Scholarship Safari (or Mary and the Soup)


Yes, there are two titles for this post. I could not choose! Anyway, one of the many hats I wear at my job is Program Director for the Scholarship Program that Joy2theWorld, which started a few years back. Women who pay their loans on time and are in good standing with the org are called “A clients.” A clients’ children are eligible for scholarships if they have good grades and show interest in their education.

For this fall scholarship recipients have already been chosen, but it was my task to track down students who have not come to collect their scholarship money or who have outstanding issues with their scholarships.  So Friday morning I boarded a tro-tro and went off in search of my first student, who attends Amasaman Senior High School. Once I arrived at the school I was greeted by several older teenager’s in bright teal uniforms. (All students in both public and private schools are required to wear uniforms in Ghana.) I was directed to the headmasters office and inquired about the student. He asked me what grade he was in and when I told him that I didn’t know.  He asked me to wait in his office while he looked for him. There was no computerized roster at the high school, where over 2,000 students attended, so I imagine he literally went from class to class asking for the student! Finally, he came back and told me that the student did not exist. I walked out remembering that I had a receipt from the student from last year, and pulled it out to give it to the headmaster. He sighed, “Ahhh, I will get him.” Go figure.

I settled a few basic questions with the student, Abass Hamsah, and told him to come to the office the next day to pick up his money. One down!

Next I went to Kutunse Primary School to attend to a little girl named Mary. When I arrived the teacher said she had not been to school in the past two weeks. When I asked why, she whispered, “Mary, she had accident.” What kind of accident? “She fall into soup.” She what? “She bent.  She bent.” I couldn’t figure out what she was saying, and eventually understood the word “bent” meant “burnt.”

She explained to me that she was fighting with her sister while her grandmother was cooking soup and she tripped and literally fell into the big vat of soup. She and the headmaster insisted on taking me to her house so that I could see her. We got into a taxi (the headmaster, two teachers, and myself) and headed to her small hut miles away. In the taxi, they asked me to use her scholarship money to get her a bike because she had to walk to so far and she was always late to school. I explained that we only had a limited amount of money for each student and whatever was left over after her school fees were paid could certainly go towards the bike.

When we arrived at her home, I was surprised to see that she and her sister lived in a small one room shack with only a straw mat on the damp dirt floor. They made me wait outside while her mother tidied up, but when I entered, I can’t imagine what she was tidying because there was literally nothing in the room but people. Mary sat propped up on the mat when I entered. I could tell she was physically uncomfortable but seemed fine with all her teachers and me sitting around gawking at her. One teacher asked her to lift up her shirt to show me the burn. She slowly pulled up the right side of her tank top to reveal the huge span of skin that was not dark brown, but pinkish white. It reached from the middle of her rib cage down past her pants line. Red blisters appeared to be healing and there was a gray substance that I feared to be mold on parts of the light skin. When I asked them about the gray patches, they told me it was an ointment that they got from the hospital. She told me she wanted to go back to school and would return Monday. It seemed really soon to go back, but I told her mother to come to the office to retrieve her scholarship funds and she thanked me in a soft, grateful voice.

I left her home feeling sobered by the experience. I still had more students to find. I took a taxi up the mountain to another high school where they told me the student I was looking for had graduated from the junior high school and directed me to her home. I found her pounding fufu in her back yard. I asked her why she was not going to high school and she told me that she wanted to go, but did not have the money. I told her she had a scholarship, and she must have thought it only applied to the school she was currently attending. She was grateful to learn that this was no the case. I told her to come to the office and talk to Kathleen (my boss) about getting back into school and she said she would come the next day, but she never showed. :(

The last two students were short stories. One had completed primary school and her teachers did not know which JHS she was attending. And the last student was apparently the younger sister of the first. She was excited to receive her scholarship money and came to the office the next day to collect. The headmaster of her school asked me if we had more scholarships to give and I told her that only children of our clients were eligible. She asked, after thinking for a moment, “Can I be a client?” I smiled and told her she could stop by and pick up an application.


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  1. Lila says:

    Poor Mary! I hope she heals up soon!

  2. Lila says:

    Oh, and I hope she has enough money left over for a bike :)

  3. Celso Puente says:

    Good inightful story. How do you market your group to people of Ghana to get them involved? To become clients?

  4. Lisa says:

    What is pounding fufu?

    1. admin says:

      fufu is a dish that is made of cassava and plantains, they make it by pounding it in a big bowl with a long stick.

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