The Rev. Ralph Mensah’s greatest joy is being able to give the youth in his Ghanaian community a place to learn.
“I studied in Rome and it’s the education that made it who I am now,” Mensah said. “I want to be a part of helping provide those same opportunities to the children who didn’t have that.”
Saturday morning, about 20 community members and parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church gathered in downtown Bellefonte for the fourth annual Family Fun Walk to raise money for a Ghanaian school they’ve helped fund since its inception five years ago.
The mission was to walk 2 miles and collect $2,000 to $3,000 for the school’s $15,000 annual budget, said church member NancySwartzell, who is also on the Ghanaian school project committee.
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“We’ve taken pride and ownership,” Swartzell said. “We’ve seen it from infancy, from building the school to accepting the first students, and we helped to make it a faith-based, community-driven project.”
Other sponsors include Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in State College, churches in Clarence and Snow Shoe, and the Bellefonte Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.
Church members Phyllis Austin and Jenny Robine even went to Ghana to help with the project.
“It’s been a great relationship and part of our global outreach,” the Rev. George Jakopac, of St. John the Evangelist, said. “It’s been a real church effort with a lot of other support. It reminds us of the greater work we do together.”
Mensah visited Pennsylvania 10 years ago and initially found the place to be “cold and unwelcoming.” But when he made his way to Bellefonte, “it was like a second home,” he said.
He partnered with the Rev. Neil Dadey, and together they came up with an initiative in 2009 to build a primary school in Beyin, Ghana, called Holy Name of Mary Academy.
Beyin is a heavily populated fishing and farming village in coastal West Africa, but has a high poverty rate. Most of the children at the school are “street kids,” Swartzell said.
Mensah’s mission was to find a way to change the standard, one child at a time.
“Education is not a big deal for Ghana like it is elsewhere,” Mensah said. “We’re changing that and changing the face of the village. The students are learning academics, and also learning discipline and hygiene.”
The school opened in 2010 with 150 children from kindergarten to fourth grade. There are now 270 kids up to seventh grade, he said.
Building construction was completed last year. The next step is to open the school to eighth-graders next year, and ninth-graders the year after that, Mensah said.
“They never believed they’d have a place to study that was so beautiful,” Mensah said. “It’s a dream.”