Last Sunday I sat in church, listening to a sermon on sacrificial love. The preacher, Very Reverend Joseph Ossei, of the Ebenezer Methodist Cathedral, Winneba, kept inflicting the congregation with how gruesome Abraham attempted to murder his only son, Isaac, in obedience to God’s command.
I don’t know how the Very Reverend wanted us to feel, but he brought home a cup of blood that forms part of the very reason why man shall not live by bread alone. It forms part of the reason why I have said Challenging Heights could not have been referred to as an organization. It is a mission; it is a movement, it is an eruption, a response to a call to duty.
As I sat through the pastor’s own murder of the congregation, I kept reflecting on what Isaac’s situation would have meant to Abraham; a hundred year old man who has had a miracle of having a son at last, and God, in such an insensitive manner, roared, demanding a slaughter. And Abraham raised this stainless red hot knife, and ran it through an innocent pleading soul, bleeding him to death, in reverence for the audacity of life, God.
And that day, I observed Abraham as he dropped his tears in silence, on his only son, and I heard him whisper to himself saying “God, it is the right thing I have done; Isaac my biggest gain, in him I found for you my biggest gift”.
Anyway, I have already told you the story of Challenging Heights, and I will tell you why I have also decided to commit murder.
As a young banker, I wanted a platform to mobilize children in my community, Sankor, to take action, and to promote education. I was, in addition, organizing Christmas parties, and September new school year events.
The Christmas party events were meant to afford me the uncommon opportunity to eat, drink and make merry with the children, and to inspire hope in the community. The September events were for me to distribute school supplies on the eve of the new school year, in order to promote school enrolment.
In the year 2007, five years after the beginning of Challenging Heights, I took a decision, that I’d rather invest the monies I was spending to organize Christmas parties, and what I was investing in the purchases of school supplies and scholarships, into opening a school, so that all those children in the Sankor community who could not afford the cost of school, could come to my school, and afford the same quality as are being offered anywhere in Winneba. This was the beginning of Challenging Heights International School (CHIS) in September 2007.
The aim for setting up the school was to provide quality affordable access to basic education for illiterate parents who could not afford the high private school fees within Winneba, and to provide a safe schooling environment for vulnerable children. It was also to provide formal education to the people of Sankor, Winneba, especially for those who were outside the school system. It was my aim to use the school as a tool to mobilize the community to promote education, and to rise against child trafficking, child labor, and other forms of violence against children.
At the time of setting up the school, it was estimated that over 80% of the population of Sankor were illiterates, while illiteracy amongst children was estimated at 65%. The school, which began its first classes on September 8, 2007, started with two nursery classes, two Kindergarten classes, and classes one and two, and within six months of setting up, over 180 of the estimated 400 unschooled children in the community had enrolled.
When I took the decision to establish the school, land was the first biggest challenge that I confronted. My late elder brother, Kwame Addo, facilitated in securing the present land on which the school is located. This was a land that belonged to my mother’s cousins, where my mother and I used to grow onions, a land that I used to hunt for ‘alakatewu’, this was the land on which I used to hunt birds, the same land on which I felt haunted by snakes, upon this land I built my school.
I started the school as a partnership with the parents who brought their children. They paid GH₵6.00 per term, as compared to GH₵50.00 which was being charged in most of the schools in Winneba. My printing press business heavily subsidized the school.
A year after I had started the school, I won the Freedom Award, which brought me some money to begin putting up a couple of permanent classrooms. And in 2010 I began to receive overseas volunteers, and that was after I had incorporated the school into the mainstream Challenging Heights, and dropped the name Challenging Heights International School. Since then, other donors have provided support.
The school, as at the time of going to press, has graduated four batches of BECE graduates, with the first three batches scoring 100%, while we wait for the results of the fourth batch.
In the year 2016, I decided to rebrand the school into Friends International Academy, in order to attract children of educated parents who could afford to pay regular fees, especially now that I had already achieved my aim of ensuring that children in the Sankor community were enrolled and attending school. This instantly brought some good financial stability.
So now, my work is done. I estimate that nearly 100% of children (between age 5 and 15) in Sankor are now in school, both within and outside the Sankor community. This was my goal; that every child of school going age in the community will have the chance to access quality basic education, regardless of his /her economic situation. So I am done.
It is with such a pride, honor and grace, that I have given this school (with a student population of nearly 500) as a gift to the Methodist Church of Ghana, Ebenezer Cathedral, Winneba, to take over from where I have left off. Run it, every single property I have in it, is, from tomorrow, July 7, 2017, your own property; all the classroom blocks, the 50-seater library, the 30-seater computer center, the offices, the playground, the toilets, from nurseries one to JHS three, everything I have ever acquired for the school, is now yours to take, and to keep, to improve, and to preserve.
As I step out tomorrow, I know that I have a lot of people to be grateful for, for their support over the years, in creating the school. I will not be tempted to start mentioning names, because space will not allow me to do so, so I will just say thank you to everyone who has been supporting thus far.
That said, I will like to thank you the children who have ever passed through the school, for your encouragement and support. It has been very challenging running a high class low income school, but each day, and each time I had come to see you, your infectious energy and pride had kept me on. You took the school, and made it your own. Thank you, for your light, and for giving me a meaning in life.
I will like to thank you, Cynthia Adjoa Apeadua Annan, my beloved wife, for keeping pace with the journey. You watched helplessly as our printing press business went down in order that this school would be built. You faced the wall many times, you deprived yourself of anything that is yours so that the school could stand. I recall that day when that car nearly killed you, all for the sake of this school. And just when you were reaching out for the fruits there off, gone! All that you toiled for does not belong to you anymore. Thank you, for the courage to stand by me.
To you, my children, who will never benefit from your right to claim ownership of the school your father created; Abena, Ekua, Kofi, and the ones to come, I have done this for you, that you will grow to know that one of the values of our family, is, that nothing you create belongs to you, and that you give without holding back. It is my wish that you will see your heritage in yourself, not in what I left for you.
So to my beloved Methodist Church, I have given you this gift free and freely, not because I am rich, not because I have plenty, but because, like Abraham sacrificing Isaac, I believe it is the right thing to do. I have given you this school solemnly and with a great sense of responsibility. I have given you something that has taken me ten years of struggle, sacrifice, and self-deprivation, to build, something that could have been my children’s inheritance, I have given it to you freely, and with pride.
The church has a sacred obligation to turn this silver into gold. Remember, the motto of the school is “To whom much is given, much is expected”.
By James Kofi Annan