Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grand Opening Pictures

About 120 people attended the grand opening ceremony, and we rented canopies to protect everyone from the hot sun. There was a nice breeze during the early part of the day, so it was remarkably cool in the shade. The two pictures directly above and directly below were taken before we got started, so you can see some of our students in purple and white uniforms playing and others napping. Overall, the children were very well-behaved.

Our ceremony began in full after the Chief of Dalun (second seated person from left, in yellow smock) arrived.

When the Chief started approaching the gathering from his palace, a group of musicians marked his arrival with drumming. As the Chief came closer, they briefly knelt before him and then got up to resume drumming. Drumming is often used to honor the presence of chiefs at official events in northern Ghana.

A group of aides to the district imam offered a prayer in support of the school and community. Throughout Ghana, many events - and sometimes even routine meetings - include a prayer. In the South, it will typically be a Christian prayer, whereas in the North it will usually be a Muslim prayer - unless the organization happens to be predominantly Christian.

Later, Fatawu and I gave short speeches (I'm in the picture on the right, with a translator from a local radio station). I usually enjoy public speaking, and this occasion was especially exciting since it marked the tangible opening of something we'd been working on for so long. We felt an added sense of seriousness since we were addressing not only community and district leaders, but also the parents of the children we'd be teaching. We emphasized that their involvement in their children's learning would be crucial to our success.

On the lighter side, we also had some great dancing! On the left, Habib, our Project Manager, is burning up the dance floor. The Chief even complimented him on his abilities.

At the end of the event, we welcomed everyone inside one of the classrooms.

Once inside, Fatawu (second from right) showed the Chief, the coordinator of a local NGO called the Ghanaian Danish Community Program, and others a sampling of our school supplies. The chief seemed impressed with the books, and many others commented that they liked the map of the world.

The map of the world was Fatawu's idea, and it will be an especially useful tool when we teach the children about different parts of the world. We want to instill a sense in our students from a young age that the world is a large and diverse place and that with enough hard work they can become global leaders when they grow up.

The day after the opening, Fatawu (far left), Habib (far right), my dad (second from right), and I (second from left) met with the Chief (middle). We talked about how the committee he was forming would support Titagya and broader issues concerning the growth of the project. The Chief thanked all of us several times and said that our bringing new schools and resources to Dalun was helping him to fulfill his responsibilities to educate his village. He also offered to make my dad a sub-chief the next time he comes, in recognition of my dad's continued support for Titagya.

Lastly, a picture of the three co-founders of Titagya Schools, Habib, Fatawu, and I. Before taking this one, we were talking about how amazing it was that the finished school was once just an idea being discussed by email and long-distance phone calls. Now it's built and backed by the resources of an incorporated organization and many dedicated individuals (you!) who are focused on creating more such schools throughout northern Ghana.

This is just the beginning.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pre-School Grand Opening!

Thursday marked the grand opening of Titagya's first pre-school in Dalun, Ghana. It was a success, with more than 100 guests, who included our students, their parents, community members, village elders, district politicians, and headmasters of other schools.

The ceremony began with the arrival of the Chief of Dalun, whose entrance was celebrated with drumming. Next, there were several great speeches by the above-mentioned parties, as well as speeches by our Managing Director, Abukari Abdul-Fatawu and me. Later, we closed the event with dancing (where our Project Manager, Manzah Iddi Habib impressed the Chief with his moves!) and a ribbon-cutting. It seemed like everyone was happy, and Fatawu did a good job planning the program for it.

A few important points that most of our speakers emphasized were that community support would be essential to our program's success; active parental involvement would be needed to reinforce what children learned during the day; and Titagya must properly motivate and train our teachers so that they can effectively carry forth our mission.

Another comment that stood out to me had to do with fans. Anyone who has worked or studied in an uncomfortably hot environment for an afternoon knows that heat can distract you and thus hamper your ability to focus and learn. This scenario represents most afternoons during the dry season (the year is divided into a dry season and rainy season in Ghana) for children in many rural schools in Ghana. The only cooling mechanism in a school may be open windows in heat that can easily exceed 100 Degrees Fahrenheit. Getting back to the speaker's comment, it reminded me that small details can have a large impact and that creating a comfortable physical environment will help enable our children to focus on the activities at hand.

I'll try to post some pictures tomorrow.

Titagya was in the news recently, in the Sparta Independent and the New Jersey Herald. The former is the paper for Sparta, NJ, where I grew up for several years (Straus News is the Independent's parent company). Both stories were favorable, and we're glad that more people will be thinking about early education in Ghana. A small correction to the first story is that Ghana is in West Africa and Accra lies on the southern coast of the country. The photo in the second article was taken before we enrolled our students or completed the building, so some of them aren't current students and none are wearing their school uniforms.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Wednesday was an exciting, surreal, and long day in Dalun as we made final preparations for the grand opening ceremony on Thursday (today).

