This week, a group of CommonBond employees and borrowers returned from a four-day trip to Ghana to see our Social Promise in action. Our partners at Pencils of Promise coordinated an incredible trip where we got to experience the impact of our 1-for-1 model firsthand.
The trip was, in a word, unforgettable. Each day—each moment—brought new experiences, relationships, and even greater awareness of the power of the CommonBond and Pencils of Promise partnership in enabling quality education and promoting literacy in some of Ghana's most rural communities. And the fact that we got to share the experience with three of our incredible CommonBond borrowers made it even more special for us.
Here's a glimpse of what we learned:
Day 1: Welcome to Ghana!
Friday was our first full day in Ghana. We departed from our hotel in Accra that morning, taking a three-hour drive to a rural village called Agorhome to visit our first Pencils of Promise (PoP) school on the trip.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with a welcome ceremony, complete with traditional songs and lively dancing by several of the students. Members of the community, including the head of the district, each spoke about the importance of the PoP school within the community and expressed their gratitude to us and PoP for making it possible. They even gifted each of us personalized sashes welcoming us to Ghana!
Following the ceremony, we spoke with the students and visited a few classrooms to see the students and teachers in action. One of the interesting teaching techniques we observed were "phonic chants," where students used singing and movement to learn the alphabet. PoP's goal is to make sure students are literate before completing primary school, and the phonic chants have so far proven to be effective in promoting literacy.
Day 2: School Inauguration Ceremony
On Saturday, we drove about an hour from our hotel in Ho to attend an inauguration ceremony for a new school that was just completed in Abutia Adegbleve. This was one of the most special parts of the trip because it showed not only how excited, but how invested, the entire community was in their new school. Students and their families, as well as local elected officials, attended the ceremony, which lasted about two hours and included heartfelt speeches in the Ewe language from Freeman Gobah, PoP's Ghana Country Director, and local officials.
Following the ceremony, we walked over to the new school for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, a tradition at each new PoP school inauguration. Once the ribbon was cut, the students and families flooded into the brand-new classrooms and cheered with excitement. After months of construction, they finally had a new school in their community!
Afterwards, we continued the celebration with more traditional songs and dances—and we even had the opportunity to teach the community some of our own dances, including "classics" like the Macarena.
Day 3: Pitching In to Help Build a New School
On Sunday we got to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty: this was the day we traveled to Aflao, a town on Ghana's border with Togo, to help the community build a brand-new preschool. As soon as we pulled in to the community, we saw a group of several men hard at work making bricks from a cement mixture. Nearby, women and children from the community were singing and dancing. We could immediately tell how excited the entire community was about having a new school built.
Before PoP builds a school, it must get a commitment from the community to provide 20% of the cost of the school in building materials and/or labor to construct the school. This is a brilliant model that engages the community early on in the process, and keeps them invested over the long term.
We spent about two hours helping to mix cement and make the bricks. It took a bit of practice to get the hang of the routine, but by the end of it, we had helped to make at least 20 bricks. In the process, we learned that it takes 450 bricks to build a three-room school. It was very rewarding to contribute to even a small portion of that.
Later on Sunday, we got into some monkey business—literally. We had a blast visiting a monkey sanctuary outside of Ho, where we fed bananas to the monkeys, who proceeded to climb all over everyone to grab said bananas.
Day 4: Seeing Literacy in Action
On our final day in Ghana, we drove a couple hours outside of Ho to visit a PoP school in Adaklu Hlihave that is piloting a unique e-reader program. Each student at the school gets his or her own e-reader that is loaded with 100 books in both English and the local language. We sat in during a class on adolescent health, and observed as the students read aloud from the e-readers.
One of the most interesting aspects of this program is that students in a community with minimal electricity have access to e-readers. This is possible because the school has electricity and is equipped with charging stations.
While the e-reader program is still relatively new, early results have shown a significant increase in literacy among the students. Above all, it was very rewarding for us to see how excited the students were about reading, and how much pride they showed in having these devices.
The four days we spent in Ghana were filled with inspiring and eye-opening experiences that none of us will soon forget. This trip demonstrated the sheer power of our partnership with PoP and truly brought our Social Promise to life.
We can't wait to return again next year and see how these communities have continued to develop and thrive. And we'll look forward to bringing more members of our borrower community to join us!