CommonBond Goes to Ghana: How New Schools Can Change Lives

This is the first in a series of three blog posts from each of the CommonBond borrowers who joined us on our trip to Ghana with Pencils of Promise. We asked each of them to write about their experience. 


Kate Agnew 

School/Grad Year  

MITSloan School of Management, Class of 2016 

Favorite Moment of the Trip 

The induction ceremony. We got a great glimpse into the local culture as well as a chance to really interact with the students. 

Kate's Story

On Friday, our first full day in Ghana, we were welcomed by a great group of students in the village of Agorhome who had been in a Pencils of Promise (PoP) school since 2013. After a performance of a traditional dance and the recitation of a poem, we were each presented with beautiful pieces made personally for each of us. Within minutes, rain started pouring and the students went back to their classrooms. We then got to see the inside of a PoP classroom and to observe students learning. The great thing about PoP is that in addition to building sturdy structures for children to learn in, they continue to support each and every community through teaching training and onsite support.

In Ghana, the teachers are taught tools to support active classroom engagement. And by active, I mean active. The kids sing, dance, and move around because that's a part of their culture. Outside of recess, I don't remember ever having that in elementary school.

The junior high school was a different story. Currently, PoP only supports elementary education, due in part to their focus on literacy and obvious financial constraints. The junior high structure was more than 20 years old and was in pretty bad shape. The mixture of rain and a faulty roof clearly impacted students' learning experiences.

I left this community with mixed emotions. On one hand, I was so inspired to meet such great children. At one point, a hand-washing station tipped over and multiple boys jumped up to help put it back up. The students even show up early to sweep the classroomsthere is so much pride in learning. That isn't something I've seen in the United Stateschildren just ready to jump up and help. On the other hand, the conditions are pretty bad. I can understand not being able to learn when something as common as rain interferes.

We were honored to attend an inauguration ceremony on Saturday. After a few speeches and being gifted a goat (literally), we got to see the before and after. Saying it is a stark contrast is an understatement.

Even more touching was the way the children ran, cheering, into the new school once the ribbon was cut. After both getting dance lessons from the kids and teaching them to Nae Nae, we went back to the hotel to drink some beer and tell some stories.

Sundayjust wow. We went to a community near Togo where there must have been over 100 community members on site helping build. With PoP, they provide supplies and skilled labor, but require the community to provide the unskilled labor. It both ensures that the community is committed to bringing in the new school and that it is something they truly want. To see 50 grown men giving up their Sunday to literally make 4,000 cement blocks to construct a schoolI was just in awe. I think football dominates Sundays in the United States.

After that we got in a small taste of tourism when we went to a monkey sanctuary. We were told a beautiful story about the history of the land and how monkeys came to be as important as they are. The locals view the monkeys as gods.

Monday was our last day. We visited a community where PoP is piloting e-readers. It was so cool to see a classroom full of students on e-readers in the middle of a village with minimal electricity. They were actually in the middle of a sexual education lesson when we began observing. It felt rather intrusive but also really neat that they are learning about that at a young age.

I left Ghana with such great respect for both the people in the communities and the impact Pencils of Promise is making. The children and families I met have such a strong desire for education and bettering themselves. They are hardworking and kinder than I see most days. Because of this trip, I know I will be a life long supporter of PoP.

Beyond that, I formed great relationships and learned about starting a company from a fantastic CEO. I believe I have an even better appreciation for education and am excited to discover how I can impact the next generation. I have a deep understanding of what some lives and cultures in Ghana look like, and I will continue to reflect on the ways life differs in the United States. I believe this experience has even influenced the way I will raise my own children some day. It was the trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity. I'm pretty much pinching myself right now.

A version of this post was published on Kate's blog.

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