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Africa comes to Plymouth

PUBLISHED: 17:18 23 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 February 2013

Africa comes to Plymouth

Africa comes to Plymouth

Plymouth hosts its first ever Ghana Week this month, thanks to a pioneering charity which links the Devon city with Sekondi-Takoradi, a city in Western Ghana.

Plymouth hosts its first-ever Ghana Week this month, thanks to a pioneering charity which links the Devon city with Sekondi-Takoradi, a city in Western Ghana


Twinning British cities with those overseas has been traditionally with just European cities. So when a group of Plymouth people were looking for something more than twinning, they set up a new charity in 2003, The Link, to create relationships with a little-known city in Ghana.


We had four criteria, explains Peter Reid, the Link Secretary. The people had to be able to communicate in English, the country needed to be at peace, and it had to be easy to get to by air. We were also looking for a place the same size as Plymouth. Sekondi-Takoradi is ideal because its a port and a naval base as well, with lovely beaches close by, and a population of 300,000.


As part of The Link, a unique relationship has developed between Plymouth High School for Girls (PHSG) and Ahantaman School in Sekondi-Takoradi. Last July, Mikaela Cumbers, a Year 13 student at PHSG, travelled with five other girls to Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana with Pat Frean, a geography teacher. They stayed in Ahantaman School, sleeping in a dormitory with Ghanaian girls, studying with them and sharing their meals and social life. Mikeala reflects on her visit as the best 11 days of my life.


The Ghana exchange was the best 11 days of my life. Mikaela Cumbers (17)

Several schools have strong links with partners in Ghana, and teachers in both countries learn from each other. Over 50 teachers have now travelled to and from Ghana, and use their knowledge of each others school and city to plan lessons that contrast lifestyles and attitudes. Our global footprint compares badly with our Ghanaian counterparts, says Pat Frean, and this is made more immediate for our girls when they live in the boarding house in Ahantaman.


Other young people have benefitted from the Ghana Link. In 2005 12 teenagers went to Ghana with a Theatre Royal director, Rebecca Gould, and producer Kate Sparshatt. A group of 24 rehearsed A Midsummer Nights Dream before bringing the production back to the Drum Theatre in Plymouth. A year later, a similar group of young people from the two cities performed a Ghanaian play in both countries, to great acclaim. Exchange Groups also provide a chance for locals to travel abroad and work in youth and community organisations in both Plymouth and Bolgatanga.


The jewel in the crown of The Link is Operation Hernia, set up by Professor Andrew Kingsnorth and Dr Chris Oppong, both surgeons at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. Chris went to school in Takoradi, and so when Andrew was looking for somewhere for teams to undertake voluntary work, Ghana was an obvious choice. We operate on hernias in Ghana, which the local teams simply dont have the time or resources to deal with. You cant farm or fish with a hernia, so what we do really is life-changing, says Chris. Since 2005, volunteer teams of doctors and nurses have travelled from Plymouth to Sekondi-Takoradi every year. Were off again in October this year, and we already have a long list of volunteers who raise their own money for flights, Chris reports.


What we do really is life-changing


The Link has been such a success that members are now looking beyond Sekondi-Takoradi for activities. Operation Hernia teams have been to Carpenter, a village in Northern Ghana, and with the support of Voluntary Service Overseas and the British Council there have been two exchange programmes with Bolgatanga, a town in North Ghana.


In March this year The Link welcomed a special visitor, Kwame Adjei-Gyan, the Research Manager of Kuapa Kokoo, a huge cocoa co-operative in Ghana. He came to support Fair Trade, especially in chocolate, since his organisation has a huge membership with 45,000 cocoa farmers.


Perhaps the most unusual aspect of The Link has been football. One member of the UK Link group, Dudley Tolkien, saw the state of pitches in Ghana and persuaded Plymouth Argyle to help to train two groundsmen, just in time for the 2008 Africa Cup. Malik learned so much here that when Sekondi got a brand-new stadium for the event he made sure it was the best stadium in Ghana, confirmed by the teams from all over Africa who played there.


The Link Group meets every month at Plymouth University and as well as Ghana Week there are plans for a visit to Ghana in October, another Youth Exchange and hosting the Ghana Olympic team before the 2012 Games. Wed love to extend into faith, commerce, even Navy links, says Peter Reid, and Sekondi-Takoradi is the Aberdeen of Ghana now that oil has been found offshore, so what a great opportunity for businesses and the university.
Seven years on and with lots of new ideas, this Link looks likely to grow and grow.


First-ever Ghana Week
Dates: 3 to 11 July
Events: music, displays in the university, hair-braiding, cookery and a youth debate.
Contact: Ghana Week Co-ordinator, Elaine Budd, 07712 586060 or e-mail: elaine.budd@prensus.co.uk
More info: www.plymouthghanalink.org
For more info about Operation Hernia (Charity No 1120981) visit www.operationhernia.org.uk.
To find out more about the October visit contact Peter Reid at peterreid@blueyonder.co.uk

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