In four years’ time, the children in the Ghanaian village of Otwetiri have gone from attending class under a thatched roof to learning in a new school building with a virtual window onto the world.
The changes were made possible by a Davis-based nonprofit led by one of the village’s favorite sons, Tometi Gbedema, and his Otwetiri Project. It will host “A Taste of Ghana” from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the Davis Senior Center, 646 A St.
Proceeds from the fourth annual celebration of Ghanaian food, music and culture will go toward buying 10 laptop computers for the school and expanding an annual soccer tournament.
Founded in 2007, the nonprofit Otwetiri Project has raised more than $60,000, much of which went to a concrete school building that replaced one made of mud. Gbedema said last week that the school has made a “very, very huge difference” in Otwetiri, where he was born.
“The students used to have to study under a tree. They had to run away if it started raining. Now they have a place to stay,” he said. “The building has changed the atmosphere in the village.”
Otwetiri numbers about 700 people, mostly families that farm corn and cassava. The school attracts more than 600 students from surrounding villages.
Donated money also has gone toward supporting the soccer tournament, in which boys can play if they keep their grades up — not a small incentive in the soccer-crazed country.
The tournament has grown from four to 13 participating area schools. Gbedema wants to create a second for teams of girls, who in Ghana more often play netball, similar to basketball.
Other funds have gone toward a latrine project, school supplies, soccer gear and laptops that Gbedema delivered in January.
One of those computers went to the school’s headmaster and teachers; the other went to students who had been taught what a computer was but didn’t have one to use.
Now, Gbedema hopes to put one in every classroom. He has encouraged letter-writing between Davis and Otwetiri students, but the computers would enable them to communicate directly.
“They’ll know what is happening in America and around the world,” he said of the Ghanaian students, he said. For the Davis kids, “Not only will it help them to have a friend, they’ll know about the culture, the geography and the politics (of Ghana).”
Gbedema earned his doctorate in geography from UC Davis in 2011. He is a part-time community and regional development lecturer at the campus, assistant Davis High School girls junior varsity soccer coach and local youth soccer coach.
In 2000, he arrived in Davis with his wife, Marie, who works as a hairdresser in Sacramento. After getting into coaching, he began collecting old soccer balls and jerseys to send to Ghana.
When he received a letter back from the school’s headmaster saying that the school had lost its roof in a storm, Gbedema turned to his new community for help.
The Taste of Ghana fundraising events draw about 150 people annually, Gbedema said, thanks to the efforts of his longtime coaching partner Bob Smith’s wife, Toni, and a devoted group of women whose daughters the men have coached: Jan Poole, Martha Gegan, Dorie Mellon, Belinda Kesser and Leslie Buhlman.
Their generosity has extended beyond helping to fund the school, finished in late 2010 and early 2011, to the personal. When an elder in the community died in a car accident, they sent money to help the man’s family.
Three of Gbedema’s former UCD students have visited the village as part of the UC Davis Global Medical Brigade, which annually heads to Ghana and other countries to work on health projects. Members will help out at this year’s dinner.
“When you see how enthusiastic and passionate all these (volunteers) are to change the lives of people — I don’t know how I can ever thank them for the difference they are making,” Gbedema said.
He hopes to one day arrange home stays for Davis residents who want to visit the village — and see soccer teams travel back and forth to play one another.
“Everyone in the village knows about Davis,” he said. “Even the school building says, ‘Donated by the Otwetiri Project in Davis, California.’ ”
This year’s dinner also will feature a raffle and silent auction with art pieces by local and African artists, gift cards to local businesses, catered dinner parties and jerseys donated by two professional soccer players: Jalil Anibaba of the Seattle Sounders, a Davis High grad, and Dominic Oduro of the Columbus Crew.