BRO Launches New Partnership: Building the Blocks of Opportunity (BBO)

by Rebecca Kerman Alon

BRO Launches the Building Blocks of Opportunity (BBO)
A Global Family Business

Abrafo-Odumasi, Ghana, West AfricaAbrafo-Odumasi, Ghana, West Africa In 2001 Craig Powell found himself in West Africa, in the Central Region of Ghana where he was traveling with friends as a guest of the Ghana Wildlife Division. That is when he first laid eyes on the Natilla School, located near Kakum National Park in the twin villages of Abrafo–Odumasi. There, he met children who were orphaned, some as a result of the AIDS epidemic. He saw these children, who were very eager to learn, and yet the community had very few resources. He gave his host, a woman named Mrs. Agatha Gyinah, $100 when he left Africa, and told her to use it for books or supplies for the kids.

He never anticipated what would happen next.

Powell returned to Texas and continued working on his Masters degree in Community Based Wildlife Management. But he kept imagining the bright smiles and eager faces of the children back in Ghana. And though he made some missteps along the way by sending books and games which were not always immediately understood; a Twister game mat still serves as a table cloth in Mr. & Mrs. Gyinah's home, he could not get the children and their yearning for an education out of his head and heart. The Natilla School had so much potential; he knew this and others recognized the need and potential as well. The school's namesake, Natilla, is a young German woman who has put her heart and her resources behind the school over the past ten plus years. Along with her friend Stefan, they first came to Ghana in 1998 to carry out their national civil service. Momma Agatha GyinahMomma Agatha GyinahAfter becoming acquainted with the school proprietors, Mr. & Mrs. Gyinah and meeting the children, they have been returning to Ghana and supporting the school ever since. Natilla spends her time at the school reaching out to try and give these students a solid foundation for learning. Because of her generosity and spirit, they named the school for her.

Powell knows from firsthand experience that Ghanaians are adept at local construction methods; mixing and pouring their own sun dried cement blocks and clearing land with machetes. But what they lack is capital to fund a project from start to finish; often by the time one wall was finished, months could pass before funding for the remainder of the project is funded and complete. Over time the torrential rains and humid conditions in the rainforest would cause one wall to slide or topple before the next wall could be built. GIVE has been successful by funding projects from start to finish.

Through his personal experience Powell knows that individuals can make a significant difference in developing countries like Ghana. People, who are willing to roll up their sleeves, get dirty and most important, get involved. People who envision a better education for children who are so eager to learn; education which is a key component in breaking the cycle of poverty for future generations of Ghanaians. Powell never thought of himself as one of those people, but when the opportunity to raise money for the school presented itself – he was just crazy enough to do it.

Making & sun drying the bricks that will one day be a wallMaking & sun drying the bricks that will one day be a wallAnd so GIVE was born.

Ghana Initiative for Valued Education is the non-profit Craig Powell established to provide educational opportunities to children in Ghana, West Africa. The Natilla School Complex was the first school in Ghana to receive help from GIVE. Today there are 400 students enrolled in the Natilla School, from nursery/kindergarten to grades 1-8.It is one of 10 schools of the 150 schools in the local district to have running water and electricity.

Powell has witnessed firsthand from his many home stays that kids here have such hard lives every day; each day before school kids are sweeping the yards in the twilight of early morning {yards are denuded to discourage snakes}, fetching water for the community well, caring for siblings and cooking in the afternoons and evenings. For children in Africa, school represents the only time each day where they can focus on doing something just for themselves. “Being in school gives them a chance to be kids," Powell said.

The schools poly tower for the water closetsThe schools poly tower for the water closetsSince 2001, Powell has made five trips to Ghana. Together with the help of the resourceful citizens of Abrafo-Odumasi, the well-crafted master plans of Mr. Samuel Gyinah, who is a retired draftsman by trade and the generous spirit of stateside friends and family along the way, GIVE has added eight classrooms to the school, water closets, a septic tank, water well, storage tank and pump, chalkboards, books, and an oven for the canteen, where basic lunches are cooked each day for the children. The school has grown into one of the top schools in the Central Region. One of his proudest accomplishments was bringing running water and toilets to the school. “In addition to improving personal hygiene which is vital to preventing the spread of disease; I wanted to give the students a sense of personal pride; while a flushing toilet and hand sink is something many of us take for granted, it was pretty huge here in the Central Region of Ghana." Powell has raised money through auctions in his home state of Texas; he has hand-carried computer hard-drives to Africa, and has become an extended family member of the Gyinahs, the family that owns the school.

In 2003, with his personal funding, Powell supplied electricity for the school. This was no easy task, considering the school is near Kakum National Park, a rainforest, so running electrical lines was expensive and time consuming. Now, hundreds of children have the opportunity to receive a proper education, and Powell has watched the seeds of GIVE grow, as one of the first students he met back in 2001, is now a teacher himself at the Natilla School, continuing a generation of education that gives back to the community exponentially. Students playing soccer at the schools fieldStudents playing soccer at the schools field"I met Emmanuel when he was 9. Now he has finished high school, and he teaches second and third grade at the school, while attending Teacher Vocational College himself. He is a very bright young man and will be the future administrator of the Natilla School." Powell said with pride. In the coming year GIVE will focus on providing scholarships to children in rural areas of Ghana.

Though there are 46 dialects, English is the primary language of Ghana, and the school is secular so it includes children of Christian and Muslim faiths. It includes grades K-8, plus a nursery school. The next phase in the works is a library, which is a big undertaking because it will be the first room in what will become the second story of the main building.

Shadow's extended family in San Francisco includes Joe Baker of Bay Recorders. He is the son of John Baker (6/28/30 – 1/2707), who is the man that in 2001 believed in Powell's desire to help the children. It was not a project at that time, just a desire to reach out and make a difference. So John Baker reached back, and together they helped secure the first of three donations from Pier 1 Imports, that became the first seeds of GIVE.

Emmauel Gyinah teaching 4 digit numbersEmmauel Gyinah teaching 4 digit numbersPowell and Baker are not related by blood, but do consider themselves brothers. They both share the belief like music; education is the gift that once shared, is an ongoing and sacred.
Beginning January of 2009, BRO will be donating 10% of all BRO BY MAIL sales to the GIVE foundation, with an option for all BRO bands to match the support.

BRO's 2009 GIVE goal is to contribute $300, sponsoring a student for one year with full tuition, books, book bag with supplies, and two school uniforms.

BRO & GIVE founders - Bobolink Music Festival 2008BRO & GIVE founders - Bobolink Music Festival 2008Kindergarten & Nursery built by GIVE<br />
completed January 2009Kindergarten & Nursery built by GIVE
completed January 2009