New Year’s Greetings from Kwahu-Tafo

Wow 2015!

For all you have done for us we wish you a happy new year and may all you hope and pray for come your way.

It has been a tumultuous year for us. Some ups some downs but for the mot the ups won out. We managed to start a few new programs that were/are successful and made a few new friends. We remained healthy for the most part and that is very important. Love has come our way in the most unexpected ways and times.

Our life here has changed us in ways that are not always clear. While we have given up quite a few of the luxuries of living in America we have gained in understanding of how life on the “other side” is lived. And we have gained a compassion for those whose lives are not as privileged. For that alone we can be thankful. To realize, to walk in the other man’s shoes is quite an experience. And I don’t think everyone should do this, don’t get me wrong, it is just an experience that I hope that we can share occasionally with you.

Through all of this we have been very grateful to you our donors, friends and patrons who have made our work here possible. Your continued support is truly an amazing gift to this small community and is deeply appreciated. Your praises are sung in the many churches (17) and schools. Your voices are heard here as you wish us the very best and give us the encouragement to go forward and complete the tasks we have accepted as our work. Know that without you this is not possible and we, BL and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

We return to the US next month to begin a six-week fund raising tour. We hope that you will continue to support the programs of Yeko Anim and you keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Love to you all
Dutch & BL

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Education for all

Right now there is an education crisis all over Ghana. In poor farming communities like Kwahu Tafo the number of children not attending basic school is growing at an alarming rate. A donation of $10 a month will help us attack this problem head on.

Please Donate Now

I read in the New York Times, (yes, I get the NYT) that the median age of the people of Africa on the whole is 20! That’s a lot of young people getting ready to enter into adulthood. Our goal here in Tafo is to prepare these young people for the future. Education is one of our main goals and we are constantly bombarded with requests to aid with school fees for primary, secondary and tertiary education. We try our best to help but find that at times we are unable to assist.

This month was a busy one for us. We are at the end of the eye surgery program and to our great relief and satisfaction it was almost a 100% success. Only one patient had any problems but she was shuttled over to Komfo Anokye Hospital in Kumasi. Dr. Agyeman was able to take care of her and now she is doing fine. The doctor visits this week for a final review of each surgery patient and I hope to report a 100% success rate. This wonderful program was thanks to the very generous donation from Bombus Stiftelsen, based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The whole of the Kwahu ridge has been under a no noise order due to the death of the paramount chief of our area. The rule is silence until after his burial and believe me this is a hard thing for people in Ghana. Music and drumming is a way of life here and it is always loud.

On our last trip to Accra we visited with our friend Eric who is a traditional drummer extraordinaire. He and his friends did a little impromptu drum-playing concert for us. Living in Accra the ban on noise does not affect them. It was fabulous. I purchased a couple of his drums in hopes of using them for our fundraisings efforts when we return to Seattle in February.

And of course the HOLIDAY season has arrived. Thanksgiving we survived (without turkey) and didn’t watch any football (we don’t have a TV)…Christmas and Chanukah are just round the corner, then New Years. This will be our second year here in Tafo during these wonderful times and we do miss all of our friends and relatives back “home”. But, as is said, home is where the heart is and I will say our hearts are here in Tafo for the time being.

We continue to stay healthy though there is, as I reported last month, a Cholera epidemic in our country. We have been fortunate here in Tafo with only 5 cases of cholera reported and no deaths. We are trying desperately to get the word out about this disease and how to prevent it. Our friend Charles has taken it upon himself to initiate a community education program and is visiting schools, churches and individual homes to spread the word. He is also talking about Ebola, which has not visited this country yet, thank God or as we say here, Nyame Adom, (by God’s grace). If you don’t know about cholera and would like to know more, there is a short animated video on the Internet called The Story of Cholera. A visit to this site is worth the effort so you can learn what Cholera is all about and to get a better idea of some of our challenges.

Our goal is Education for All. That is a lofty goal and one that is unobtainable but we set the bar high to challenge you, our donors, to get the job done and us. We are looking for donors to donate $5 – $10 a month to Yeko Anim for our programs here in Tafo. I did some research and found that the average coffee drinking American spends over $600 a year on coffee. Hey, $5 is just two cups of coffee more or less.

