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From Brussels to Bolgatanga: The Best of Both Worlds

It starts with a chapter in a Secondary School geography book.

It ends with a borehole.

And in between there is tribal dancing, customised water bottles, lawyers and a group of passionate students. The lesson learned: the road from Brussels, Belgium and Bolgatanga, Ghana runs two ways.

Beyond the Textbook
John Knight, Assistant Head, at The British School of Brussels, was teaching a lesson on development and poverty from a textbook that used a remote Ghanaian village as an example.  As he was explaining the development gap and the difficulty villagers faced in moving away from poverty he could tell the students were struggling to make the connection –  perhaps because the cultural differences were just too far removed.  Soon after, John came across the Urban Development and Education Foundation (UD-EF), a charity who by coincidence happened to be working in Bolgatanga – the exact location featured in the book.  “From here, the conversation and ideas just began rolling,” John says.

An Educational Approach
In June 2010, John and two colleagues visited Ghana to meet elders, the tribal chief, teachers and local students.  They returned to BSB with some inspirational ideas to share on the teaching of sustainable development to their students. “What the schools in Ghana needed was clean water, chairs, teacher training and computers,” says John. “We knew we wanted to do more than just send a cheque.  We wanted this to be a partnership where we both extend our knowledge and learn from each other. The question now was ‘how best to do this’?”   That’s where the students became involved.

A Business Plan
Students were keen to take on the challenge to create a lesson beyond the textbook. As with any lesson, this too needed a plan – a business plan.  “We wanted to do more than sell cakes to generate income” says John. “We want to create change through a meaningful and reciprocal learning experience.”

The students from the School’s Charities Committee opted to create The Best of Both as a registered charity. “We started contacting lawyers,” explains Shrey Virani, BSB student.  “We found one lawyer who will work pro bono, but first we have to file the appropriate paperwork.  At BSB, we have a theme of respect,” says Debo Adedeji, another BSB student on the team. “For me, this project is the essence of that theme. We want to share knowledge and understand each others cultures better – to give and receive.”  

Knowing that the students in Ghana needed clean, accessible water, the BSB students decided to raise money for a borehole by selling recyclable water bottles. “One of our fundraising plans involves branding our own Best of Both Worlds water bottles and selling them here at School and in the local community,” says Shenil Shah, also a BSB team member. “We’re currently in negotiations with a supplier and working with the School’s catering personnel.”

Thinking Big
Like any good business plan, Best of Both Worlds has a vision for continued growth. The students are already developing a plan to institutionalise the partnership, expand the programme to other international schools and develop a gap year exchange programme.

“Once the borehole is finished, we will look at raising funds to purchase some I.T. equipment, which will allow us to connect directly with their students, allowing our partnership to flow both ways,” says Tim Edwards of BSB’s Charities Committee.

“It’s only onwards and upwards from here.”