Saturday, February 26, 2011

Malaika Foundation Begins

The slow buzz of the ceiling fan at the pharmacy in Accra barely moved the air. In the afternoon heat he felt the cotton shirt stick to his back between his shoulder blades. Outside the stench of diesel fumes melded with the smells of fish and bananas from the market sellers in the street, but here the room was quiet. In front of him in line he watched a woman holding a thin baby in her arms unknot the corner of her cloth and slide a crumpled dog-eared bill across the counter to the pharmacy attendant. Two small children stood patiently beside her, under the stern eye of their seven year old sister.

"That's not enough," the clerk said. The flushed baby in her arms stirred fretfully and coughed.
"My baby needs the medicine,"she said. "Can't you let me have it? I will pay you the rest next week."

The pharmacy clerk slid the medicine back into the cabinet and turned away implacably, without cruelty but with a grim acceptance of the triage of business realities in this place where survival is a matter of persistence, luck and the intervention of angels. Here as daily life cannibalizes human dignity and spirit, needs are enormous and resources are small. The strongest taproot for survival is the bonds of friends and family, and people's willingness to help each other out.

The dark-skinned man from Canada, who had grown up here and left years ago to find his fortunes abroad, stepped forward and placed a small fan of green thousand-cedi notes on the counter, worth less than twenty dollars Canadian.

"Let her have what she needs. Put it on my bill."

This was the beginning of the Malaika foundation. During the rest of his visit to his birth country, Raphic Osei noticed the legless man in his doorway, with no way to earn a living or to move independently. How much would it cost to get an old wheelchair from Canada here, or a bicycle to rebuild into a kind of vehicle he could use his arms to pedal to get to the market and sell some goods or start some kind of business? He watched the girls in the country villages carry water from the river in pots on their heads, so graceful, laughing with their friends as they go in groups to the stream. Two hours to the river, two hours home, carrying water every day. Spending their days carrying water and finding wood, they have no time for school, even if their families have the money for their tuition and uniforms. For a few hundred dollars to install a pump in their village, and provide scholarships for them to attend school, these girls could develop skills so that in twenty years they can really give back to their community.

Back in Vancouver, Raphic Osei organized the Malaika foundation, whose name means "angel" in Swahili, and received tax-exempt charitable status.

With the Malaika Foundation, we are working to gather learning equipment in Canada and put it to use in Ghana and eventually other West African countries. We currently have a dozen outdated computers in storage which we plan to set up as solar-powered learning centres in community halls and schools that are off the electric grid. We are looking for donations of money and goods--sports equipment, water pumps, computers, stationery and whatever will help these young people in West African villages develop their human potential through access to education, play and friendship in a world community.

During a trip back to Ghana in 2005, Malaika founder Raphic Osei donated a set of Malaika Foundation basketballs to Kumasi Academy, in Kumasi, a regional centre about 300 km north of the capital city Accra.

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