Monday, April 14, 2008

Work Begins in Togo and Ghana (8/06)

In the summer of 2004 Messan Minyanou, chair of the OI America Exploratory Committee for Togo, informed me that our new board had been formed in Lomé with a doctor, lawyer, artist, sociologist and English teacher – an ideal OI board composition. The Togo Committee had acquired toys from the United Nations School in New York for the upcoming Togo House in Lomé.

OI Togo’s by-laws were submitted to the Ministry of Interior for approval. Messan met that summer with the Minister of Public Health and Social Affairs, Mme. Suzanne Aho, who welcomed the project and assured us of her assistance. The next step in Lomé is the recruitment of a director and houseparents. Michel Kinvi served first as the OI America Togo Committee Secretary and worked later as my assistant.

OI Togo Treasurer and Secretary meet with
President to form new board in Lomé.

Hubert Eteh-Benissan of OI America’s International Council has made three trips to Togo to pull the organization there together, following in the footsteps of Messan Minyanou. OI America Council member Ernst Fiabu is spearheading efforts to create a project in neighboring Ghana.

Each of the villages I visited in Togo and Ghana, whether attending a ceremony in Gboto Village, Yoto Prefect, or looking at possible homes in Esse-Dzogbedji Village, Yoto Prefect, has a chief. In Dzelukorpe, outside Accra, there is a chief. And so of course there was a chief in Hubert Eteh-Benissan’s hometown, a village near the Benin border of Togo.

Walking across the dusty courtyard, with the sun shining down brightly, we disturb several large lizards that go scurrying off. The Reception Room is large, with a full screen TV playing French-speaking cable. The many assistants have sat us and brought an assortment of beverages. As the Chief enters to make his way to the large sofa, with pillows arranged so that only one person may sit upon it, we rise. Then, one at a time, we move to greet him, falling down on one knee with head bowed. The Chief extends his hand to me and I grasp it in both of mine. He pulls his hand back after a moment. I stand and move back to my upholstered chair. The greeting formalities are over.

I next introduce Orphans International in English, which he understands, although he replies in French. Hubert and the chief continue in both French and Ewe, the local language spoken along the coast from Ghana to Benin. The chief tells us that 250 years ago a British sea captain had agreed as a favor to the African royal family to take one of his ancestors to England to study European ways for eighteen years. Upon his return he served as a cultural and linguistical translator for commerce back and forth along the coast of West Africa.

OI Togo was set to open by the end of 2006, and OI Ghana in the spring of 2007. Following an exceptionally successful trip to West Africa sponsored by Air France, OI America Ghana Committee Chair Hubert Eteh-Benissan and I met with business, government, health sector, and NGO leaders in Lomé, Accra, and the Volta region between the two.

Press Conference in Lomé, Togo August 2006
where we introduced OI Togo to the media.

We presented OI to the African press corps in a press conference in Lomé, capital city of French speaking Togo, in August 2006. Flanked by Hubert, as well as the president of OI Togo, Dominique Awa, and the Minister of the Department of Social Affairs, the Hon. Agnélé Mensah-Atoemne, I helped field questions from over fifty journalists. With the Minister of Social Affairs and the OI Togo president beside me, I was in good company: Dominique Awa serves as Togolese Secretary General of the Minister of Security.

During the trip we met with what I began to refer to as the Usual Suspects: UNICEF Togo, CARE Togo, SOS Children’s Village of Togo, Afrique Aide of Togo, and the Chamber of Commerce of Lomé, as well as the Prime Minister of Togo, the American Ambassador to Togo, the Minister of Social Affairs of Togo, and Miss Togo, who has agreed to help represent OI Togo I also met with three chapters of Rotary International, which each expressed interest in assisting us.

On the road looking at homes and properties for OI Ghana,

In Ghana our delegation visited government offices, met with representatives of the Ministry of Social Welfare, and began the legal process to incorporate and register as both an NGO and an orphanage in Accra, the capital city of English-speaking Ghana. Dr. Nesfield Semey, a psychiatrist at Pantang Hospital, is the president of the Ghanaian OI board. He is offering OI Ghana a large parcel of land outside the Volta Region’s capital city of Ho to begin building a campus for orphaned children there.

Another OI family note: Dr. Semey is the uncle of Ernest Kwesi Fiabu, the chair of the OI America Ghana Committee. Ernest’s brother, Israel Fiabu, joined the delegation in Ghana. OI always welcomes family participation!

More than 100 orphaned children brought in by
Prefect caretakers to register for OI Togo.

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