2007-11-01 / News

Hannah Davis brings literacy project to Ghana

By Sam Bari

Hannah Davis and Frances, a student, in front of the Methodist School in the village of Pokuase in Ghana Hannah Davis and Frances, a student, in front of the Methodist School in the village of Pokuase in Ghana When Hannah Davis was at the end of her senior year in high school, she was feeling antsy. The next step was college, and she hadn't decided what she wanted to study. At 18 years old, Hannah wanted to get a better idea of what the world was about and what she wanted to do with her life.

She had always been interested in Africa, so in the spring of 2006, she decided to take a trip to Ghana. She chose Ghana for her first adventure abroad because she wanted to go to a country where English was the primary language, to make communication easier. She worked with her high school advisor and class counselor to create an independent study on education in Africa, which counted as one of her courses for the semester, and then took a few extra weeks out of school before spring break.

Hannah went to Africa alone. The organization she chose to go through was about to shut down, and gave her little support. "They pretty much just picked me up from the airport and drove me back at the end of the trip," Hannah said. "It was incredibly difficult. But now I am extremely happy to have done it."

"The trip was made possible with the help of my grandfather," Jamestown resident, Steve Mecca, and the Jamestown Rotary Club, "who helped sponsor me," Hannah said. "When I arrived, I volunteered to work at an orphanage while doing an independent study on education."

When she returned, she talked to a few groups around the state, as well as the Jamestown Rotary. They offered support to start a literacy project in Ghana if she wanted to go back to Africa. Hannah accepted the offer, and in the summer of 2007, the Ghana Literacy Project was born.

Hannah partnered the Ghana Literacy Project with the Jamestown Rotary Club and Women's Trust, a New Hampshire based non-profit organization that addresses health, education, and micro financing for women.

She did research when she first arrived this summer, and talked to teachers, parents, students, and other people around the village of Pokuase, one of the places where she stayed. Hannah found that two of the biggest problems were the crowded classrooms and the dropout rates, especially for girls, and particularly during the transition period from middle school to high school.

Consequently, the first program for the Ghana Literacy Project was named the Girls' Exploration and Empowerment Club (GEEC). The program takes the brightest at-risk girls from public schools that usually have between 70 to 90 students per class per teacher, and brings them into a supplementary class, taught on weekends. The curriculum focuses on computer, literary, and science skills, as well as giving the girls career counseling, Hannah said. "We will be having many guest speakers, interns, and international pen pals," she added.

Hannah said that the first GEEC is taking place in the village of Pokuase, right outside the capital city of Accra. GEEC is a five-year program, lasting from the equivalent of eighth to twelfth grade, which helps the girls through the rough transition phase. As of now, 12 girls are in the program, and a minimum of 12 more will be added each year for the next five years, for a minimum of 60 girls. The program has two part-time teachers, Sammy Gyabah and Abigail Mettle, and may hire more as the club grows, she said.

"We have also started a scholarship for each of the girls, so if at any time their families are unable to pay for them to continue, we can step in and make sure they don't have to leave school. Through eighth grade, school costs $50 per year; for high school, it costs $250 per year, and for university, it costs about $500, which is an estimation, but not too far off," Hannah said.

She also said that the organization is always in need of funding. The club only requires $4,000 a year for supplies, speakers, teachers' salaries, and other necessities. To send girls to university it will cost $500 a year per girl, in whatever amounts their families cannot afford. And flights to Ghana cost upwards of $3,200 a year for two flights. Hannah and the Ghana Literacy Project welcome all donations in any of these areas, or airline miles or any similar voucher. People can donate at http://www.jamestownclassic. org/Donate.cfm or can contact Hannah directly at hannahdavis0220@ hotmail.com.

Hannah Davis is now 19 years old. She was born in Baltimore, but moved to Exeter with her family when she was an infant. They have lived in Rhode Island ever since. They moved to Jamestown in 1998, when she was 10. Hannah is a sophomore at New York University studying International Development and Conflict Resolution, so she is now a resident of New York City. However, she returns to Jamestown often to visit her mother and three sisters, Alyssa, 18, Kendra, 16, and Camille, 14, as well as her grandparents, Steve and Linda Mecca. Hannah's father lives in Newport.

"I am interested in literacy, postconflict areas, and other cultures," Hannah said. "I study French and Arabic, and I am trying to learn Twi, one of the most common local Ghanaian languages. Ideally, I would like to work in conflict and post-conflict countries. I am extremely interested in compassion, in real understanding of others. I'd like to incorporate that into my work, both here and abroad."

At this young age, Hannah Davis has accomplished more to make the world a better place to live than most people achieve in a lifetime. Through her hard work and the participation of those who support her efforts, literacy may one day be enjoyed by all.

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