Orangeburg District to build technology center in Abesewa
By Jessica Brodie
ORANGEBURG—Churches in one of South Carolina’s most rural areas are coming together to help rural brothers and sisters a world away.
The Orangeburg District of The United Methodist Church is partnering with The Methodist Church of Ghana to build a technology center and library in the remote village of Abesewa, Ghana, which is in the Ashanti Region of the northwestern African nation. With a population of about 1,000 people, Abesewa currently has no computers, yet the schoolchildren are required to take their final tests on computer, which often sets them up for failure because they have neither the skills nor the access to be able to take exams.
“There’s a major difference between kids in the main cities and the kids in the rural areas in terms of their access to technology,” said the Rev. Jim Arant, who is heading up the project for the district. “Their bussing is very limited, they don't have access to public transportation, so basically if they don't have access to this technology, they’re fixed into this lifestyle and can’t go to school beyond regular education. But this project presents for these children an opportunity to have a future that they would otherwise have no hope to have.
“These kids might have a chance to go to college.”
The team, led by Arant and comprising 19 other Orangeburg District clergy and laity, is raising $80,000 to build a 6,000-square-foot technology center using local materials and labor, then equip the center with about 40 computers and Internet access, plus staff to run the center and assist with the computers. Part of the building will also be a library, and the whole building will be open to children and adults in Abesewa.
“This will mobilize the whole community,” said Orangeburg District Superintendent the Frederick Yebuah. “It is something everybody in that place needs.”
Yebuah is from Ghana originally, and he introduced the project to his district as a way to help his native country. Initially, he approached his friend Martin, with whom he went to high school in Ghana, and asked if Martin would help facilitate the building of a well on his next trip. But when Martin returned from Ghana, he had surprising news for Yebuah.
“He said, ‘Well, Freddy, I talked to the bishop of The Methodist Church of Ghana, and they said they don't need water—what they need is to train the students,” Yebuah said.
Yebuah left Ghana 41 years ago and said he knows how deprived things are in the nation and how desperately the people need help. He said not only do the students need computers to take year-end exams, but adults also need them to compete in the job market. But perhaps even more importantly, he said, the computers can be used as an evangelistic tool—something meaningful to draw people in.
“It’s similar to sports—if you want a church to flourish, bring a sport, something, so the children start going, then you can bring them the Gospel,” Yebuah said.
Yebuah decided he should not lead the project because of his Ghanian ties and instead is helping the project financially. However, Arant, who has a passion for bringing life-changing ministry to rural areas—whether Ghana or South Carolina—quickly stepped up to lead.
“I think it's the whole idea of transforming people’s lives in Africa,” Arant said. “To think about children with the possibility of moving way beyond what their limits are right now, the possibility they can be more than they are, plus they can bring a whole different economy to their region—it can revolutionize their region and be just life-changing for people in rural Africa. That’s why I’m 100 percent behind it.”
A passion to help
Fellow team members say they feel much the same.
Rev. Walter Harley, team member and pastor of Canaan UMC, Orangeburg, said being a part of a project that can so quickly and tangibly help children in poverty is why he is involved.
“For a child who lives in poverty, technology is often seen as being far-fetched. In Ghana the future of a child is murky, and as Christians, we must continue to look ourselves in the mirror. We must mirror the goals, and continue to set priorities for tomorrow's children and their future,” Harley said. “Therefore it is in this plight that I am freely supporting, and creating, a logistical plan that will address and support the children of Ghana.”
Dr. James P. Smith, senior pastor of the Pineville-St. Stephen Charge, said he cares about the project because he has seen firsthand the needs in rural Kenya, Zimbabwe and other areas.
“We live in a technological age where those who do not have access to technology will be left further and further behind. As we meet people where they are, and they share their needs, we can come alongside them to support them,” Smith said. “Scripture tells us that to whom much is given much is required. When we encounter those who are in need, and we empower them, they can begin to meet their own needs.”
Geoff Coston, who is director of marketing and technology for a law firm, said he is looking forward to helping with the project because the impact will be especially significant because Ghana is a developing country.
“There’s the old story: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Well, you can do that with technology on so many levels because all the teaching can be done through the web now for virtually anything,” said Coston, who is a member of Lexington UMC, Lexington. “That's what interested me most—bringing information to a country such as Ghana and to such a small village, I think you can really teach them a lot.”
Yebuah said churches in his district are “very excited” about helping with the ministry, noting even children are on board. At one church, Trinity UMC in Bamberg, children have begun selling chocolate to raise funds for the project.
Trinity pastor the Rev. Carol Cannon said the chocolate is fair trade chocolate grown in the region of Ghana where the technology center will be built.
“The chocolate farmers in Ghana have little access to computers, which makes it harder for their children to compete with the children from the cities. The technology center will give them access to computers. Also, it will be climate-controlled, which is important in a tropical area like Ghana. I also like the fact that we are working with The Methodist Church of Ghana, so that this is a partnership with other Methodists,” Cannon said about why she is involved.
The project is raising funds in two phases. By March, they need to send $10,000 to begin work. Then they will focus on raising the remaining $70,000. Yebuah said they intentionally waited until the push for final 2014 apportionments payments was done, and now they plan to focus full-speed on funding the project. He said they are hoping to come up with as much money as possible between now and June.
They are hoping to send a team over soon to assess building and technology needs. Plans for the building are already in place, so their major focus will be on the technology. Arant said there is such a difference in Ghana in terms of needs; they have semi-erratic power supply, which might require a generator. Plus, a different kind of computer is typically needed in third-world countries, Arant said, one that is much more substantial with power that lasts longer, computer compartments that are fully sealed for dust, and more.
But Arant said the Orangeburg and Abesewa churches are eager to get started.
“We think if we build one, we can build two, and we are hoping we won’t stop here; we are hoping we can continue doing great things over there,” Arant said. “We haven’t even begun to think about the scope of change we can make. We think this is one simple task of helping kids be educated, helping them use computers, but we don't even talk about the local impact, with the computer available to local leaders and even doctors.
“It's limitless in the potential it could have.”
For more information on the project or how to help financially or otherwise, contact Arant at 803-727-0327 or [email protected].