Help us make a difference and go to our web site www.yekoanim and make that monthly donation of $5 – $10 or more…it won’t hurt you but it certainly will help us out a lot. A $5 donation will provide 30 meals and a 500ml packet of pure water to a needy pupil! See, your donation really does go a long way. Help us spread the word to reach our goal of $50,000 to help support the programs of Yeko Anim.

Remember we are a registered 501(c)(3) and your donations are tax deductible. We are charged a minimum 5% by Kids First Enterprise for administrative fees and all the rest goes towards our programs. So please if you can find it in your hearts (and pocketbooks) to help, do so. Your generosity will go a long way and again would be deeply appreciated

That’s my pitch for the year. May all of you enjoy a most blessed and happy holiday season and may all of your wishes come true.

We send our love to you all,

Dutch & BL

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Happy Patients in Kwahu Tafo Get Cataract Surgery and Glasses

When we first arrived here in Kwahu Tafo I remarked to BL, my wife, how amazing it is that so few people needed eyeglasses…there were hardly any people including the very old who wore them. It didn’t occur to me, though it should have, that most had never been to an eye doctor. Some I would imagine had hardly been to see any type of doctor other than the herbalist or fetish priestess or priest to cure their myriad ailments. So you can imagine my surprise when we announced that there would be an eye screening at our local clinic. Almost 400 people showed up!

One Happy Patient

One Happy Patient

The doctors were screening for eye cataracts. This was thanks to a Swedish Foundation, Bombus, who made a very generous donation to our little town to facilitate this screening and surgeries. Of the 390 or so people screened, 54 needed the cataract surgeries…some bilateral meaning they needed both eyes operated on to remove the cataract.

Many of these people were in their late 70’s to late 80”s…many were scared to death of the concept of surgery in general much less surgery on their eyes. Thanks to a wonderful group of young volunteers their fears were assuaged and, to their great relief, the surgeries were successful. It was heartwarming and beautiful to see the smiles on the people’s faces as the bandages were removed and their vision was as clear as a child’s. There was much joy in Tafo, thank you BOMBUS!

Waiting for Surgery

Waiting for Surgery

Besides the surgeries over 60 of our town’s people received prescription eyeglasses and another 64 received “readers”. It is truly a joie de vivre to see so many satisfied citizens whose life has been changed through the miracle of getting their sight back.

The eye screening and surgeries took place at our local clinic, St Joseph’s Clinic and Maternity Home, and were performed by a team of doctors from Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi. Hats off to these doctors for a successful job… well done, and thank you St. Jo’s for your cooperation in this most worthy program.

While the screening was going on I had the opportunity to meet several of the people who help run the clinic. One Sister, Sister Nellsie, approached me and asked if I could find a donor who would be willing to sponsor a young woman with severe disabilities, who is very bright, to attend university. The young woman has already been accepted to university but unfortunately our tertiary fund is depleted and there is no money left to sponsor anyone else. If one of you out there would be willing to take this on it is a $500 donation a year for three years please let us know. As a note, many people with disabilities are shunned and women in particular face a hard row in education.

Our mission here in Tafo is Education and Sustainability…at times it seems an uphill battle. We never expected it to be easy, with the help of volunteers here in the town and your generous donations we are slowly but surely conquering these battles. We have a long way to go but with your help we will persevere.

Once again, I thank you for all you have done to make our work here in Tafo a success. We are on a campaign trying to get people to sign up for a $10 a month donation. If you know of anyone who would like to participate in this program please direct him or her to our web site, www.yekoanim.org. and again I thank you for your prayers, donations and good will.

Dutch Meyer
Founder, Executive Director of Yeko Anim

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Citizens of Tafo: Mr. Seth Aboajye Ansah, retired educator, cocoa farmer, owner of our local stationery shop and extraordinary story teller

Introducing to you Mr. Seth Aboajye Ansah, retired educator, cocoa farmer and owner of our local stationery shopIntroducing to you Mr. Seth Aboajye Ansah, retired educator, cocoa farmer and owner of our local stationery shop and I must add, story teller extraordinaire. We enjoy listening to him as he recounts the history of this country since the independence from Great Britain in 1957. Many of the citizens of this community have a remembrance of this time so we get the story from many different angles that I, for one, really enjoy. Mr. Ansah’s smile is infectious and I’ve never seen him without one. I guess one can say he is a contented man and retirement suits him just fine.

