The "Real" Ghana
Toone’s trip to Akatim and Senase was not part of the planned excursion to Ghana, but he convinced a guide to show him and his classmates the “real” Ghana. When that guide, who graduated from that same school in Akatim, showed him pictures of his home, Toone knew that’s where he wanted to go.
After spending a few days in the two towns, Toone and the six other students who made the journey with him decided that they needed to do something for the students of Akatim. They met every night on the ship afterward to lay out the groundwork for a nonprofit organization, drafting a constitution, and even taking advantage of a notary on the cruise ship to make the document official.
Toone had been active in community service before, participating in Service Saturdays on the IC campus and going on an alternative spring break trip to New Orleans in March 2010. But spearheading a project like this one was a first for him.
“This was my opportunity to do something. I’ve done the soup kitchens and rebuilding houses and stuff like that, but this was an opportunity to do something bigger,” Toone says.
The last stop of the Semester at Sea voyage was Hawaii, where Toone said he spent all of his time creating a website and filling out official paperwork to incorporate a nonprofit. The voyage came to an end in mid-December in San Diego. “When I turned on my phone for the first time in three-and-a-half months, the first voice mail I had was from the U.S. government, telling us that we were fully incorporated.”
Toone and the other founders called the nonprofit The Senase Project to honor the people of Senase where they had stayed. It also speaks to the larger community focus of the new nonprofit; as Toone puts it, they hope to help with problems other than education in the community—problems such as malaria, lack of adequate medical care, and access to clean water.
“We want to empower the townspeople to be able to help themselves,” he said. “Education is a great way to start, because the more educated you become, the more empowered you are as an individual.”
Toone says that word of The Senase Project spread quickly. His own friends as well as those of the other founders quickly offered their support. As money was raised and news about the nonprofit’s activity spread through Ghana, the Ghanaian government caught wind of it, too. As a result, they finally fulfilled their promise to construct four classrooms in Akatim next to the makeshift school Toone had first seen. That project was completed last November.
“They understand that we have no intention of stopping,” Toone says of the government. “But it’s not our intention to make them look bad either. Together we can accomplish much more than we can working apart.”
Because the government stepped in to help, Toone estimates that construction expenses were cut by $40,000. Now the money raised by The Senase Project will be put toward two additional classrooms, plus a room to serve as a library and supply storage. Construction on those additions started this fall.
Toone hasn’t been back to Ghana since he left, but he plans to return this winter for a formal dedication of the new school and to start scouting locations for a medical clinic, which the village leaders have said they need. An athletic training and clinical health studies double major, Toone says that one of his goals after graduating from IC is to create a basic medical clinic for the village.
“I’m hopeful that one day I can take the skills I learn here and apply them to the clinic over there,” he says.
He adds that the Ghanaian government has already pledged supplies for the clinic if The Senase Project builds it.
“Our trip to Akatim started off as a way to get to know Ghana and see the real side of Ghana, not just what everyone else sees when they go there,” Toone says. “And it ended with [our] being changed for the rest of our lives and wanting to help in a different way.”
– Steve Shoemaker