Ramsbury charity Action Through Enterprise expands its work in Ghana - and is the subject of a new documentary
Action Through Enterprise (ATE) is now feeding 850 children every day of their school terms and has helped to set up fifty-five small business enterprises.In Lawra District, a very poor area of Upper West Ghana where the availability of food is seasonal, the Ramsbury-based charity
The charity's strategy has been recognised by a London independent documentary company who - working pro bono - have made a film about its work in Ghana. More of that later in this report.
Sarah Gardner, a former Newbury schoolteacher, started ATE in Ramsbury four years ago after she had spent a year with VSO training teachers in Lawra District. While there she realised that hunger and under-nourishment was keeping many children away from school.
This year ATE has added a third school to its feeding programme. The firstv two were Karbo Primary and Karbo Junio High School.
Word is spreading about the value of ATE's programmes. Dowine Junior High School's kitchen was built by the PTA and the local community. On January 12 the newly appointed cooks - recruited from the community - prepared gari (a form of tapioca) and beans as the first school meal - it is a favourite with children across Ghana.
During their school day 206 children at Dowine JHS are now getting free school meals paid for by ATE. As Sarah Gardner says: "Those children benefitting from a free school meal have better energy and concentration levels - they can now thrive at lessons and fulfil their potential."
With this expansion ATE has also increased its staff: ATE now has two members of staff in its Ghana office and three in Ramsbury - Sarah Gardner is the full-time CEO and there are two part-time staff. However, most important to ATE's success is the army of volunteers in Ghana and Britain. Sarah says: "It's like a family business - at both ends - we trust each other."
ATE has made sure its feeding programmes are properly monitored and assessed. After the free meals were introduced at Karbo Primary School, Class One showed the greatest increase in attendance levels - rising by 30 per cent to 83.8 per cent. And overall attendance at the school has gone up from 76 per cent to 91 per cent.
The average weight and height of the children at the two Karbo schools has also increased.
ATE's other main development aim in the Lawra area is to promote small businesses. Of the 55 business ventures it has fostered - on commercial lines - only three have not made it.
There is concrete evidence of 183 per cent return on the set-up grant from ATE. And after advice on marketing and sustainability, some of these business people have tripled their disposable income.
This year ATE's BizATE project - which aims to help young parents to raise the money they need to feed and support their families - held a free two-day training workshop in Lawra District. Forty-seven small business owners heard advice and shared their experiences.
Theresa, a local seamstress in her twenties with a young family, was awarded a small business grant by BizATE six months ago. She says that the workshop helped her with her business and, importantly: "The advice I still get and the success I enjoy has also had a positive impact on the lives of my family members."
Sarah Gardner told Marlborough News Online: "Here in Lawra District, where most people are subsistence farmers, families experience high levels of poverty and months of food insecurity each year. That is why the BizATE project is so important."
ATE has attracted the attention of London documentary makers Epiphany Productions. Every year they undertake one pro bono project and this year chose to donate their time and skills to ATE's work in Ghana.
Earlier this year Epiphany's founder, Asif Noorani and creative director, Graham Tilley, spent ten days in Lawra Ditsrict recording both ATE's work and how the community works.
Philippa Gardner, who acted as their escort in Lawra, told Marlborough News Online: " Through their brilliant, creative cinematography and production, they have produced a stunning and moving visual account of ATE’s work, largely told in the words of the people of Lawra."
A one minute clip from the documentary can be seen here. The full documentary will have three premieres: the first is in London at the offices of YouGov - whose CEO, Alex McIntosh, will introduce the film. This on May 19 - places are limited but can be reserved via this website.
The second premiere will be in Ramsbury's Memorial Hall on Saturday, May 21 - the details are here. The evening will be introduced by Sir John Sawers, former senior diplomat and head of MI6 from 2009 to 2014.
And the third premiere - and perhaps the most important of all - will be in Lawra itself in July.
It is hoped that the documentary will help to raisae the necessary funds to meet this expansion of ATE's work in this 'neglected' part of Africa.
You only have to listen to one of the Ghanaian contributors to the documentary to understand what is happening there. She says that so many people have ideas but no way and no funds to fulfil them: "ATE has come to lift those dreams - has come to give them hope - and they are making it now - making it better."