He tells us that when he was a boy the streets in Tafo were all dirt and the few cars that did come around would zig zag through the mud and dirt. His father died when he was very young and when he was a teenager he went to live with his uncle who was a shoemaker in the Volta region. The shoemaking trade did not suit his fancy and he chose to work in the administrative field, a “white collar” worker as he put it.

When our local senior high school was established he volunteered to be a teacher to the 6 students in the school (today the school has more than 400 students enrolled). He was the jack-of-all-trades teaching economics and being the school administrator until the government took over the school. He said that he enjoyed his years teaching and retired in 2003 to enjoy his life of “leisure”.

Our community of Tafo is dependent on the small gardens, or farms as they are called locally, for subsistence. This has not changed in his lifetime. Try as we might to bring sustainable development to this area, it is a great challenge that a mechanical device such as a tractor could help to alleviate.

Mr. Ansah, like many of our senior citizens is aware that without this development the young people remain without jobs and are in limbo as far as their futures are concerned. We, as the Progress Council Development Officers are hard at work trying to ease this situation.

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Ebola, Health and Sanitation

I am sure that by now everyone in the states, and the world, is aware of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We think about it a lot and are trying our best to abide by certain sanitation rules. The colleges and universities here in Ghana suspended their opening indefinitely while they figure out how to deal with this very serious and deadly problem.

In a village not far from here there has been an outbreak of Cholera, a deadly and preventable disease. With more than 80% of our community without running water or toilet facilities, sanitation and health are our biggest problems. Problems that we are determined to face…and win.

Our Kwahu Tafo Progress Council has a water, health and sanitation committee but we are a small organization and again the problem is huge…we are David against Goliath. We have to face this problem head on and the thought terrifies me both in its scope and its costs.

The thought of disease terrifies me even more. An outbreak in our community would be devastating. This is a case of an ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure.

Education. Health. Sanitation. Ours is an uphill struggle but perseverance will further our cause.

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Once Again The Tractor Saga

Lunch break at the farm

Lunch break at the farm

One morning a few days ago BL and I took a walk to our friend Nana Kattah’s farm plot. He raises groundnuts (peanuts) cassava, peppers and a few other small crops on his 3-acre plot. He and his family work very hard to make this land produce food for themselves and additional crops to sell at market. I am sure I mentioned before that we are hard at work trying to find the resources to purchase a tractor and implements to help farmers such as Nana and others to increase their yield. The project is in its nascent stages and suffering growing pains but our hopes remain.

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Vermin, Small and Not So

There’s an invasion in our small house of Nkunsia, a miniscule insect with a Sherman tank bite! Their bite, to me is like a yellow jacket sting, pain, and then it goes away. BL on the other hand swells up and gets allergic reactions. We have gone through dozens of cans of bug spray and applications for the skin to keep these little buggers at bay but it seems we are losing the battle. We are told that once the rainy season is over things will be better…we are hoping so.

While on the subject of vermin. I ran across the biggest scorpion I’ve ever seen. It was about 5” long and an inch in diameter…looked like a small black lobster! I googled this scorpion and found out that it is called an Emperor or Imperial scorpion and they feast on termites. Well, there’s lots of food for them here with the termite mounds being as tall as a small house. While their sting is painful the venom is not too poisonous. Still, one would not want to be stung. I was standing in my neighbor’s field in my flip-flops, my preferred footwear these days. I was telling him of running across this scorpion and he tells me he kills them all the time in his field. You gotta know that I was very vigilant and diligent as I weaved my way out of his field.

The principal of one of our local junior high schools was bitten on the ankle by a cobra. He was in the children’s watermelon patch that the school planted. I was just there the day before. I guess there is some bliss in ignorance. That said, I will be more aware.

