HISTORY OF BOSOMTWE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Bosomtwe International School is a project managed by the IOEF Foundation which officially started in 2007...
In connection to a charity concert at the Zurich International School in Wädenswil, Switzerland, the organizer asked me if there were school projects in my home country of Ghana that she could donate a part of the proceeds to. Together with a colleague of mine, I decided to purchase learning material for a school in Kumasi, Ghana.
During my next stay in Ghana, I met the director of a local village school near the legendary Lake Bosomtwe. We visited the small school and found an uncleared piece of land on which there was nothing but a rundown wooden structure that was the school building and a small wooden hut where a portion of rice was prepared for the students on a daily basis. Around 20 students came more or less regularly to school undergoing a walk of several kilometres each way. The director was almost at the point of quitting when we spontaneously decided to support the school in order to provide the local children with consistent education.
We gathered more money for tables, teaching materials, clothes and shoes through donations from my students and their parents and also from school events. However, the school was still lacking in many areas. For instance, the teachers in Ghana had been working pro bono and so we decided to gather larger sums of money through football tournaments, sale of African drums and crafts in order to provide at least a modest salary for the local teachers.
I decided to purchase the land on which the school was built and the surrounding area in order to guarantee that the school could remain there. I spent most of my vacation on-site cultivating the land with the help of my Ghanaian friends and building a fence around the property so that the children could play there safely. During that time I noticed that only very few students came to school due to the great distance they had to travel on foot and to their parents' lack of money to pay for the modest school lunch. We had to find a way to provide education for a larger group of students. We needed a school bus!
Another topic was the arduous pumping and carrying of water during our week long work. It quickly became apparent that the school required a water tank that would allow the teachers to focus on their lessons and provide filtered water that would guarantee a minimum of hygiene. There was a lot to discuss and plan before the digging could begin for the construction of the water tank and quite some time would pass before it would finally happen.
Full of thoughts and ideas I returned to Europe where my students and friends eagerly awaited the latest pictures and news from Ghana.
Through a larger donation and also my personal contributions, as well as the charity of some of my closest friends, we finally managed to purchase a school bus. It took us three days in the blazing heat until we found the right bus and another day to complete all the necessary administrative steps.
The joy was outrageous when we finally put the bus to use and from that day on, the number of students increased steadily. In three years we increased the number of students by five times. In order to finance the bus as well as the salaries for the teachers, we came up with a business plan for using that bus as a so-called Tro Tro taxi. We found a bus stop near the school where the bus could be put to work outside of school. With the help of the taxi business, we planned to purchase another bus and thus inspire the teachers and parents to help themselves as well.
Finally, we were able to start the water supply project and the construction of the water tank platform. Thanks to the built-in filter we could offer the students clean drinking water. However, we still did not have pipes leading to the toilets that stood on the other end of the property behind the school house.
When and how could we solve this problem with our humble means?
A fire broke out in the school kitchen and forced us to make a decision which actually helped us with our toilet problem. Since we could no longer make use of the kitchen, we needed to act quickly and so we decided to construct a dining hall that could also be used as a conference room. Adjacent to the hall we planned to build a large storage room with generous toilets equipped with automatic flushing systems directly connected to the water tank. At the front of the building, we planned to have a covered outdoor kitchen. Construction started before the end of 2009.
The first service trips of ZIS students took place in 2010. Students of grades 9 and 11 came to visit the school and helped during 1 week with the completion of the first concrete building on the school compound.
The raining season started and we quickly realized that the cooks needed a small room with a door they could close and lock during the rains and also keep food and materials dry and safe. We were proud that the work could be completed and the inauguration took place in 2010.
Once you start, you have to continue…
For the first time since 2004, we started planning. What next? And where do we want to be in 5 years?
The wooden classroom was no longer acceptable and the breakdown could be expected any day. Small financial support from many people over the past years could not help building new classrooms, or be used for the purchase of one or two school buses.
We had to look for fundraising of bigger amounts, but to achieve this, we first had to change our concept, look for qualified teachers, get the school accredited and take all the necessary steps to show supporters and donors that we were seriously planning to build up and develop the school in a professional way.
