‘A mini Gibraltar in the middle of Ghana’
Imagine you decide one day that you want to do something more in life, travel but at the same time be doing something useful which helps others.
Now, imagine that you take the plunge and five years later you have built a school in a remote village somewhere in Africa.
This is the way in which HelpmelearnAfrica came about.
Louise Barea, a staff nurse at the Primary Care Centre, now looks back five years after she started her journey and can see among one of the fruits of her efforts some 370 children from a remote region in Ghana being educated under the roof of the school she helped build.
Her story has captured the imagination of many who have followed her Instagram and blogs in recent months.
Louise has created “a little mini Gibraltar with its flag and all” in Ghana.
Just hours after returning to Gibraltar this month Louise Barea accepted an invitation to speak to the Chronicle about the project she has embarked upon.
Explaining how it all started five years ago when after taking part in a youth club project at Cheshire Homes in Tangiers her wish to travel and help others started.
Meeting up with another Gibraltarian who had already worked as an aid worker and was now heading to Ghana to build two classrooms Louise took the plunge and joined heading for the first time to Ghana.
After completing the project, back in 2013, which saw the creation of two classrooms in what was a small impoverished village in Ghana, she travelled through Ghana before returning to Gibraltar with the urge to do more.
The visit to a small village in Ghana was eye-opening for Ms Barea and “completely different” to anywhere she had visited before.
“A country with high risk of malaria, and a country that is corrupt, but I really didn’t look at it like that,” she said.
“I looked at the fact I was going to do something very rewarding I was going to help people it was something out of my comfort zone. I think I had this instance in that I needed to do it. I did it and it’s probably the best thing I have ever done in my life.”
“So then I went back in 2014 and I built an extra four classrooms. We built Maranatha School.”
Louise kept in contact with people she had met in Ghana but for the next few years, due to her studies and work, she was unable to return.
In 2018 a friend who lived in Ghana approached Louise.
They told her “that the school was in bad condition, that the increase in students was so big that they were lacking resources, they were lacking rooms.”
“There was something like over 30 kids to one class so I thought I am going to take a trip over and see what happens,” she said.
She returned to Ghana where she encountered that the problems the school was having was due to the success of the school itself.
When the school was built the area went from having no school to enrolling some 150 children.
In her absence the popularity of the school had grown and it was now catering for some 370 children with only six classrooms and few resources.
“It became overpopulated for the amount of classrooms they had,” Ms Barea told the Chronicle.
“A lot of people where happy with the school and kids in Africa really want to learn but what happens is they were lacking a lot of resources because there were so many kids.”
“They didn’t have books, they didn’t have white boards, they didn’t have black boards, they didn’t have anything. So I went back and I decided to start my own fundraising. To my surprise I managed to fundraise over £3,500 in just two weeks.”
“With that money I purchased 1,500 text books of every subject of every age. Books in Ghana are cheap and I still had enough left over. So I thought what do I do with this money? So I decided to fix two more classrooms. So we put two more classrooms. We did a roof, a floor, we bought black boards, white boards, a veranda, sports equipment, everything. All with that money. Because everything is very cheap in Ghana.”
As the volunteer charity worker explained her intention was not just to provide the resources but by obtaining the resources locally in Ghana she was investing the money into the community itself adding to the efforts.
During her time in Ghana she would run into the city, collect the money, buy the materials and resources required and discuss with labourers and other people what she needed to do.
This would entail from buying the books to getting the labour to build the floors.
“Obviously they were very helpful and I managed to do that whilst I was there for the two weeks.”
Yet when she departed she aware that there was “stuff that wasn’t finished.”
“I still needed funding for the roof and I didn’t have money for other things.”
With her project having already gathered some popularity within her social media network with daily messages praising her and offering assistance Louise set about creating her own registered charity in Gibraltar to raise funds.
“I opened a charity account, and basically I didn’t sleep for two months,” she said.
“All this whilst working. So I decided to build a library. I thought what am I going to do with these books now? They still need space. They need space for assembly, for PTA meetings. They need space for all the books that I bought since at the moment they are all stacked up in a very small room and bringing them out daily. So I thought ‘why don’t I build a library?’ So I decided to announce it on Facebook.”
Her decision has seen not only a new website launched after a web developer offered his assistance but will also see local company Invision Design and Construction plus a large group of Gibraltarians heading to Ghana for her next project in June.
Already since the launch of the charity, she has also received help from companies such as Bassadone who provided the bulk of the funds to build the roof of the school and many people asking to join her as volunteers.
Among one of the most talked about bits of support she has gained has been the assistance by the Gibraltar FA.
The images of children in Ghana playing with the Gibraltar national shirt on have captured the imagination of many on social media.
Louise admits that she literally just walked into their office and asked for help.
After meeting with GFA officials Richard Manning and Gareth Latin and receiving assistance with some fundraising he request for football kits was met with a surprise. Instead of the 18 kits she had asked for she received three-fold the numbers.
The assistance now provides the children from the school the opportunity to play for the first time in their local leagues.
“Everyone knows football is huge in Africa, they don’t have TV they don’t have money, they don’t have anything at all,” she said.
“What they have is a football. So after school, before school, any time they can, all they are doing is playing football. So at the moment the school can’t compete against any other school because they can’t afford any strips.”
Carrying three suitcases of kits to Ghana she has since managed to get teams organised for Under 13s, Under 15s and adults.
“I think being happy was an understatement as to what went on there,” she commented as she described the joy the kits had brought the children and praised the efforts from the GFA.
The co-operation with the GFA looks unlikely to end there as she will now be meeting them to discuss the future. She also hopes that the links with football might one day yield a link between local clubs and the children.
Her work is far from finished though: “I don’t know how it feels like having achieved this. People stop me in town and ask me or say well done and how rewarding it must be. But I think most people who have been to Africa or any poor country in Africa can tell you there is never enough money to go round for the poverty and you never finish anything so there is so much to do. So yes I feel proud of myself and I feel happy with what I have achieved but I still have so much to achieve and I still want to do so much more.”
“So at the moment I feel hungry, I feel I need to do more and I think that Gibraltar has supported me so much that it is quite shocking. They have responded so well that this is only the start of something new we are just going to keep building this village, helping this kids get an education and hopefully in the future get some doctors some nurses out of this school. That will be my dream.”
“I hope one day they won’t need me. That would be a dream itself. The dream is that the school would be finished and all I would have to do is overlook for it. I would like to have sponsors each year so that the school can have the finances every year since it’s the only school in the district and it’s only funded by the people from Gibraltar.
It’s a half government school, but the other half is completely funded by the people here which is quite strange since its like having a mini Gibraltar in the middle of Ghana. They even have a Gibraltar flag up.”
Louise will be organising further fundraising events including Zumba tonight at 6.30pm at the Catholic Community Centre.
Donations can be made via ‘HelpmelearnAfrica.com’. The website includes a link to the ‘Go Fund Me’ page.
So far she has raised around £3,000 out of her £21,000 target for the 2019 library project.