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Ain’t it funny how time slips away…

I missed writing last month but as Willie Nelson says, “ain’t it funny how time slips away”… it does and it DID!

After months of work and mountains of paperwork, BL and I have finally received our driver’s license and our car has arrived from the states. It (the car) is giving us more freedom to investigate more of this country we have come to call home. This exploration is more of an adventure than one can imagine. There are very few, ok, no road signs indicating or naming roads. That means frequent stops to ask directions and NO Ghanaian will admit that they don’t know the way. So they’ll tell you to go a certain distance, turn left at the big mango tree, ask anyone there, and they will be able to direct you. Everyone has their own opinion on how to get somewhere. Like I say often, “we’re not lost, we just don’t know where we are.”

Adult Literacy Program

But all of our time was not consumed by personal troubles and foibles. We had a most exciting and wonderful mid-term celebration for the Adult Literacy Program. We had T-shirts with the slogan “Never Too Late to Learn” printed on the back for all the students. We decorated the library in purple and gold. The RMA (Royal Music Academy) attended with their choir. Nana Tafohene, the Queen Mother and several sub chiefs also came along with members of the District Assembly and important educators.

Three of the directors from Engage Now Africa, our partner in the Literacy Project, made the three and a half hour journey from Accra to attend. I designed a certificate complete with gold seal and ribbon and fancy script. It was, in many people’s opinion, a roaring success. Refreshments were served and the proud students were feted and dined and photographed to their hearts content.
It was truly an exciting evening and definitely a boost to the morale of the students participating in the program, just what they needed mid-point to boost their confidence and pride in what they were trying to accomplish.

The graduation ceremony is in November after BL returns from her visit to Kansas. This ceremony was such a success I cannot wait for the next one.

Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink…never were the words truer than here. We do have several wells, some functional and some not. It breaks my heart to see children gathering water out of a ditch that I know contains so many bacteria and pathogens harmful to their bodies, but it is true. Often the family cannot afford the few pennies required to use the wells and just as often it is just plain easier and more convenient for the children to get the water from the nearest point and unfortunately this is often the ditch.

The Kwahu Tafo Progress Council does have a water and sanitation project that is directed by the most capable Nana Kattah. His energy is boundless and he is often called upon at all hours of the day and night to sort out some problem with the wells…often this is mechanical or electrical as a couple of our wells are mechanized. We are making an effort to mechanize more of our wells to facilitate water gathering but as always it is a search for funding. Presently, we are working on a well near the Durbur (meeting) grounds that will supply water to several hundred of our citizens living near there.

Our newest project is trying to install a public address system that will be used to announce funerals, weddings and general town business. We will be in direct competition with the gong-gong man who drives around the town with two speakers on the top of his car and does announcements. We won’t put him out of business as he ranges far and wide. The public address system is a dream of Nana Tafohene, our chief. Again, we are preparing a budget for this project and hope to have it up and running in short order.

Driver’s License Saga

Everyone assured us that as obronis (white people) we would have no problem getting a Drivers License. Well, I chalk that up to “the myth of being white”. With great confidence we marched into the office of the Drivers License Bureau only to discover that in order to get a license we needed a work permit and resident visa status.

Ok, so it is off to immigration and a visit with our friend Commander Asamoah who we have come to know since we visited him once every two months for a visitor visa extension. We inform him of our mission, i.e., to obtain a work permit and resident visa in order to get our driver’s license.

He produces the requisite forms and as I look them over my heart sinks…this is gonna be harder than I anticipated and a LOT of paperwork! We needed: a police report from the US, a letter of reference from our elementary school teacher (we are both over 65), all the documents from the Kwahu Tafo Progress Council (we are the development officers), the 501(c)(3) status of Yeko Anim, and just about any document pertaining to our personal lives AND a medical report from the regional hospital (blood test and x ray) stating we are in fine health and have no communicable diseases, vitae of our educational and work experiences…all in duplicate and sometimes triplicate.

It was a daunting task working without post office and limited Internet connectivity, but after a month we managed to get all of this together. Commander Asamoah fast tracked the work permits and they arrived in two weeks. Then he requested our passports. We freaked out as we were getting ready to receive our vehicle in Tema and we needed passports to get it out of customs. Again Cmdr. Asamoah stepped in and fast tracked our passports and we got them back in less than two weeks an unheard of quick turnaround for which we were extremely grateful. It was just a few days before we were expected to be in Tema.