All of us worked hard and we were so happy that close to the end of 2011 we started with the construction of 3 new classrooms. It was amazing to see all of us, workmen and close friends worked hard, also during their winter holidays to make all this happen and come true.
After many years and endless efforts, we are now convinced that the direction we chose and the concept we developed is the right one. The road we chose is long but we feel the dream and soon the vision will become reality.
We are looking forward to the challenges in 2012.
2012 - 2013
The number of students increased steadily and we no longer had enough classrooms to educate them all. Since our modest financial means would not permit us to build significant additional structures. We expanded the existing building by three more classrooms and an office. Compared to where we began, this was a luxury, but personally, it inspired me to find the necessary means to provide an environment that would truly benefit the students.
Finally, we were able to begin with the construction of a new school building with five classrooms and a connected toilet facility. For the first time, we were confronted with problems that inevitably coincide with a construction project, the kind of obstacles that are difficult to solve at a distance. Constructing a new school building became a significant challenge and learning process for all of us. For the first time, different mindsets and cultural/regional perspectives became taxing on our patience and tolerance. The result was that we had to accept the manner in which our friends wanted to proceed with the construction and all that was left for us was to repeatedly share our plans and ideas with them whenever we were on site. With a great effort from all involved, we succeeded in finishing the new building complex. The result was extraordinary and the students were proud to be learning in a new and colourful environment.
Another highlight was the purchase of another adjacent plot of land. In return, we agreed to support the construction of a public toilet in the village of Behenase. To increase the level of safety of the campus, we started to build a wall around the perimeter. In order to accomplish that, we required large quantities of cement, sand and stone, which in turn meant the need for more financial means in addition to the materials and craftsmen.
In past years we only visited Ghana twice a year, however, the advancing construction and development of the school forced us to make more frequent trips. Now we are able to visit the school every two to three months as far as our vacation times permits.
The new building complex and the wall were finished. We decided to invite everyone who was part of this effort in any way to the official opening ceremony. Of course, the directors of the Zurich International School, the representatives of various educational institutions, a group of students from ZIS and our Ghanaian friends and families needed to be present. The parents of our students were also cordially invited.
The local chief (a sort of mayor who represents local justice, administration, traditional religion and culture) honoured our school with his presence. Together with other guests he cut the ceremonial ribbon, thus officially opening the new school building. We will never forget this day. Our guests from abroad were fascinated by traditional dances or procedures. The students from ZIS painted traditional Adinkra symbols all along the walls (symbols and meaning are explained under “Partnerships, Adinkra village.)
We had achieved a lot and we could have kicked back and relaxed for a while if not for another significant challenge that came during the rainy season: The erosion of the sloped school grounds. How could we solve this problem efficiently and without a large cost? A solution was presented, however at a utopian cost. Then, however, we found a landscaper who put forth a traditional solution. He suggested that we plant (not sow) a special kind of grass on the majority of the school grounds that was capable of absorbing large quantities of rainwater and conveying it to the right places. This solution was not just very efficient, but also very inexpensive compared to other suggestions and it also gave the school grounds a sophisticated look.
The growth of the school, the extensive support that we have received so far and our plans for the future of Bosomtwe International School (BIS) led us to create a foundation in order to properly manage donations.
As is the case in all countries, in Ghana we needed to fill out all the right paperwork, understand new and different laws, find the right specialists who could help us with our administrative tasks, have talks with banks and financial authorities, etc. The new foundation and the growth of the school had increased the administrative load significantly and we were happy that global connections allowed us to perform the vital administrative tasks in Switzerland.
And then... Ebola. Even though Ghana was spared, the country and its economy were shaken. Service Trips no longer took place, but we still travelled to Ghana just as before. The country's precautionary measures, as well as our own, gave us a positive outlook. This break from the status quo gave us the time to focus on the teachers and students and support them in whatever way possible.
Thanks to generous donations and the desire of our students to remain at our school even after their completion of Primary School, we decided to construct a new building for Junior and Senior High School students, a First-Aid room, a Head Office, a staff room and a supply room. We began construction before the end of 2014.
