Ghana lockdown strands Kiwis building school

Two Kiwi volunteers building a school in Ghana are stuck there after the African nation closed its borders because of the coronavirus. 

Nelson teacher Jaimee Perrett and fellow volunteer Sam Collins, from Whanganui, are rebuilding the local classrooms in Tetrem village, paid for with donations from hundreds of Kiwis. 

Perrett has been there since January, while Collins arrived just before the lockdown came into force, when all incoming and outgoing flights were cancelled. 

"No one knows when they can travel, no one can make plans, so it's just a waiting game and it's testing my patience for sure," says Perrett. 

"I'm spending every morning doing laundry and trying to think of other projects for the future and how I can build my charity. I guess I'm just trying to use the time for mundane work."

Jaimee Perrett and some of the recipients of her goodwill.
Jaimee Perrett and some of the recipients of her goodwill. Photo credit: Newshub.

Rebuilding the school has been a dream of Perrett's for four years. She spent last year working as a teacher during the day, and at a pub at night, with all her extra earnings going towards the school.

She's spent all year overseeing the construction of it, which saw the entire village pitch in digging the foundations, and creating concrete blocks from 600 bags of cement for the main structure. 

A Gisborne roofing company was about to send 14 of its workers over to put the roof on, but the lockdown saw those plans scuppered, meaning the school's construction has halted. 

"We're still waiting for them because if we paid somebody to do it, it would cost too much money and we'd have to do probably another five fundraisers," she says. 

Perrett planned to be back in Nelson now organising another fundraising drive so she can finish the project.

"We'd love to replace the school furniture, I'd love to get up new whiteboards, new books for the library. We've got a massive library which is my mini-project. So there'll be another fundraiser coming hopefully in October," she says. 

Without generous donations from New Zealanders, Perrett says the project would never have got off the ground, and the kids would be facing an uncertain future. 

"There was a guy in Dunedin from Mitre 10 who sent over quite a large amount of money that we've now given to the families for food, so that financial burden is off us now.

"New Zealand really is building this school and feeding a village," Perrett says. 

Part of the school under construction.
Part of the school under construction. Photo credit: Newshub.

Infection rates are continuing to climb across Africa, and she says when she looks at how it's all been handled in New Zealand, she gets a bit homesick. 

"I love how they've handled it at home. The fact everybody can go back to work, see their friends, I'd do anything to do that. And to be with my family and to see my nieces and nephews. We're so lucky at home, and I really want to be there feeling that relaxed feeling," she says. 

If you'd like to donate to the Tetrem School Project, here are the charity's bank account details.

  • Account Beneficiary: Good Foundation School and Home Trust
  • Account number: 03-0751-0057411-000
  • Bank: Westpac