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Help for African students

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 21, 2009

HAY RIVER - When Northerners volunteer their efforts are felt at home and nationdwide, or, in the case of Bette Lyons, halfway across the globe.

NNSL photo/graphic

Bette Lyons, a core member of the Canada-Ghana Education Project, volunteers to help African students. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The Hay River woman and her daughter Chelsea Simpson, along with two volunteers in Africa, are the core of the Canada-Ghana Education Project.

It helps send children to school in Cape Coast, a city in southern Ghana famous for its historic Slave Castle.

"My role is to keep track of everybody who's going to school and make sure there's enough money for things," said Lyons, the secretary of the registered society and charity.

The project began in 2005 when Lyons' daughter and a couple of friends in Ghana looked into helping a boy named Kwame, aged six or seven at the time.

The boy did odd jobs - looking after goats and fetching water - for the owner of the building where Lyons' daughter was staying.

"But he didn't go to school," Lyons said, noting the boy didn't have any family.

Her daughter helped pay the boy's school registration, and for a school uniform, shoes and other supplies.

Lyons talked to a friend in Hay River about Kwame and the friend also wanted to help, and the Canada-Ghana Education Project was born.

"It just kind of grew from that," said Lyons, who visited Ghana herself in 2006.

Lyons' daughter first visited Ghana - situated west Africa - in 2003 with a volunteer organization, but has returned to the country since then.

The number of young people being helped has grown from one to about 29 students aged five to 15.

"It was just by word of mouth," Lyons said, adding friends and relatives of Hay River residents help out from such places as Yellowknife, Vancouver, Peace River, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

"There are at least 10 in Hay River," she said, adding some people sponsor two children.

It costs $200 annually to help one student, although Lyons said that might rise slightly in 2010.

The money pays for such things as school fees, a daily meal, uniforms, books, a sleeping mat, a bowl and other supplies. Some older students also have to pay for exams and reports, and even for awards and to use a library.

"It seems like there are fees for everything," Lyons said.

This year, the project had one of its students graduate for the first time.

Lyons said there are always more children who need help, but the small Canada-Ghana Education Project can only assist so many.

"You have to keep it manageable," she explained.

Lyons, 55, said it is satisfying to help the students.

"You only wish you could do more," she said.

Lyons, who works at Concept Energy, has lived in Hay River on and off for 30 years.

She is originally from Manitoba and first came North to Inuvik in 1973.

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