The year began with great promise and the new JHS building was slowly taking shape. Since it was to be a two-story building, the construction would prove to be much more complex than with the previous projects. We had discussed all the details with the craftsmen, measured everything precisely, calculated and ordered all the materials and returned to Europe full of excitement and anticipation. However, things did not go as planned...
We were faced with an unpleasant surprise on our next visit. In spite of pre-existing plans and precise directions, we arrived to find that the ground floor of the new building was built in the British fashion with round pillars, as we would see in official buildings and palaces. It would have been so easy to just follow the plans and architecture of the other buildings.
The stairs leading to the second floor had to be taken down due to structural deficiencies. At that point, we decided to only proceed with the construction effort when we were on site. Since the extension of the second floor and the toilet facilities were delayed by several weeks, the completion deadline of the building was moved to 2016. Smaller jobs like plastering the walls and sealing the subceiling could be done in the meantime.
For the first time since the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic, we were able to welcome students from Switzerland in October. They painted the furniture for the Pre-School and assisted in the setting up of a school garden. It would be used for experimentation, the cultivation of both local and for us more familiar vegetables. Working in the garden became part of the After School Activities that also encompassed a reading club brought to life by one of the teachers. It was later expanded by a Homework Club and individual remedial lessons.
In the final months of the year, we erected a sizeable covered outdoor eating area next to the school garden. Thus all students could eat at the same time, visitors always had a place for their meetings and activities and our smallest students would always find a place to play there.
The years of 2014 and 2015 had been the most work-intensive since our first visit to the small bush school. Following the suggestion of some business contacts, we renamed the school to Bosomtwe International School (previously Bosomtwe Community School), to highlight our commitment to provide education to students from more distant areas as well. It also reflects our international ties.
We and our students understand our school as a sort of private model school where children and teachers find themselves in a friendly and colourful environment with small classes that encourage motivated and individualized learning.
2016 - 2018
What did 2016 have in store for us?
We had many plans that we wished to achieve in the course of the year. Among other things:
- Complete the new building with further toilet facilities
- Furnishing on an IT Lab in combination with a school library
- Creation of a playground for the younger children and a sports field for Physical Education and After School Activities.
- Planting grass on the lower school grounds
- Making use of foreign voluntary teachers and medical professionals
And that is just to mention a few.
We were hoping for a quiet and peaceful new year.
The years 2016 – 2018 were the busiest and most challenging years since construction work started at BIS. Funds for the expansion of old buildings and facilities as well as the construction of the new Junior / Senior High Complex were provided by generous donors. We adapted the school concept according to regional and local requirements.
We started with the construction of a 3rd-floor storey building, offering classrooms for Junior and Senior High Students, small offices and a modern dormitory floor to host boarders. Thanks to the support of our partner school in Switzerland and private donors we were able to equip our own computer lab, a library with text and storybooks, games, puzzles etc. The classroom furniture was replaced by high-quality home used furniture.
We developed a colour concept for the classrooms and labs according to ages and repainted the Lower School Complex in 2018.
To stop erosion during the raining seasons, we started planting grass, areas which we are using since then as sports fields inside the campus. Hence the School Owner’s teaching of all types of sports as an important part of education became true. BIS’ focus is on holistic teaching.
Unexpected, difficult weather conditions, climate change, flooding, electric power failure, every second day, with extremely high or low voltage, forced us very often, to change our work plan, stop the work completely, do repairs and maintenance not part of the budget, due to the circumstances.
Our understanding of the influence that climate has on the behaviour, pace and culture of people grew with each flooding and power failure. Only patience, tolerance, flexibility and perseverance will finally lead to success. Knowing all this there are still situations from time to time where it is difficult to remain patient and tolerant. But we are working on it.
By chance, we got to know of the sale of two uncompleted houses in the small village Behenase near the school in short walking distance from BIS. These houses are perfect for teachers’ and volunteers’ accommodation and the bigger house can be used to host international students on service trips or training camps.
