Headed by Penn President’s Engagement Prize Winner, Ghanaian Girls’ School Opens
Two years ago, the vision of Shadrack Frimpong, then a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, was to to open a girls’ school and health clinic in his home village of Tarkwa Breman, Ghana. It was little more than that: an idea, some words on paper.
Then he won the 2015 Penn President’s Engagement Prize, bringing with it mentorship, credibility and $100,000 to go toward implementing his vision.
Today, his dream lives and breathes. The Tarkwa Breman Girls’ School opened its doors in November and now serves young girls who may not otherwise have had access to an education. A health clinic, complete with pharmacy, delivery room, nurse’s station and laboratory, is set to open next month.
“When I came back to my village and told people my idea, they were like, ‘Are you kidding me? Okay, we’ll see what we can do together,’” Frimpong says. “And now that it has come to life, the excitement in the community is so huge.”
The school currently has 60 children between the ages of 4 and 7, drawing from Tarkwa Breman as well as seven neighboring villages. Some take the school bus, others arrive by canoe, clad in cheerful red, white and blue checked uniforms. Frimpong plans for the school to grow each year until the first class finishes high school.
While the vision began with Frimpong, and he still leads the enterprise as CEO of Tarkwa Breman Community Alliance, or TBCA, the journey from vision to flourishing institution has involved the assistance of many partners, from paid staff to local volunteers to philanthropists, including many in the Penn community.
The school and clinic buildings sit on 50 acres donated to TBCA by village elders and families. Students from the Wharton School’s Social Impact Initiative spent time in the village to help TBCA conceive a sustainability model for the enterprise. The financial model of the school, which charges no tuition, hinges on reaping income from cocoa, a crop that will be planted on the grounds and tended by students’ families. Frimpong’s father will serve as one of two farm managers.
This year, farmers will seed five acres to pilot their methods, eventually extending to more than 40 acres of cocoa. The Wharton students and volunteer consultants from Google estimated that the farm will eventually bring in nearly $70,000 a year when fully functional.
TBCA also enlisted the assistance of students in Penn’s College of Arts & Sciences and the expertise of faculty from the School of Design to put together a plan not only for the buildings’ architecture but also for the layout of the surrounding land. In 2015, 12 undergraduate students took a senior design studio course taught by adjunct professor and undergraduate chair Richard Wesley and lecturer Scott Aker. Later, Aker traveled to Tarkwa Breman to meet with Frimpong and village leaders to present designs.
“Once the village chief saw the student designs,” says Wesley, “he came back to us and asked, ‘Would you produce designs to expand the village to connect them to the campus?’”
The students eventually designed plans for the placement of buildings as well as the design of an eco-pond, which locals implemented, relying on locally available materials.
“Shadrack’s vision for the design of the school and hospital,” Wesley says, “were that they would include the use of local construction materials like bamboo, in an innovative way. I think we were successful in achieving that. Shadrack told me his community loves the buildings.”
Though the opening of the school and the upcoming clinic opening are exciting milestones, there are many more still to come. Donors have already committed to funding a dedicated library for the school and a separate one for the community. A summer program beginning this year will serve both boys and girls, continuing their education through the “off season.” A headquarters building set high up on the property will offer space for administrators and on-site internet access. Construction will soon begin on admissions wards for the clinic. Frimpong will be working with the Ghana Health Service to ensure that they are fully staffed.
As all of this progresses, Frimpong is taking some time to tend to a personal goal as well: applying to medical school. He acknowledges that his passion will take him only so far in making a difference in the lives of people in his village, where HIV, hepatitis and other diseases affect nearly every family.
“I don’t think anyone is as passionate as I am about this project, but I recognize that passion is different than skill,” he says.
To run the organization while he furthers his own education in the United States, Frimpong has hired an executive director who has experience in grant writing and international development. Frimpong will work with her over the next year to fill in for him while he is away, yet there is no doubt in his mind that he will continue to be engaged with TBCA.
“My story is tied up with this village and this endeavor,” he says. “I expect to be part of it for the rest of my life.”
Frimpong remains grateful to Penn President Amy Gutmann and many others from the University community who have supported him.
“They’ve believed so much in me and more than that, they believe in these young girls and their families,” he says. ‘That support is one of the most exciting parts of this work and has kept me going.”
Photos and video courtesy of Tarkwa Breman Community Alliance