Building a School, posted by Benny Rubinstein

Prior to our arrival to Ghana we were told by Ellen Berenholz from Pagus:Africa that the organization was raising funds to build a school in a suburb of Ho, the capital city of the Volta Region, in a community called Airfield (named as such since it is in close proximity to a future Airport).

Our visit to the site of the current Airfield School was an eye opener, a reality check to the condition in which 120 children are supposed to study. The structures are made of mud and tin/grass roof sheds, with partial or no walls, exposed to the environment.

When we agreed to help we were not sure what our role and involvement would be. We were told that the project has had many setbacks from assuring the land was officially sanctioned for a school, to agreeing on the design of the structure, to organizing a building process to assure a successful outcome.

The reality of the situation and the way business is conducted in Ghana brought us to the conclusion that in order to complete the project in the most economic and efficient way, the project will have to be very carefully estimated and closely supervised (by me!). Building in Ghana is so different than our Western standards. All the buildings are constructed of solid cement blocks, which are made on the building site. The contractor didn’t know how to calculate quantity based on a given design. His knowledge is based on experience and a rule of thumb. We hired a draftsman to draw the plan, which will probably never be inspected by any city officials.

So, here we find ourselves becoming the developers, getting involved in selecting the contractor, finalizing the design, doing material estimates, negotiating prices, coordinating the effort from all aspects and meetings with the community. (so, what does the contractor do?)

Since the District doesn’t have the funds to build the school, Pagus:Africa volunteered to help in financing the project with close support by the community. The community will provide all the unskilled labor. They will clear the site, dig the foundation and make the cement blocks.

The community is small, about four hundred people. They are small farmers, makinga living by selling their crops in the open market every five days. Some are selling charcoal. The farmers are very simple people but very much determined to build the school for their children. However, it is an ongoing process to explain to them the importance of their contribution to this effort and to overcome suspicion, and the belief I suspect they have that if they will not contribute, the white people will do it anyway. They cannot believe that we, the volunteers, are not making any money on this project; that. we spend our own money to come and stay here for the sole purpose of helping them. We are overcoming obstacles one at a time and making progress.

We are planning to build eight large classrooms, in two parallel buildings connected by an administration building to create a U shape structure. A covered veranda will shelter the children during the heavy rainy season. Pagus:Africa is doing a remarkable job in raising the funds for the school and so far raised 75% of the estimate cost of the building.

We have to start the project immediately, since it ts the beginning of the dry season, and the only time that the farmers will be available to support this project. The farmers do not use irrigation and are solely depends on the rain to water their fields. The project is estimated to last about four months and we hope that during that time the last 25% of the funds, about $10K, will be donated, so that we can put the roof on the buildings. Good luck to all of us.

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