Henry Fortier said it was all “joy” to see Ghanaian children celebrate something as basic as water from a well. (COURTESY)

Educators witness live-saving efforts in Ghana

ORLANDO | Local educators witnessed how funds from Catholic Relief Services offer communities access to something the Florida residents would take for granted — clean water.

Henry Fortier, superintendent of Catholic schools, and a handful of teachers were in Ghana for 10 days in early July as they joined a team from CRS in small tribal communities. Along with learning simple lessons like hand washing, community members dug proper latrines and assembled basic sanitation stations to try and stamp out cholera in the area. “We were in a very remote area … very, very poor,” Fortier said. He choked up as he recalled when children learned they would no longer have to use the streets as a restroom. They smiled, hugged, made peace signs, laughed and urged visitors to snap photos. When asked to describe that moment Fortier simply said, “joy.”

“They were so happy,” Fortier said. “You would have thought it was Christmas because they got to run over to the well. It was very moving.

“The image that kept coming to me was God’s family tree and that this was just another branch of God’s family tree,” he added.

Fortier plans to share his journey to Ghana with fellow educators at “Teacher Kickoff Day” Aug. 8. His goal is to inspire school leaders to truly understand the importance of the CRS Rice Bowl program, and to put more energy into collection efforts during Lent next year.

“As a young student, I knew the spare change went to help starving children in different countries, but now I’ve seen firsthand and truly understand,” he said.

The educators also witnessed how CRS has trained farmers in smarter planting techniques. Machinery is now being assembled there to reduce the harvest time of soybeans from more than a week to just one day. The next goal is to yield more crops for revenue and start working on the people’s wish list — better education and greater opportunities for children.

People in Ghana face many challenges, including a high illiteracy rate. While the common language is English, much of the population is uneducated and cannot speak it. There are also dozens of different languages spoken in towns, even those close in proximity. Along with poor communication and a lack of resources, the country offers less than adequate health care. CRS is partnering with the local health department to create community centers to treat the sick, but there are not enough nurses or hospital supplies. Fortier said the situation is so severe that X-rays are placed outside to dry on broomsticks.

CRS has been working in Ghana since the country gained its independence in 1958. Progress is glacially slow, but intentional. Doctors are now trying to ramp up prenatal care for expectant mothers after tribal leaders allowed them to disclose their pregnancy much sooner.

“Their hopes and dreams are no different than ours, but very challenging when faced with poverty and famine,” Fortier said.