Again, thanks to a very competent friend we were able to get our vehicle through customs in record time, 7 hours! Our friend Felix drove me back to Accra from Tema on a very busy Friday afternoon. There would have been no way I could have handled the traffic. Our friend Mark showed up on Monday to drive us back to Kwahu Tafo (we still did not have a drivers license). We stopped in Koforidua, Capital of the eastern Region to get our permanent registration and license plates…five hours later we drove out almost legal. We were still to get a first aid kit, flashlight, emergency triangles, fire extinguisher and of all things a machete to keep in the boot of the car. We have complied AND we have insurance so we are fully legal.

Last week we returned to the Drivers License Bureau. We thought we had thought of everything…we bought triplicate copies of all the documents that he told us he required and then some we thought to bring just in case, like copies of our passport and alien registration card only to be told that we needed a letter from the state of Washington stating that our driver’s licenses from Washington were still valid. Lucky for us it was a good Internet connection day and we were able to secure the document without much trouble.

Returning the next day the license chief tells us we need three passport photos…I almost, but not quite, lost my cool. We managed to get these within an hour, returned, paid a minimum fee and left there with a temporary drivers license good for three months by which time our permanent license should be ready.

There are surprises and more news but I will end here so I can have something to write in the near future. Again, I thank all of you, my friends and donors to YEKO ANIM and I encourage you to continue to follow our progress here in this lovely town of Kwahu Tafo.

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And The Rain Came Down

Yes, we are in the rainy season and it is a torrential downpour every couple of days, then a miasma of warm air and moisture permeates everything and the mold takes over…just one of the hazards of life here in Tafo. But I have to admit the vegetation never looks so green as during this season of rain.

Our neighbor, Bright, has managed to plant every available foot of ground in corn, peanuts and coco yam a staple of Ghanaian cooking. His corn is as tall as I am; the cocoyam’s bright green leaves are the size of elephant ears and can be harvested to make kontomorie, a wonderful Ghanaian dish that tastes like mustard greens.

Storm clouds heading our wayOur roof leaks so at times our little house looks like something out of Al Capp’s L’il Abner when Pappy Yokum used to put out the pails to collect the drips. I guess we have to have a sense of humor about some things or it would drive us crazy. On the not so humorous side is when we walk through the town and see the devastation that such a rainstorm can cause. We often see walls of houses that have collapsed due to the failure of the building blocks, which are basically dirt with a little cement added. There is no quick solution to these problems but we try and do our part to alleviate some of the poverty in this, our chosen hometown.

Education is the key to many of the problems and we dedicate much of out time and energy to this. The Adult Literacy Project is one such program that is successfully being attended by over 20 adult students in our community and the word is spreading.

I believe that before the year ends we will have a waiting list of students wanting to attend the classes and will have to find a bigger space for the classes. Presently we use the local library two nights a week for classes.

Students at the Adult Literacy ClassesWe have more applicants than we can support in our Tertiary Education fund…this is a perennial problem and one that we continue to struggle with. With over 30 students in school and another 30 or so on the waiting list the job seems insurmountable but I know with diligent research and help from donors we can succeed.

Over the past year we have sourced many new sites on the web that offer scholarship loans and grants to students from Ghana and we encourage the young people of the community to do their own research to access these loans and grants.

Again, it is an uphill battle since the internet connection here in Tafo is not as reliable as in the cities. Often we wait hours to get enough bars on our router to begin work. It can be quite frustrating but as it is said, perseverance furthers the confused individual, so we forge ahead and continue to try.

Introducing our Vice-Chairman

Mr. Joseph Barimah-Nkansah, our Vice-ChairmanI think it time that I introduce some of the citizens of our adopted hometown, Kwahu Tafo. I will start by introducing Mr. Joseph Barimah-Nkansah better known to us as Vice since he is the Vice-Chairman of the Kwahu Tafo Progress Council (KTPC).

