Operation Wisdom’s One Seat Campaign, Explained

By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah

Out of any billboard they could’ve put up, why this one?

You and your friends were walking down to a restaurant owned by one of your childhood friends, praying that Ghana wouldn’t choke again in the African Cup of Nations. Other soccer fanatics share the same tempered optimism, allowing traffic jams and fierce market negotiations to fill the sound of the streets instead of their own cheers. “Corruption, corruption,” you lament to your friends, unsurprised at how the insatiable hunger of slimy officials caused your country’s soccer association to literally shut down. Then, you take a glance at the billboard.

It seems harmless. “PROVIDE A FUTURE FOR ALL CHILDREN” from an international aid organization. That picture: why do you stare at it in disgust?

Droopy-faced children desperately squint their eyes to see the board lying on the dirty floor, struggling to write in their notebooks. There was, indeed, a time when schools didn’t provide desks and chairs for the students, and parents had to visit the local carpenter who’d make seats for their children. That was forty years ago. Today, a billboard like the one you saw is an insulting dismissal of the progress your nation has made.

It’s not like blotches of extreme poverty don’t exist in Ghana, but can you trust big charities to tell Western donors who needs help and what they actually need? It’s not like the charities aren’t well-intentioned, either, but why does Ghana have to be dependent on misguided foreign aid to develop its education system?

Of course, you can’t forget how far the virus of corruption stretches across Africa. Government officials, servants of the people only by name, stuff their bellies full of luxuries while their people dream of access to basic utilities. “Corruption, corruption,” you mutter in defeat.

Kennedy Aboagye was tired of the same story about the well-off being the only Ghanaians able to afford a quality education. He, an inexperienced teacher selling plastics on the streets to make a living, aspired to build a school in a town cut off from the rest of Ghana by untamed forests and high, shrub-filled hills. A town whose families found it unwise to send their children to school. A town whose lack of resources made middle-school-level education a luxury. How would you ever build a school here? “Yet another vulnerable town for which the government refuses to provide,” a cynical Ghanaian would concede. Aboagye, however, was no cynic.

Aboagye wouldn’t let cost barriers stop him from “ma[king] the families believe that, with quality education, the poor can be rich in the future,” he stated in an interview with the Heritage Herald. He started by slashing tuition and learning aid fees. He refused to turn any child away, even if their families couldn’t pay the fees. If he was going to prove to these families the value of education, he had to be bold.

So did the teachers, who Aboagye made sure could build strong, loving relationships for the kids. English was a luxury to learn for this town, but the first five kids would have to learn very quickly; next semester, the five would be responsible for helping mentor the newly-admitted students. The plan was ambitious, but great ambition was needed if Aboagye wanted others to share the hope he had. And the plan worked.

Wisdom Academy excelled in the district education and National Basic Education tests. Parents heard of how Wisdom Academy kids were speaking English at an accelerated rate. They told others and sent their own kids in bunches. Wisdom Academy filled to the brim with wide-eyed, optimistic children who wouldn’t accept the notion that quality education was only for the rich.

As the school rapidly grew, so did its inability to pay its teachers. To keep the hope alive, Aboagye brought in three Americans who volunteered to teach for free. The three volunteers saw how much ingenuity and resourcefulness Aboagye needed to keep the school from ruin. While he did the heavy lifting, the volunteers supported him by bringing more volunteers and using an unlikely source to raise funds for the school: American students. The hope was no flicker; it was a fire blazing into the hearts of those who witnessed magic before their eyes. Aboagye did it: he made everyone, from Westerners to Ghanaians themselves, believe the “poor African children” could succeed in the future. Wisdom Academy’s success also inspired the start of a student-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit: Project Wisdom.

Renamed Operation Wisdom, the nonprofit’s model is based on partnering with leaders like Aboagye who know the issues affecting disadvantaged populations in developing countries best. OW’s original partner needs their help, though. Remember those desks and chairs I mentioned earlier? How important they are to a classroom is no joke, and if the reduced tuition fees tell you anything, it’s that Wisdom Academy need funds if they don’t want to keep spending money buying new desks and chairs every few years. OW, however, inspired by the ambitious and clever Aboagye, isn’t taking a safe approach to raising the funds.

Recently, the club came up with a scheme to raise money and encourage students to spread the word about Wisdom Academy. Groups of OW members were trusted with $10 and tasked with using their creativity to end with as much money as possible. Some “multiply projects” will be very successful; OW rolled the project out two years ago, and one group raised over $700 by trading up for a rare Japanese kimono. Some groups will draw up a masterful fundraiser, run into a hidden brick wall, and lose all their money. Whatever the results, OW needs your help. Your donation to this GoFundMe keeps the fire of hope alive for Wisdom Academy, even if it’s just $1. OW would also like you to share this article and the GoFundMe link wherever you can.

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