Power Series: Moving to Ghana with Katie
Tell us about your organisation, how did you come up with the idea?
I initially came to Ghana in 2014 to volunteer with an organisation building school libraries and a year later, after not feeling satisfied that I was making enough difference in people’s lives with my office job in London, I decided to pack up and move to Ghana in August 2015 to be with my partner, now husband, Richard.
Through the experience of volunteering, we realised that it was great providing book resources to children in schools but what if they couldn’t read them? It was at this point that we decided to set up our NGO, Pen to Paper Ghana, with the main focus being on helping children learn to read. With a large number of secondary school aged children struggling to read, we started running phonics classes voluntarily after school and it just grew from there.
The NGO has now been running for 4 and a half years and it has grown to not only running free phonics classes for teenagers struggling to read, but we have a mobile library, we provide teacher training to primary school teachers on our reading programme, we improve school infrastructure and we provide educational scholarships.
We are extremely happy with how we’ve grown but we have greater goals. Currently we are only running with one paid, local staff member and myself and others are volunteering. Our hope is to bring on more local workers so that we can reach more children and help them escape the tunnel of illiteracy. We want all children in Ghana to grow up to be adults that can fill in their own job application, read the instructions on their baby’s medicine bottle or enjoy delving into adventures in a book. We want to be at a point where our NGO is no longer even needed!
What were the cultural challenges when you moved from the UK to Ghana?
I know many people struggle with moving from one place to another, but I’ve always found it fairly easy as I love embracing new cultures and trying to blend in as much as possible. Ghanaian people are naturally very friendly, and I’ve always felt welcomed by people in the communities I’ve stayed in.
There is obviously the odd time when I miss home comforts of the UK, such as a hot shower or not having to hand wash all my clothes or not having the power turned off randomly, but most of the time, it's absolutely fine. They're all challenges that are very bearable.
From your pictures we noticed you rarely wear makeup, are you a natural beauty lover? Which products you do use?
I’ve never really worn much and my knowledge on how to even put some makeup on is limited. However, if I
was going for a nice meal out or a party, I would use my Max Factor foundation, with a bit of mascara, eye liner and blusher.
I do, however, make sure I moisturise well and put sunscreen on if I am going to be outside for a while. I often use raw, unrefined shea butter that I buy from local ladies in the market – it’s an amazing natural moisturiser!
How has your work changed your perspective to the meaning of life?
It has dramatically changed what I see as important and what little things I used to perhaps moan about but now they seem irrelevant. When I was in London, I used to enjoy shopping for clothes and having the latest gadget but now, I don’t remember the last time I bought something for myself – it just seems so unnecessary in my life. I’m much less selfish here and the community spirit that people in Ghana have in looking after one another has really rubbed off on me, which I’m pleased about.
Being in Ghana, I’ve unfortunately had to deal with death and illness more, particularly among our students, and it’s really made me think about life and how short and precious it really is. It’s caused me to make each day count and ensure I never live with any regrets.
What’s your power?
Juggling lots of things at once! Running the organisation voluntarily, whilst also working and having a 3-year-old living with us so I’m constantly busy, which I really can’t complain about as I much prefer that than being bored.
If you would like to support Katie's organisation please go to Pen to Paper Ghana and on @pentopaperghana
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