The cold Pittsburgh winter was quickly forgotten in the overwhelming heat of West Africa. With the smell of the humid Ghanaian air I instantly knew I was back home, ready to begin what would become one of the most emotional journeys of my life. This chapter of my mission came with large expectations. Hope for Ghana’s mission of bringing hope and opportunity to the children of the Volta Region remained unchanged. This mission of bringing educational tools never before available to these children was still the same. But the emotional level was all together different, as Hope for Ghana’s third library would be dedicated to a young girl, Elena Haasen, who had died at the age of 16 only five months ago.
I was welcomed in Ghana in the same wonderfully warm way I have been welcomed for almost three decades. The smile of the Ghanaian people is infectious. It is in such direct contrast to their apparent sense of want and need. I knew I had come home.
The first stop when I arrived in Keta was Tegbi Agbedrafor Basic School, the site of Hope for Ghana’s third library. The headmaster let me understand how rare it is for a school to have a library. In his own words, “the library is the heart of a school.” He reminded me in that moment of why I had come to Ghana, and let me know how grateful he was that a library would be built at his school of 600 primary and junior secondary school students.
I was given an empty classroom with no ceiling and a floor that had deteriorated with time. The same amazing team who had built Hope for Ghana’s second library and computer lab was ready from the moment I arrived in the village. Quickly a ceiling was created by my carpenter, followed by a new cement floor being laid down by the mason.
In less than 2 weeks there was a complete transformation of an empty classroom into The Elena Haasen Library. Day by day Robert, the electrician, wired the room that had never previously had electricity, providing bright lighting, six fans, a circuit breaker and sockets for future computers. Dziedzom, the carpenter, swiftly created bookshelves that filled the room, reading tables, a teacher’s table, computer desks, a marker board for teaching, and installed new Ghanaian style “windows.” Gustav, my mason and painter, was painting the inside of the library as well as the outside and was preparing to fix a marble dedication plaque inside the wall of the library. A welder was preparing the “burglar proofing” that is placed over all windows and the entry door. Meanwhile in Accra, the capital, the dedication plaque was busily being created despite huge periods without electricity. And in Keta an artist was preparing a tile piece that now hangs above the doorway with the formal name of the library. Suitcases of donated books from Pittsburgh as well as several hundreds of books bought in Accra filled the bookshelves in the last moments as children watched from the windows and the doorway, eagerly anticipating their new library.
The heart of a school was also the heart of a family. Hope for Ghana’s third library had the distinction of being dedicated to honor the memory of Elena Haasen’s life. Elena, the older daughter of a dear friend, was a thoughtful and politically active girl who was involved in activities to fight injustice and to improve the human condition. She lived by her motto, “Let’s be realistic; let us demand the impossible.” Elena died much too early at the age of 16 but her ideals continue to inspire and will live on forever. Close to the entrance of the library a marble plaque was inlaid into the wall, with a beautiful framed photograph of Elena hung right above.
On March 11, 2015 a formal Ghanaian opening ceremony, attended by the chiefs of the village, assemblymen and other dignitaries, inaugurated The Elena Haasen Library. I opened the ceremony with an emotional speech that passionately reflected my mission in Ghana. I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to share this speech with you (click here). Following traditional cultural drumming and dancing (click here), I formally dedicated the library, unveiling the dedication plaque in memory of Elena Haasen (click here). The festivities ended as I gave out donated pens and pencils to very grateful students.
I am so very proud of The Elena Haasen Library that I leave behind at this school. I hope and believe it will be a source of opportunity to children for many years to come. But it is clear that, beyond all the books, so much more has been left behind in this small village. This library has changed a school, and it has changed the family and friends of Elena Haasen who know that Elena’s ideals live on in a small village in Ghana. And this journey has changed me. I am most thankful to God for bringing me here to Ghana, but also for bringing me home safely. And I thank everyone in Ghana who brought this dream to life with their hard work, commitment and dedication.
I thank all of you who have joined me on this emotional journey to Ghana. I know that I am a messenger for so many people who believe in the future of these children in Ghana. Our journey continues with the future expansion of The Elena Haasen Library in a few months, adding the same computer lab that I brought to my earlier projects. And already a fourth library is being planned in the next year. As the voice of a very grateful Ghanaian people I thank you for sharing my vision and allowing it come to life. Children in Ghana may not know your name, but know that you have forever changed their lives.
With great love and gratitude,