We specifically drove to the northern half of Ghana to visit the town of Sawla where we could visit both the Sawla School and the Sawla Hotel. IntelliTect began sponsoring the work of the International Assistant Program (IAP) organization back in 2012 with the building of a home for children. Once it was completed and running, the sponsorship transitioned to building a hotel where the kids could then work in order for the home to become self-sustaining. The hotel completion coincided with the completion of paving the main road to Sawla, thereby increasing traffic, especially traffic headed for the game park 1 hour further north. The end result was that IAP no longer requested our sponsorship; the program was essentially self-sufficient. In the non-profit world, this is a very rare occurrence, and Elisabeth and I were excited to have been part of the effort.
Somewhere along the way, the Ghanaian government requested that all child homes (like the Sawla Home) be closed and children get transitioned back into homes within the community. (This is consistent with the UN recommendation to care for orphans but general guidelines applied universally is likely to be problematic.) Unfortunately, this was not great for all the children, as now some of them were vulnerable in the same homes they previously left because they were unsafe. Regardless, rather than abandoning the community, IAP saw it as an opportunity to pivot. They transformed the home into a school for the community. They essentially built one classroom per year, so now they have a creche/nursery, two years of kindergarten, and primary school grades 1-3. There are 30 students in each class, for a total of 240 students. The numbers are in stark contrast to public schools, which generally number over 100 children per classroom, if not significantly more. And, as you can see in the photos, another classroom is under construction, having been completed by the time I wrote up this post.
During our stay in Sawla, our host, Moses, also took us to see some water wells that IAP had built. They noticed how people in the community had to walk a significant distance, frequently to the hotel, in order to obtain water. While they didn’t mind the visit, they built a couple community wells so that the women (yes, the women are generally the ones collecting the water) wouldn’t have to walk so far carrying the water. We already heard the gratitude of the chief for the first well yesterday. For the second well, seeing it in use by these women (I love the smiles) was a blessing.
I was impressed that the focus was on the wells, not the well-builders. IAP didn’t mount a plaque declaring the water well was built by Christians for a Muslim community or such. It was a water well, and that is enough.
While the work of IAP in the Sawla community is amazing, it isn’t all ideal. I share this because I strongly believe that philanthropy is like an investment. Sometimes investments yield 100 fold or more; sometimes they struggle; and sometimes they fail. Any organization, especially one working in Africa where stuff inevitably happens, gains more credibility when they share the good and the bad. Here are a few examples: After the hotel, IAP attempted farming to supply food for the hotel along with additional jobs for the children living in the home. (Toward this effort, we sponsored the purchase of a tractor.) Unfortunately, the economics didn’t pan out, and they couldn’t make the farm profitable. In addition, they started a bakery. I was excited to hear how this was going since occasionally we have been unable to find bread along our journey, and I thought a bakery would make a great small business in the community. While the bakery is still running and we enjoyed eating the fresh bread during our stay, it isn’t profitable. Inflation throughout Africa is a major problem. (In Ghana, for example, the annual inflation is around 40%.) Therefore, to remain profitable, the bakery needs to increase prices to account for the higher price of goods and labor. However, the community expects the price of bread to remain relatively static in spite of inflation. And, rather than buy bread at a higher price, they go without the luxury of it altogether. Finally, during the COVID epidemic, tourism was essentially shut down, and since then, it has not fully recovered. The result is that in the first full year post-COVID, they are not quite profitable. When you consider all the jobs they are providing, especially for former residents in the home, along with the additional help they provide at the school, it is still making a wonderful impact on the community, but it isn’t currently self-sustaining like it once was. Like any business, discussions are under way on how to pivot based on the new findings. One possible option, for example, is to expand into supporting conferences.
One more comment about IAP and the work in Sawla. The IAP leadership team first met Moses, our host, because he was their driver from Accra to Sawla – originally a 2-day drive. Now, he is their trusted leader in Ghana. He never graduated from school, has no leadership training, and works as a used car salesman for his regular job. And yet, he is making a huge impact on the lives of hundreds in Sawla and maintains an incredible humility about it. He is an impressive man whom we enjoyed hanging out with during our visit to Sawla.
IAP continues to invest in the school and support the hotel. I highly recommend you consider sponsoring IAP and the work they are doing, either in Sawla or elsewhere.
Also, there are numerous organizations that dig wells in Africa. The two organizations that IntelliTect has supported and that I would highly recommend are IAP (here in Sawla, Ghana) and World Vision (in Southern Kenya). A water well investment with IAP in Ghana generally costs less than $5,000. In Kenya, the investment is significantly higher at $15,000. In addition,