African educator visits Kerem twin

By Jessica Elgot, March 10, 2011
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A Ghanaian headmistress who has been on a tour of Jewish primary schools says she hopes to teach Jewish culture to her pupils at the Morning Star School in Tamale.

Here for a week, during which she also visited Golders Greeen Synagogue, Madame Cecilia went to five Jewish primaries including Kerem in Hampstead Garden Suburb, which is twinned with her school.

Volunteers from development aid charity Tzedek have worked there on volunteer trips for three years and the charity funded a new building for the school.

Madame Cecilia said her visit had taught her "a lot about the Jewish community and culture and I think this is something we need to learn about. A lot of our support comes from Jewish people. The next time volunteers come to work at the school, I will ask them to teach us more about Jewish culture and to learn Hebrew songs."

A lot of our support comes from Jews

Kerem pupil Ben Summerfield, eight, said: "She taught us clapping games and told us about her school. There's lots of differences, the children have to sit on benches, they don't have desks like we do." Classmate Millie Ishack, nine, added: "Last time we sent the school pupils pictures of what we see outside our window. And they sent back paintings of what they could see, and they were really different - there were hens outside."

Tzedek education director Libby Burkeman said many children were still playing the games taught by their visitor "in the playground after we left".

Madame Cecilia originally set up the school in her garage for five orphan girls. "I trained as a teacher and lived in a bungalow which had a garage. Every day I saw young orphan girls working on the streets selling vegetables. The girls were mostly around eight but some as young as four."

Herself an orphan, she had been helped by her uncle. But she wanted to assist the girls who did not have a supportive family. "I went round the neighbourhood asking if they would let me teach these girls for free, and around 70 per cent would still not agree - they said they needed them to work. I started with five girls in my garage and we had to start learning from scratch because they didn't know anything."

The orphan girls progressed more rapidly than the other children in the neighbourhood. "People starting asking if they could send their children there. So I let them send their children, boys and girls, to the school, but they have to pay. This supports the orphans to learn for free. Now we have around 200 children."

It is moving to a new site, with three classrooms funded by Tzedek. "We are adding nine more, probably a new one every year. It is 15 kilometres outside of town in a much nicer area."

Last updated: 2:14pm, March 10 2011