter of fact on her future: ” I want to be a nurse to show empathy to others.” It is the compassion and strength of Elizabeth Patterson that is the example for the wonderful stuff and of course the girls. This is reflected in the comments of advice that they have for future GEIG applicants: “I want to let the new girls know that they shouldn’t give up.”, Hamdalla relates of her experience, ” They should try to move forward in everything regardless of any obstacles.”

Barbara is no less sanguine about her attitude: “If you want to achieve something, set your mind to start somewhere and give it your all.” Quite sage advice from two girls soon to be young, educated women poised to take a role in writing the future for Ghana.

More on Girls Education Initiative of Ghana

Founded in 2014 under the leadership of Elizabeth Patterson, The Girls Education Initiative of Ghana, GEIG is an educational nonprofit organization founded with the mission to provide academic and financial support for girls, and applicants with special needs so they can access higher education and professional opportunities.

GEIG has been operational for four years and has supported thirty-three students in the Ashanti and Greater Accra regions with financial aid to transition from class six to high school and high school to tertiary degree programs.

Hamdalla and Barbara are the first two young women of the first cohort to graduate from high school. GEIG currently has three young women currently enrolled in a higher education institution. Thirteen beneficiaries will graduate high school in the next year and half.

An additional seventeen beneficiaries will enroll in high school in the same time period. GEIG programmes and activities reach approximately 2500 students and community members annually. More on the organization at www.girlsedgh.org.

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