A foster home for HIV/AIDS orphans in Ghana has launched a school and other business ventures to support its work, thanks to a partnership with an American university.
Mmofra Trom, which means "children's garden" in the native Dangbe language, is more than a school. It is home to 22 orphans in eastern Ghana, allowing them to live near their original homes and maintain ties with their villages and remaining relatives.
Though the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Ghana is relatively low at about two percent, the country is struggling to deal with more than 150,000 children who have been orphaned by the disease.
The orphanage's director, Olan Adjetey, said aside from individual contributions, the home did not have the support of any major donors, so they turned to Bentley University, an American business school in Massachusetts, in the hopes of making the orphanage financially self-sufficient.
"We realized that there would be the need to find other alternatives to sustain the project. For that matter, we got into partnership with Bentley University in the United States. We drew up strategies, business plans and out of that we came up with certain ventures that would help us make some money," Adjetey said.
The first step was to open an elementary and middle school in 2006. Named after the Mmofra Trom's founder, Carol Grey, the school is open to disadvantaged children as well as those from paying families. The majority of its 200 students pay tuition, and those funds help support the educations of those who can not afford it.
But the project's program director at Bentley University, Diane Kellogg, said Mmofra Trom soon realized it needed additional business ventures to make the orphanage and educational center truly self-sustaining.
"We recognized we needed more business than just the school or we were going to be overcharging the parents in the school. And so [we started] a mango plantation, corn, a bank of grasscutters, which are an excellent source of protein, a tilapia pond which has been successful and will continue to be successful providing protein for the children. It is an educational center where the children are learning traditional skills which gives them pride in their Ghanaian heritage," she said.
A soccer match at the Mmofra Trom center
Thanks to continued cooperation with the university, the Mmofra Trom Foundation runs a school, mango orchard, chicken coop, vegetable garden and a sports academy among other projects on its 38-acre plot in eastern Ghana. The educational center provides job skills and computer training, as well as bead-making and weaving facilities.
Kellogg said non-profit organizations dependent on donations can overlook the potential to earn money from services they may already be providing or could provide.
In just four years, Kellogg said Mmofra Trom center has become financially self-sufficient. It is a success she says that does not need to stop there, and the university plans to collaborate with other organizations in the region.
The real judges of success, though, are the children themselves.
"I am 12 years old. I am one of the orphans here, and I have been in this school for five years. I am feeling good here and I like the people who take of us. They are kind," said Naomi Coffie, an orphan living at Mmofra Trom.
Adjetey said they hope to one day offer free education to hundreds of other under-privileged children in the community.
Ruby Amable contributed reporting from Accra, Ghana