EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

January 13, 2008

An unlikely connection; Choir forms bond with village in Ghana

HAMPSTEAD - It takes a choir to build a school - or at least that's the goal.

The Hampstead Heartbeats recently returned from a trip to Ghana's fifth independence celebration. They came back with a plan - to raise $10,000 to complete an unfinished school building in the village of Afrensu Dedewa.

By the time their plane touched down in the United States, the choral group, with members from several local churches, and the Hampstead School District, had a plan for the Ghana Education Fund. The nonprofit has been established and now they are set to begin fundraising.

A strong bond quickly grew between the residents of the village and members of the choral group.

"The physical differences are immense, but this village and its people mirror Hampstead. The values of family, community, working and celebrating together are the same 3,000 miles apart," said Dillard Collins, principal of Hampstead Central School. "The children in Afrensu Dedewa were happy with the same smiles we see each day at Central School. Behind their happiness, we saw children from simple homes made without many luxuries that children and adults come to expect in our corner of the globe. We saw an African village that, like Hampstead, makes their children a priority each day."

Collins and the school district's music teachers, Cindi Verrill and Claudette Macomber, made the trip. They brought gifts of soccer balls, paper, pencils and clothing.

"When we arrived, the children were playing soccer with a ball made from the clay they dug in their village," Macomber said. "Their school consisted of three open sides and a roof that has collapsed in part. The villagers started a cement block school, but weather and economics combined to stop them with the walls only half started."

Group members were shocked by what they saw, Verrill said, and completely captivated by the villagers' reception. The village is 40 miles outside the nearest city, and everyone either walks or rides a bike. The Hampstead Heartbeats arrived near the village in the bus and then set out on foot.

The group was dismayed at the conditions of the school and wondered how the villagers would be able to keep the paper and notebooks dry that they had brought them. When choral group members learned the unfinished school, now overgrown and roofless, could be completed for $10,000, an idea began to percolate. The villagers have no way to raise that kind of money. The average income is $8 or less a week.

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