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Opinions of Friday, 27 May 2016

Columnist: Alessandra Barbaro, Accra

There is still kindness

It was supposed to be another usual day, meeting with a friend of mine, out and about on a motorbike on Accra’s streets. To my surprise, my day took a wonderful turn.

“Sandy”, he said, “we are going to go to James town; there is a programme that I wanted you to see in a school”. “Ok”, I said.

I was excited. I was in James town not long ago. With other two volunteers, I was able to visit James town’s small and crowded fishing village and took few pictures of it from the top of the lighthouse, thanks to a ‘non-recognised tour guide’.

This time around, it was different. I was with a local guy and I knew it was going to be a different experience.

Thanks to his motorbike and riding skills, we were able to ride among little and narrow streets unknown to most tourists. I smelled different odours, saw different smiles. It is astonishing how, although it is only a few kilometres away, James town is so very different from Accra.

When we arrived at the Universal Wonderful Street Academy, there was a programme going on and I was shown a room where the founder of the school was sitting behind a large table, surrounded by white smiley faces and a cameraman.

I was offered a seat, and as a journalist, I felt there was a story to bring to light but I was totally unprepared.

No camera, no notebook, just my broken cheap smartphone and my memory ability.

While my ears were opened, listening carefully to Louis Yeboah Wonder Doe’s words, my heart was filling up with hope and I found myself secretly smiling.

The roundtable was full of food, books and new crispy and colourful uniforms were still wrapped in their transparent bags --- discovered later that they were donated by two Spanish companies, Eurifinsa-Ceinsa Group and Grupo Empresarial Eletrodomestico (Gee).

Louis, or Louis Wonder - his artist name - is the founder of the school as well as a Ghanaian artist.

He is a Rasta guy, wearing a hat from where long black dreadlocks fall well over his shoulders, dressed in a red shirt and loose dark pants.

He founded the Universal Wonderful Street Academy back in November 2012 and it has grown ever since thanks to his good heart and donations received from individuals and organisations.

His aim was, and still is, to eradicate poverty and better the living condition of James town community. “Without education you have nothing”, Louis said.

A Hundred children are now following the classes and make use of the school library at no cost at all, even on weekends.

But he has an even bigger dream: transforming the school into a big centre to give shelter to the less fortunate.

He continued: “It is not always about money; a little water is important for the children. A car without petrol cannot function; imagine a child without food and without water”.

After confiding in us, we were taken on a tour of the school and walked across to the elementary, intermediate and advanced classes for children aged 6 to 16 years.

They were smiling, waving at us and some were giving high-fives. While walking on the creaky wooden floors, I realised that without Louis (and the help of the donors), those children would go totally astray.

The group was introduced to them and they introduced themselves to us.

The kids were standing and I was looking at the next African generation holding onto small and big dreams: from a girl’s dream to become a hairdresser or a doctor to a boy’s dream to become a pilot or a footballer.

Louis told us that it is very important not to lose the African roots. “What I noticed is that people take other people’s culture; it is good to be universal but it is important to keep our own culture alive”. That is why it is possible for the kids to take extracurricular activities such as drumming, dancing, gymnastic and, last but not least, boxing.”

I was glad I had the opportunity to see the children stripping, temporarily, from their clothes into a new, clean and shiny yellow and green uniform.

Proud of wearing it, they were ready for a group photo and ready to perform and put into practice what they have learnt so far.

A play took place, followed by few equilibrium tricks, kids standing on top of each other and of course a bit of sparring.

It is well known that from James town came some of the best Ghanaian boxers in the world, to name a few, Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey and Joshua Clottey.

And who knows the next world champion may be hidden in the Universal Wonderful Street Academy.

Just before heading home, I learnt the school does not only offer a place to let a child play with his imagination through white inked pages and learning the alphabet and the numbers, thanks to the kindness of four volunteering teachers but also offers one free meal a day and free medical assistance.

I waved goodbye to the kids, sat on a bike and, while moving away from the school, with my eyes still looking back at the children, I thought: there is still kindness around me.