Ghana mothers focus of Rotary
by Kelly Feser Eells
Kay Bliss was in Ghana, West Africa, last year as a Rotary
International PolioPlus - the service organization's worldwide
polio eradication program - volunteer when she got an intimate
look at the good works being done by another, though vastly smaller,
non-governmental service organization.
"I started thinking, 'This would be a great project'"
for Rotary Club of Ojai to support.
The project is S. Aid (Street Aid for Girls/Street Girls Aid),
a comprehensive social service agency based in Accra, Ghana's
capital, where, for some 15,000 homeless teenagers, each day
is a struggle for survival. And, for the half of these impoverished
children who are girls, sexual predators and widespread incidence
of rape make the struggle all the more difficult.
"You just get blown away by what it's like" for them,
said Bliss, marveling at the almost-serene way with which even
the most exploited girls, the ones bearing and living with their
babies in the open air, face adversity.
"It's not a drug or delinquent culture; they're not hardened."
She explains that, like many of Ghana's impoverished adults,
young people come to Accra in search of work. Though some of
the city's street children also have histories of domestic abuse,
all of them come from economically deprived backgrounds. "Many
of these girls were deprived of an education," (the illiteracy
rate is 80 percent) as well, because their families can't afford
the mandatory public school uniforms, books, or any other materials.
In addition to providing pregnant teenagers up to four months'
of safe housing; parenting education, practical living skills
courses, and prenatal, post-partum and neonatal health care service,;
S. Aid offers daily "street corner" literacy classes.
Coupled with its on-site vocational training, S. Aid's literary
classes underscore the 8-year-old organization's commitment towards
effecting permanent, positive change in the lives of Accra's
Bliss's African hosts, who, she points out, were not only fun
to "hang around with," but, like "all the people
we deal with in Accra, are real movers and shakers," were
equally excited by the prospect of supporting S. Aid through
Rotary Club. And their enthusiasm was contagious; beginning with
fellow PolioPlus program participants Alice Chesley, Gil Lowry,
and Bob Davis, it wasn't long before every Ojai Rotarian, and
several local citizens, as well, began rallying behind the project
- a partnership between the Rotary Club of Ojai and the Rotary
Club of Accra.
Local artist Kate Hoffman joked that, while she isn't "Officially
in Rotary ... and I haven't yet been initiated," a lot of
her friends are Rotarians. "It's an organization of people
who really do get together to do good things.
Kay came back from Ghana will all these pictures of girls and
their babies (taken by Montecito club member Lucinda Enderby)
really pumped up to do something with them. Something, she added,
that would help Rotary Club of Ojai's "Ghanaian Street Girls
Committee," made up of Bliss, Davis, Anne Helson, John Higbie,
and Judy Gabriel, generate some significant and much-needed revenue
for S. Aid.
Hoffman describes how that 'something' resulted in her "doing
12 or 13 paintings" from the pictures over four months'
time, eight of which have been reproduced as elegantly-wrought
note cards available for sale at Mail Boxes, Etc., and Helson's
Down Home Furnishings in the Arcade. "Anne's doing a huge
amount for the project," said Hoffman, adding with characteristic
modesty that she appreciates Helson's "hanging the paintings"
in her shop (where they will be on display through June).
"She's also hosting a reception on May 11, from 5 to 8 p.m."
Hoffman emphasizes the fact that contributing to the project
was "an all around pleasure. It was fun for me. I wouldn't
have (created) this whole body of work if I hadn't been moved
to do it. When you look at the photographs, these girls and their
babies are so beautiful. Now I'd like to be able to go to Ghana
and take my own pictures."
Forty percent of each painting's proceeds will be donated to
the project. Also, $12 of every $20 dollar box of cards sold
will go towards assuring the continuance, and ultimate expansion
of, such vital program components as the S. Aid "grannies,"
who provide child care to some 600 babies and toddlers at "crèches"
- day care centers - while their young mothers work.
"The grannies are really only about 35 years old on average,"
Bliss smiles. "It works out really well for everyone. The
girls trust their babies with these women, form a bond with them.
In Ghana, it's traditional for 'older' women to help the younger
ones with the kids. Plus, it gives them, the 'older' women, an
But, as great an impact as S. Aid is making on many a Ghanaian
street child's life, both its staff and its Rotary Club sponsors
know that there are thousands of girls desperate for rescue.
"And they only have one place, or, 'House of Refuge,' to
shelter them. We'd like to raise $30-40 thousand dollars for
this project. That's our goal."
Bliss reminds residents that the May 11 Ghanaian Street Girls'
Committee reception is "just in time for Mother's Day."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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