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Written by Jeremy Minsk — Boston, MA Friday, 31 July 2015 10:37
WaWa is a mother who carries her eight-year-old son to school every day because he can’t walk there on his own.
WaWa is a blind man who has the courage to become a schoolteacher despite the intense stigma that surrounds his disability.
WaWa is a group of three women who are determined to make a difference.
In Ghana, “wawa-aba” means “seed of the wawa tree,” which symbolizes a person with profound fortitude and endurance.
It is a fitting symbol for Ghana’s disabled population, who must overcome severe difficulties to live normal lives.
There is a strong stigma against being disabled in Ghana. In the general culture, they are not seen as worth investing in. This comes in part from superstitions that portray the disabled as cursed or the bearers of bad luck.
Families will often hide their disabled relatives within their homes, keeping them inside because it is shameful to have a relative with a disability.
Very few children with disabilities receive more than a primary education, and many receive less. This is partly because they are not typically valued, and partly because schools in Ghana are inaccessible to disabled children. This further hinders their opportunities later in life, and often relegates them to being dependent on their families or to begging on the streets.
For those who fight through these barriers, there are still more. Flagrant discrimination is legal in Ghana, and a disabled man or woman can be refused housing because of their disability.
In the spirit of the wawa seed, three women saw this need and were determined to help.
On a trip to Ghana in 2009, Bridget Koha and Marisa Galeota, longtime friends who grew up in the Boston area, decided to tackle this problem. Hearing about their work, another friend named Oby Ukadike joined them. Bridget and Oby are both members of the Boston Church of Christ.
In 2010, The WaWa Project became officially recognized as a 501c3 nonprofit.
At first, they had a dream to open a secondary school equipped to help children with disabilities get an education to enable them to be successful in life. That dream was quickly set aside when the team discovered that disabled children would be unable to access the school without proper infrastructure.
After much praying, they were contacted by a disability rights advocate named Sesacor, who invited them to work with the Adoagyiri Roman Catholic Basic School in the Greater Accra District, the capital of Ghana.
Through the generosity of friends and family and a $10,000 prize awarded to Oby for winning the Silverman Business Plan Competition at Simmons University, efforts are now underway to make the Adoagyiri Basic School handicap-accessible. Once that phase of the project is complete, they hope to begin teaching the children.
The vision is that this school will become the model for other schools across the country.
When the WaWa Project was founded, there was no other organization like them in Ghana. Now, the women receive a few calls a year from grassroots organizations seeking guidance. Bridget hopes that with schools like this around the country, the stigma against those with disabilities will begin to fade.
With Bridget, Marisa, and Oby all working on a strictly-volunteer basis from the United States, progress is slow. They rely on the generosity of their friends, family, and neighbors, and on the gracious hand of God. But with a seed of faith and the same tenacious endurance of the wawa seed, they are determined to make a difference.
Click here for ways to get involved, and here to make a contribution to their work in Ghana.
Updates from The WaWa Project can also be found on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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