We are delighted to announce that our school re-opened for a limited number of pupils on 6 October 2020. Following Ghanaian government guidelines, our two senior classes (Junior Secondary) admitted 32 pupils to resume their studies. In preparation for their arrival, all areas of the school were thoroughly disinfected and resources put in place for social distancing. We have been advised by the government that, all being well, our remaining classes will be able to re-open in January 2021. In the meantime those younger pupils who are not able to attend school are receiving daily outreach classes in their communities.
The arrival of Covid 19
Until earlier this year, St Nicholas was making excellent progress with new buildings and resources being added to meet our expanding intake of pupils. In September 2019 we were operating 10 classes with a total enrolment of 159 (84 girls and 75 boys). Until then we had been adding a new class each year as part of our strategy to offer the full curriculum for the Ghanaian Primary Certificate of Education which will enable our children to progress to secondary school.
As the Covid 19 pandemic took a hold in Europe and America, African countries were quick to respond and impose their own restrictions. On 15th March 2020 the President of Ghana ordered the closure of all schools and St Nicholas reluctantly had to follow suit. This was a devastating blow to our children who come from very deprived communities and for whom education is a way out of poverty. As well as offering quality learning in small classes, we provide them with two nutritious meals a day and comprehensive health care.
How we have coped during lockdown
Aware that our pupils would be even more disadvantaged by missing out on their education and the other welfare benefits St Nicholas offers, we very quickly took the decision to organise an outreach learning and support program. This has involved taking our teachers directly to their students with small learning groups being set up in their local communities. Each day, pupils wearing protective masks have gathered in a socially-distanced environment to focus on their core studies. Provision has been made for hand sanitizing and all children have their temperatures checked.
We have also maintained our practice of providing the children with a hot meal each day and, in some cases have extended this to other children in local communities. Our commitment to providing healthcare has also continued during these difficult times. Our outreach program will continue for the younger children until the school is able to open its doors to all children in 2021.
Working with families
At St Nicholas we have increasingly come to recognize that in order to have an impact on improving the lives of our children we must work closely with their parents and caregivers, who themselves may need support. Engagement with families has been facilitated through our thriving Parent Teacher Association. At the same time, our teachers are trained to identify children who are struggling with their learning and for whom issues at home may be a cause of anxiety or tension. Because we take their welfare so seriously we have recently appointed a dedicated social worker – Ruth Nterful – to monitor the children’s wellbeing and liaise with their caregivers. As part of our commitment to supporting families, St Nicholas is participating in a Family Strengthening Project which is being facilitated by SOS, a highly regarded private college in Tema. This project aims to engage caregivers in child care training with a focus on improving child safety practices.
Our Supporters and benefactors
As life gradually starts to return to normal we recognize the individuals and organizations who have continued to provide support to St Nicholas during these difficult times. In particular we are grateful to the Greek construction company Mytilineous who are funding the final phase classroom complex. We are also indebted to the Tsakos shipping company for their donations of food which have enabled us to continue feeding our children during the lockdown.
Early in October we were delighted to receive a large consignment of clothing and school uniforms from one of our regular international airline crew donors.
Spreading the word
Despite being based in a deprived area of urban Ghana, St Nicholas is acquiring an international profile through our charitable arm – St Nicholas Foundation – which is based in the UK and with our historical connections to Greece through the Tsakos shipping company. Most recently the school has been championed by another Greek supporter Maria Asmarianaki, who is based in Accra. Maria has used her connections with the Greek television media to highlight the cultural links which St Nicholas is developing through our inclusion of Greek dancing and singing in the curriculum.
Covid 19 has had a devastating impact on those communities in Ghana which are already disadvantaged. In Tema New Town, many of our pupils’ families have lost their jobs and food scarcity has become a serious problem.
The pandemic has also had a serious impact on the school’s finances. Whilst we have continued to pay our staff and cover our overheads, opportunities for fundraising have been brought to an abrupt halt.
In normal times our trustees are involved in a wide range of activities to raise funds for St Nicholas. These include holding fundraising dinners, sponsoring participants in athletic events and forming partnerships with private schools in the UK. All these opportunities have been lost during the past six months and it seems likely that it may be some time before we are able to resume our normal fundraising initiatives.
As we look to the future we need to focus on meeting not only our expanding overheads but also replacing our school bus. After many years of transporting pupils and teachers from outlying areas of Tema our bus is no longer serviceable. In recent weeks we have also had to deal with shoring up our perimeter walls which have been damaged by flooding following heavy rainstorms.
Despite these setbacks the headmaster Mr Donkor, his staff and the trustees of St Nicholas remain dedicated to the education and wellbeing of our pupils. In particular we look forward to resuming normal school life with all our pupils under one roof and with the full curriculum restored.