By Jessica Brodie
ORANGEBURG—Rural churches in the heart of South Carolina responded in Christian love to rural brothers and sisters half a world away, and their generosity has made possible a technology center and library that could transform a nation and its people forever.
In April, construction was completed on the 6,000-square-foot center in Abesewa, Ghana, a village in the Ashanti Region of the northwestern African nation. The Orangeburg District of The United Methodist Church partnered with The Methodist Church of Ghana to build the center, which has brought 48 computers to a community where most residents had never before seen one.
“My eyes were filled with tears when I saw it—I couldn’t believe it, thought I was dreaming,” said Bishop Kofi Asare Bediako of the Sunyani diocese of The Methodist Church in Ghana. “The impact it will have on the people will be very, very tremendous. It is the biggest investment that has been done there.”
With a population of about 1,000 people, Abesewa had no computers prior to the center, yet the schoolchildren are required to take their final tests on a computer, which sets them up for failure because they have neither the skills nor the access to take the exams. The center will not only enable the children to finish school and possibly attend college, but it will help adults achieve literacy and enroll in business and training programs that will help the small farming community and the region as a whole.
“It is something everybody in that place needs,” said Orangeburg District Superintendent Frederick Yebuah.
Yebuah is from Ghana originally, and he introduced the idea to his district as a way to help his native country. Jim Arant, Orangeburg District congregational specialist, headed up the project, which he said garnered support from 84 of the district’s 93 churches.
“It’s amazing,” Arant said. “The district is not in the best financial setting, and there’s not much of an economy, but these people have a heart for showing support for The United Methodist Church and even over-raised our goal.”
The goal was $80,000; the district raised $98,000 and counting. Construction began in 2015 and was completed this spring using Ghanaian materials and labor.
In April, Arant and three others—Geoff Coston, the Rev. Bobby Gordon and the Rev. Danny Chamblee—traveled to Abesewa to do the finishing touches: install the computers, which involved converting the 220-volt local power grid to a 110-volt and running electrical wires, plus set up two 55-inch monitors and do a training.
“The computer lab is probably one of the most state-of-the-art in Africa,” Arant said, noting it uses the RACHEL module, an offline website. “It doesn’t have Internet access, but it simulates Internet access.”
RACHEL stands for Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning, and Arant said the system—and the center itself—will have a far-reaching effect.
Coston pre-loaded the 48 computers with the RACHEL program and sent cables and conduits to Abesewa in advance of their trip.
“What we didn’t bring, we found,” Arant said. “It was a God thing.”
People came from all over the country to participate in the center’s dedication day April 5, including the regional technology director, who told Arant he hopes to create other centers using similar technology throughout Ghana.
Mary Kay Jackson, a missionary who also works with the Methodist Development and Relief Fund, is their local contact in Abesewa. Jackson said they have big dreams for the center, which they hope can impact the whole region.
“Some have never seen a computer; now there are more than 40. Several adults have been in tears. Some drive by and stop just to see,” Jackson said.
What hit home for her was when, after they opened the cardboard computer boxes, staff would toss the boxes onto the burn pile, but the children would quickly grab them from the trash and scurry them away. Curious, she followed—and discovered they were using the keyboard images on the boxes so they could practice their keyboarding skills at home. She said their eagerness and enthusiasm was touching—and shows how much the center is needed and wanted.
Bediako said the center is opening eyes and bringing new possibilities to the people of Ghana.
“It’s very emotional,” Bediako said, noting that in Abesewa there are two worlds: the poverty-stricken world of farming, where they are barely able to scrape by, and the world of the well-off.
“Any child growing up in Ghana has some anxiety: if I’m not able to make it, I’m consigned to subsistence. But this brings hope, makes them feel good about the future,” Bediako said.
He said the center can also help the agriculture industry, as the Ghanaian government is introducing new farming technologies, and the center can host programs to teach these technologies to the people and help them achieve a more prosperous future.
Jackson said she continues to be struck by how excited the people are. On dedication day, they lined up at the center, jostling for a glimpse, pressing in so close she and the bishop thought they might even break the door down. She said that excitement was evident throughout construction and continues today.
“A couple of the teenage girls during the construction would be out there carrying buckets of dirt to help the contractors, cleaning trash, cutting weeds, cleaning floors, scrubbing on their hands and knees,” Jackson said; those girls were among the first to step inside the new center.
Arant said the district isn’t stopping its efforts to help Abesewa now that the center is done. Orangeburg District churches continue to raise funds, hoping for another $10,000 to dig a well and build a latrine building for the people there, who are currently using unsanitary and dangerous bathroom facilities.
“It’s just a hole, and there’s no door for the kids’ latrine; it’s terrible,” Arant said.
Bediako is also hoping the area can secure a school bus or similar vehicle to transport children from the next city to the center, and Jackson is exploring options to enable South Carolina computer and adult literacy teachers to come to Abesewa and lead a workshop there.
It’s all about relationships, she said, noting effective ministry is not about building buildings or providing computers.
“Effective ministry is about connecting with people,” Jackson said.
For more about the technology center and the latrine project, or to learn how to help, contact Arant at 803-727-0327 or [email protected], or write Orangeburg District Technology Project, P.O. Box 303, Orangeburg, SC 29116. Learn more at http://umcscinghana.org.
By Jessica Brodie