Guest Commentaries

How PNW folks make a difference for students in Ghana

Auction fundraiser set for Nov. 4 at Mount Baker Theatre
October 30, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
Anansi students celebrate learning. A fundraiser to support educational efforts in Ghana is set for Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Mount Baker Theatre.
Anansi students celebrate learning. A fundraiser to support educational efforts in Ghana is set for Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Mount Baker Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Anansi Education)

By Bob McDonnell, Guest Writer

A village in Ghana has a special link to Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest — Mpeasem home of Anansi Education. One of our distinguished local residents, Kathryn Roe, (the Roe Studio building at Whatcom Community College is named after her) spends half her time in Mpeasem each year, running the Anansi program for Ghanaian high school students. Many folks in the PNW, from Bellingham to Portland, have supported this cause over the years, and I invite you to join us. 

First, some background.

For the villagers who live in and around Mpeasem and the Cape Coast area, it is not easy to complete high school. (Only 25% of Ghanaians graduate.) Since going to high school is not the norm, most villages don’t have one, requiring students to travel long distances or stay in boarding houses to attend.

That means, given the pervasive poverty in the area, the cost of travel, room, board, books and uniforms is commonly prohibitive. So students drop out or don’t even bother starting. This consigns them to subsistence-level occupations for the rest of their lives. Kathryn learned of this situation 20 years ago and founded the secular nonprofit, Anansi Education, to combat the problem. 

Anansi’s goal is to better the futures of Ghana’s underprivileged students and, by helping them realize their potential, improve the communities they are part of. Ghana is a developing country with growing momentum, where access to high school education has a dramatically positive impact. In Ghana, a high school education is more like what we think of as college — enabling graduates to work as nurses and teachers and other skilled professions.

“Anansi" refers to a popular trickster figure from West African mythology, a wise and cunning creature who outwits people who would do harm. The Anansi spider is often used as a symbol for resistance to enslavement. For Anansi Education, it’s used to refer to the power of education to liberate and uplift. Completing high school can be life-transforming for Ghanaian village youth, not just because it broadens the horizons of the graduates themselves, but also because they can lift their families out of poverty as well. 

Anansi Education is proud that its graduates include many nurses, teachers, successful business managers and even a doctor. What’s more, Anansi graduates are now running and expanding Anansi Education itself. Since its inception, Anansi has served nearly 800 students, introduced the artistic traditions of West Africa to supporters internationally, and facilitated volunteer opportunities in Ghana for individuals from across the globe. It's quite a legacy of accomplishment.

When she started Anansi Education 20 years ago, Kathryn had retired from teaching ceramics at Whatcom Community College. She’s now 89, and focused on making Anansi self-sustaining so that its good work can continue without her. The plan is to establish Ghanaian-run businesses to support the project, on land in nearby Efutu that Kathryn has purchased for Anansi Education, with the intention that Anansi can continue without relying solely on American financial assistance. 

Slated for inclusion: tourist lodgings, a restaurant, elementary school, and a boarding house for Ghanaian students. An architect is currently drawing up plans for the buildings; the boarding house will create income immediately; an Anansi alumnus who went on to graduate with honors from Cape Coast University will run the elementary school, and the other businesses should bring in a healthy revenue stream as well. Please join us in being part of this ambitious undertaking by attending this year’s annual Anansi African Art Auction.

The auction will be at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Mount Baker Theatre’s Encore Room. If you’re looking for something meaningful to give for Christmas, this event will feature items brought directly from Ghana — and the proceeds will go toward ensuring the future of Anansi Education and the good work it does for Ghana’s young people.

West African handicrafts will be available through direct sales. Other special items will be offered through silent auction, and some rare treasures from Kathryn’s personal collection will be offered at live auction. Beverages and bites will be served, Anansi supporters will be in attendance, inspiring stories of Anansi’s successful students will be shared. We hope you’ll join us. For more see

Bob McDonnell is retired chair of the English department at Western Washington University. A longtime Anansi Education supporter, he’s traveled to Ghana twice to meet students and enjoy the vibrant culture there.

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