After teaching English for six years at St. Joseph’s Technical Institute, one of our Senior High Schools, he went on to work in the District Office of Education for Kwahu South. There he served in the Departments of Planning and Budgeting and Human Resources, finally serving as Acting District Director of Education before retiring in 2000.

After retirement he has continued his public service by serving tirelessly on the boards of Kwahu Tafo Senior High School, St. Paul’s Senior High School in Asakraka where he serves as Chairman of the Board, St. Peter’s Senior High School and Presbyterian Senior High School in Nkwatia. You call that retirement!

With all these responsibilities he is the town’s librarian where you can find him most days working diligently on various projects.

BL and I have come to rely on him for information and advice on local customs and culture. He is a wealth of information on the history of Ghana, having lived through the early tumultuous years following independence in 1957. It is a pleasure to sit and listen to him as he gives his account of those times. It is not often you get to hear such history from one who has lived it. He always makes time for us and I think he finds us amusing at times with the questions we come up with. He is a natural born teacher and leader who gives freely of his time and energy.

As Vice Chairman of the KTPC, it is his duty to keep the peace during meetings and keep us updated on the various programs and projects of the council. He does an exemplary job and is deeply respected and appreciated by the members of the council and the executive. We are fortunate and it is a privilege and an honor to work with him.

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Back to Ghana!

After six weeks away we finally returned to Tafo. Upon our return chiefs and elders welcomed us. Libations were once again poured at our front door and thanks were given to the ancestors for our safe return.

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Traditional Chiefs of Kwahu arriving at the Tourism Action Conference

We could not have had a warmer homecoming. Where normally it would take us 15 minutes or so to reach the center of our small town from our house, on the first trip it took over an hour as people greeted us with hugs and well wishes. (Who says Ghanaians don’t hug?) We truly feel at home and are ready to continue the work of Yeko Anim.

While we were away the Adult Literacy Program that we started this year flourished. The activity of this group was monitored once while we away by Engage Now Africa and we were given a gold star rating. The teachers who have volunteered for this program should be proud of the work they are doing and the students as well.

This past week was the Easter holiday and a new initiative was started by a few of our citizens, the Kwahu Tourist Initiative, in an effort to bring to the attention of tourists the wonderful and beautiful aspects of our region. KTI hosted the first ever Tourism Action Conference. The traditional chiefs attended from all over the Kwahu region. Led by the President of the Traditional Council of Chiefs, they came in colorful procession with their attendants. We are quite proud of the work that the young people have done to make this a success and Kwahu Tafo is prominently featured in the new brochures and guidebook to the Kwahu region.

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Soaring at 2000 ft

For the past nine years the main event of the Easter celebration in Kwahu is a paragliding festival. Yours truly, in spite of my fear of heights, jumped off the side of a mountain on a paragliding flight. I don’t know what possessed me but it just seemed like the thing to do at the time. As we sailed upwards towards the clouds I made the mistake of looking down…big mistake. I turned a pale shade of green and it was all I could do not to lose my cookies 2000 feet in the air. I could not wait to get back to terra firma. Upon landing I looked for a convenient and private place to throw up but none were available, so I did the deep breathing exercise until I recovered.

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Coming down for landing. The soccer field at Nkawkaw

By the time BL, Humphrey and crew showed up I was a little more in control though I did refuse any refreshment. When we arrived home I went directly to bed and remained there for the next twelve hours in a comatose condition. Enough of that high stuff for me; I will accept my fears and carry on. Scratch one more thing off my bucket list.

We arrived home in the rainy season and I do mean RAIN! The rain comes down in torrents reminiscent of the hurricanes I experienced as a child in Louisiana. The rain only lasts for an hour or so but the water flows through the town so swiftly as to wash away the foundations of homes. I’m afraid that mud bricks make for a sad foundation. Many homes in our community show the effects of such downpours, many with walls that have fallen down but are still inhabited. We could use Habitat For Humanity here for a workshop.

Again I thank all of you for your continued support and it is my sincere hope that we can live up to your expectations. We send our love and thanks from YEKO ANIM and the people of Kwahu Tafo.

Dutch Meyer, Founder and Executive Director

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