Under the shade of a mango tree, orphans and street children gathered to be taught how to read and write. They could not afford to go to school, so Billa Mamud took it upon himself to teach them. As more children came, Billa needed to find a second mango tree. Now, 16 years later, 154 children attend school in a modest building called Future Leaders. They are given a safe place, a free meal, and most importantly, a free education.
Future Leaders is an organization dedicated to bringing education to children who cannot afford it. They begin with reading, writing and basic math. Nine Ghanaian teachers and any number of international volunteers and interns give the lessons. Some interns, like myself, tutor children one-to-one. This way, those who need special attention are given even more help. As they progress, they are moved into higher levels and taught more complicated subject matter. Some graduate into the workforce, others even go on to study at the university.
Since the mango tree, Future Leaders has expanded its mission. It now includes a vocational school, so that men and women may learn to be hairdressers or seamstresses, useful trades in Ghana. Their products and services are used to help fund the school. Extracurriculars like a soccer team and a technology club give children a way to stay be part of a team and learn the skills they need to succeed.
Last October, Billa started a micro-finance company, which currently supports 30 of the poorest families in the school. He’s hoping to expand to all the families in need. His next goal is to hire a special needs teacher.
My time at Future Leaders has been truly inspirational. These children, who often lack family structure, come every day ready to learn. When I ask “What’s your favorite subject?” nobody says, “lunch-time” or “recess.” They shout “Reading!” or “Math!” They appreciate school, they do the homework that I assign them, they come every single day ready to learn.
When I met my first student, she couldn’t write her name or say her ABC’s. We started going through the alphabet, letter by letter. We worked on it every day, and now she writes her name on every piece of paper she can find.
In fact, on any given morning at Future Leaders you will see 50 children looking for paper, proving they can write their names.
Perhaps the best part about Future Leaders is that the teachers are native Ghanaians. They know the language, they can connect with the children in a way I cannot. At the moment, there are more than 110 children on the waiting list. The school is still growing and when it is possible Billa will buy more land and expand the school to accommodate every child.
The organization is run entirely on donations and profits made by handmade products from the vocational school. To learn more about this program or how to get involved, visit www.ucc-development.co.uk/index.htm.
Alice Hastings is a 2011 graduate of Sequim High School and attends Gonzaga University. She recently was featured in a story about recent SHS graduates working or studying overseas (“Global visions,” March 12, page A-1).