2 ½ years of intensive activity and hard work are over and 2019 will hopefully be the year of completion of the projects we have started. As usual, we are confident but at the same time curious if and to which extent we will be able to finish and reach our goals. We hope that the considerable changes in the education sector will not disturb our plans too much and we can go on the next “educational adventure trip” with our students and teachers, in correspondence with our teaching concept.
Many changes took place in Ghana in the past 2 years and the Education concept “Free SHS for everyone” which was launched in 2018, had an impact on the BIS plans and program. We decided to stay for some time with the Primary and JHS program, which was the right decision.
Our main focus is on holistic learning, especially at the Lower Primary Site, to build a profound and strong basis which opens up their mind and improves their learning skills for the rest of their school life.
Our former students, who unfortunately had to change to public Senior High Schools, can see a big difference and are recognized as exceptional students, with a high motivation level.
Whenever they are on vacation they return to BIS to help either inside the classrooms or outside on the constructions site, or they just come around to pay a visit and feel home again.
Due to very bad weather and infrastructure conditions in the Ashanti Region we had to slow down with the completion of the new constructions projects, i.e. the new sports changing and bathroom complex with detached washrooms. We were forced to shift the completion to the year 2020. The heavy rains caused big damage to our school wall and we had to bundle all workforce to plaster the outside walls, dig gutters, remove trees and plants growing too close to the walls. It took two months until the plastering was done, consuming about 500 bags of cement and a considerable sum for materials and labour cost. Luckily the dry season started earlier, this was very helpful to finish the work before Christmas.
Once more we had to be patient… but on the other hand, it allowed us to concentrate more on the teaching concept and teacher training. In other words, as one of our friends said, for years we were concentrating on the hardware, it was now the time to upgrade the software.
Sometimes we speak English in Germany or Switzerland, sometimes German with the Ghanaians, without even realizing it. And more and more also the different cultural aspects, traditions and behaviours are mingling. We are living in two different worlds and we try to filter the best out of it and put it together into the BIS teaching, for the sake of the children.
Ten years of project and construction work have passed and we are looking forward to another exciting decade with many wonderful surprises ahead of us. We will keep you posted.
… Living with the virus
School life and Academics
The year started promising with a three weeks’ training visit in February of the school’s head of Academics to ZIS, the partner school in Switzerland. His training comprised mostly leadership matters and was supposed to provide a deeper understanding of the Western culture and expectations.
We all flew back to Ghana at the end of February, together with two ZIS alumni who came to revisit the school to do voluntary work.
We left BIS on 10th March 2020 with the intention to return after a few weeks to celebrate Easter in Ghana and prepare for the next service trip of the ZIS students from Switzerland in May, 2020. As usual we were looking forward with a lot of enthusiasm and many exciting ideas and plans.
Already on the return flight to Switzerland covid 19, the corona virus became real, as people were talking about it and a few Asians could be seen with masks already.
We left behind in Ghana one of the ZIS alumni and former student of the school owner who was scheduled to fly back one week later. She returned to Switzerland on 15 March 2020 and one day later, on the 16 March 2020 all Ghanaian schools were closed throughout the country, including a hard lockdown. At that time nobody expected or could imagine the schools would remain closed until the end of the year 2020.
In April when it became obvious that the situation became sores we quickly set together in an online meeting and decided to set up an online distance learning program for the students, which, when we are looking back today, was maybe one of the biggest challenges BIS ever had to master since the very beginning. Lacking IT equipment in the students’ homes, bad internet connections and also not enough support from several parents where only a few of the challenges. Many teachers went back to their families, far from the school and keeping up a continuous contact was not easy. At least once a week we could reach them when they prepared the distance learning questions and videos for the students. After the lockdown those students not benefitting from the online learning program were allowed to come to the school and receive their homework outside the school compound, well protected by masks and adhering to measures like social distancing and hand washing or sanitizing.
To make all this happen, the whole BIS Team, but mainly the leaders were using different communication tools on a daily basis, whereby video calls were very helpful to avoid or correct misunderstandings and motivate the team whilst being away from school, at home with their families and more or less in a kind of a holiday mood.