It was great to see the students' desks installed in the school after a quick trip by the carpenter to a nearby town to buy more sanded wood for the last three desks. Our painter also re-touched the surface of the school after some local children recently vandalized it with various drawings. Finding out that enough water satchels for the opening attendees - likely more than 150 people - would cost 12 Ghana Cedis (less than $9) was a powerful reminder of how far a dollar can go. It's interesting how less than half the fare for a subway ride in New York can buy a decent lunch or several children's notebooks in northern Ghana.

There were also some harder moments in the day, such as when a couple of parents tried to bribe our staff members in order to secure a place for their children at Titagya. The offers were of course immediately rejected, but it's difficult to not currently have enough spots for all the children whose parents are eager for them to come. On the one hand I'm thrilled that we'll be able to help set our first cohort of students on a very positive educational trajectory, while on the other it's too bad that forces largely outside of young children's control (e.g. whether their parents register them in time) may deny them an opportunity to a great early education. Young minds should have access to positive learning environments where they can ignite their passion for understanding and shaping the aspects of reality that interest and/or touch them most.

By increasing the student capacity at the pre-school and building a kindergarten on the same site we will at least be able to meet more of the demand in the community. Beyond Dalun, our vision is that with increased staff and financial support we'll be able to build schools all throughout northern Ghana, give scholarships to bright and underprivileged students, and partner with governmental and other institutions to incorporate aspects of the Titagya model that are most successful into non-Titagya schools.

A recent development that I'm very happy with is that we decided to keep Titagya's classrooms open after our classes are finished, in order to give students from other local schools a brightly-lit place to study. Having such a space is never something I had to worry about when I was studying. I'm glad that we're helping to make it so that future generations of students in Dalun can also take for granted the presence of a good nearby study area.

Thanks for reading!

- Andrew

Saturday, November 7, 2009


My dad, who has accompanied me on the trip, and I have been in Accra since Wednesday night, and it has been a busy but great week!

Accra is the capital of Ghana and sits on the southern coast of the country. It's both the heart of government and the main business center. It's been fantastic being back, and I'm really enjoying doing prep work for the grand opening of Titagya's first pre-school, seeing friends from previous trips, meeting new people, and showing my dad around.

To give you a brief summary, the past days have been a whirlwind of buying materials for the school, learning about other effective non-profit organizations in Ghana, reaching out to members of the Ghanaian media, and meeting with friends and people interested in Titagya's work.

On Thursday night, Kathy Knowles, the founder and director of the Osu Children's Library Fund graciously gave my dad and I a tour of her Nima Center. The Fund builds and supports libraries in Ghana. The center I saw gives children in a poor neighborhood a quiet place to read and study. I was impressed by the effective rules for behavior at the center and the staff-related policies that reward both performance and the number of years staff have worked with the organization. The Library Fund also sells great and low-priced children's books, written by Kathy, about the ABCs, colors, etc. What is unique about the books is that they feature themes and images from throughout Ghana and they are beautifully produced. They fit well with Titagya's approach and we bought a few for the pre-school.

On Friday, I met with Ghana's Minister of Foreign Affairs, who happens to be a strong supporter of education in northern Ghana. He thinks that Titagya's focus on preparing children at an early level to succeed later is a valuable approach and one which has been lacking so far. He pledged his personal support and that of the government for Titagya's work.

In about 5 hours, my dad and I will be flying North to Tamale, the capital of Ghana's Northern Region. The options for traveling from Accra to Tamale were either an approximately 1 hour-long flight or a 12 hour-long bus ride; given the compressed timeline of this trip (2 weeks) and my dad being slightly ill from the new food we thought flying would be best. More to come soon (including pictures, likely tomorrow when I get to a comp in Tamale with that capability)!

- Andrew

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Titagya Friends and Supporters,

Welcome to our blog!

We will initially use this space to give you an inner look into Titagya's activities and final planning in the days leading up to the opening of our first school in Dalun, Ghana on November 12th. I will be in Accra for about three days before traveling north to Dalun, and this blog will capture both that trip and some of the preparations for the opening that our management in Dalun are making at the same time.

We at Titagya hope you find this journey to be as exciting and fascinating as we do, and please leave a comment if you would like us to speak more about a particular aspect of our preparations or to tell us what you think. Thank you for your interest and support!

- Andrew Garza, Chairman of the Board of Titagya Schools