Grade 8 and grade 9 students were allowed to start their classes in October 2020 which meant an extreme challenge and intensive preparation for the school. The teachers were called back and started with the preparations and implementation of the corona protocols and preventive measures. Returning to school was not easy neither for the students nor the teachers.
Already before the Xmas break we worked intensively on seating plans, extended preventive measures for visitors, students and teachers, transportation means, canteen rules and more.
Parents of old students were informed about our conditions once school was allowed to resume and we started advertising BIS at public places and published job ads on social media to replace those teachers from far who decided to stay closer to their families and not return to BIS. To replace good teachers is not easy but due to the pandemic private schools have a bigger choice than ever before which facilitates the selection of qualified teachers.
Maintenance and Construction
Maintenance issues were increasing after we had left and to address them from far and organize the right people is something which is extremely difficult and sometimes not possible.
The road construction started in 2020 and will continue in 2021, which will make access to BIS so much easier and faster and boost the number of students in the coming years. Unfortunately, there seems to be no plan to work on certain portions of the road but rather to work on certain processes and different steps which has left BIS with not yet completed and covered gutters and entrances, missing sand filling to correct the excavation damages. We are lucky to have team members who are hands-on and help with physical work when and wherever needed, be it carpentry, masonry, gardening work.
During our absence, the masons continued building perimeter walls around the students’ hostel and teachers’ quarters in the village. After the work was done we stopped all construction work from July onwards but had to build so-called “aprons” to stop heavy erosion caused by extreme heavy rainfalls, around the teachers’ quarters and inside the school compound. We did only what was urgently needed but will need to continue in 2021 and maybe 2022, depending on our presence at BIS and financial help of friends and donors.
Hours of video calls day by day were necessary to supervise masons and also the apron construction and make sure the workers were following the instructions and requirements.
We continued without the daily cleaning to maintain the classrooms and material in a good and neat condition throughout the year.
A lot of maintenance issues required attendance and repair or replacement which consumed an unexpected considerable amount of money.
We had to change the electricity meters to 3 phase meter boxes and paid a high amount for the change. The current fluctuations and power failure of averagely 60% a week were no longer acceptable and caused a lot of damages on electrical tools and equipment. There is no escape from changing the classical power system to solar lights and asap to solar panels.
In addition to all the challenges that 2020 and the pandemic brought into our lives, we also had time to discover skills in ourselves or others that we did not know before. Old traditions were given attention again and walking with or without family became one of the “new” favourite pastimes. The pandemic has forced us to remain patient, accept a simpler life and also understand and accept that only consideration and cooperation and teamwork will help us overcome the pandemic. Many have understood this lesson and we are hoping that the remaining part of the people will also understand within time.
Please allow us a short excursion to January 2021 to complete the experiences we were having with the virus.
Looking back today (at the end of January 2021) we are proud to say that with extreme efforts of the team we were able to keep most of the students in learning mood and the kids’ examinations in the past 2 weeks after schools resumed have shown that we all have done well and that most of the students will be able to follow the lessons. Extra classes and repetition for those who did not participate in the distance learning are an additional support BIS is providing to its students.
The past 10 months brought several changes including resignation of teachers, the move of grade 9 students to Public schools throughout the region, but at the same time we were enjoying the admission of many new students in the different grades, who moved with their parents from other areas to new built houses around the school. New teachers are joining as well and slowly we get used to the new “covid 19” school life.
The students are trained and reminded on a daily basis on the preventive measures and counselling has become a very important part of the lessons.
“Covid 19 Ambassadors” have been elected or assigned, which means teachers and students as well are helping and taking care that their classmates but also adults at school are adhering to the virus measures, especially hand washing and social distancing. They are doing very well. BIS is very grateful that none of our students or staff fell seriously ill with the virus and that they came back with joy and are very keen and disciplined to continue their learning.
We are looking forward with confidence to global progress in the pandemic situation and are hoping that Ibrahim and I will soon be able to fly into Ghana again and continue with the all the work we had to stop for a long time. We wish and pray that at the end of 2021 we all have got through the worst of the pandemic and will be back to a somehow “normal” life.
Please stay safe and healthy!