Onwards and Upwards – New Supporters, New Model and a Bright Future

2018 was a mixed bag for AME. Our first students graduated the national exams and performed much better than we could have hoped. Whilst the governments free education promises have impacted both student numbers and our move towards self-sufficiency.

We currently have 150 students, and by the end of 2019 we expect to have 300. However it is important to note here that all students will then be receiving a free education. With the addition of the school bus and the dormitory, we will be well placed to offer a large number of places to the very rural students within the area of Wioso.

We have a clear plan for how to develop our alternative method of running cost development and our intention is to be raising enough within 18 months to cover the running costs of the model.

We also have two extremely solid new partners who have both committed to supporting the development of this model, and their contributions of a dormitory and a school bus will greatly effect demand.

New road to self-sufficiency: In 2018 we made the decision to go 'fully free' for all students, which requires the development of an alternative funding model. We decided upon the development of the additional 17 acres of the school site into an export farm. To do this, we developed an innovative partnership with a commercial partner which we intend to develop as the cornerstone of our revised model.

In Sept of last year, Lanfrey Farming took over the remaining site to develop an Organic Moringa farm for export to the US and the EU. The terms of the agreement were specifically designed to support the school, and attracted the interest of ethical investors in doing so. The terms of the agreement are as follows.

-      An annual rental fee per acre, tied to the purchase value of the land.

-      A 20% profit share arrangement to be paid back to AME.

-      LF responsible for all licensing, exporting and capital expansion, including farm staff, solar and borehole expansion

-      LF responsible for maintenance of school farm for feeding program, including all staff

This arrangement has served to reduce the costs to the school by removing responsibility for the school farm, as well as securing a long term income for the running costs of the school.

We are all very excited by the expectations for export this year, and the aim is to export 10 tonnes for sale in the EU and the US during 2019.

 Supporting fee-free: In the meantime, as we develop out new model, we have been extremely grateful to The Toni Garrn Foundation and I-Engineering for supporting us with the development of a girls dormitory, school buses which will allow us to bring in farm greater number of students this year.

Further still Toni Garrn Foundation are us with ongoing running cost contributions as we develop the farm towards generating the revenue required to run the school. We are so incredibly grateful for their support, and for the support of all of our donors moving forward with incredible expectations for 2019 and beyond.

 

For any donations to our 2019 fundraising drive, please use the following accounts or contact details.

 

UK Sterling   Account                                                          US Dollar Account               

            Bank: HSBC                                                                           Bank: Wells Fargo

            Account no: 62155907                                                           Account no: 6268919351

            Sort code: 400409                                                                   Routing no (wire). 121000248

            IBAN: gb15midl40040962155907                                         Routing no (direct) 054001220

 

Contact: Please contact us below, we would be delighted to hear from you,

 

            James Riggs (CEO of Alma Mater Education)                          3 Lanfrey Place

            jriggs@almamatereducation.org                                               London

            (+44) 7766 733008                                                                  W14 9PY

www.almamatereducation.org

UK registered Charity Number 1159983

US Registered 501c3

A Change of Focus, Challenges and New Partners

There are always going to be challenges with a project such as ours. Last year Ghana became the first country in Africa to offer free secondary education. Whilst this is obviously great for Ghana it understandably impacted our ability to raise revenue through school fees. As a result, and with some very exciting new partners, we took the decision to adapt our financial model and seek to raise running costs from exporting produce from our school farm. The extremely positive upshot of this is that our school is 100% free to all students.

New partners

In mid 2018, AME partnered with www.ieng-group.com, who have provided infrastructure development and with www.tonigarrnfoundation.org who have provided funding and visibility. Together they have donated a school dormitory, which is currently being constructed and a school bus. Both of these additions will allow us to recruit more students going forward.

Most exciting of all is that they are committed to developing a model for building further schools, in Ghana and beyond, with agricultural exporting at the fore.

 

Agricultural Exporting as alternative Running cost model

As mentioned above, the development of free schooling in urban areas has impacted on our model. As a result we have begun to grow Organic Moringa on the site for export, in order to generate revenue to cover the running cost of the school itself.

We have partnered with www.hpwag.ch/en/home/, the largest European exporter of dried fruit in West Africa. They collect the produce from our farm, deliver to their production facility in Accra, wash, dry, powder and export for us to Europe where we pick it up again in Antwerp.

We already have an order for 2 tonnes this year (with this buyer estimating 15 tonnes in 2019), with production targets of 40 tonnes next year, which will easily be enough to cover the running costs of the school allowing us to provide all our students with a 100% free education.

 

            UK Sterling   Account                                                          US Dollar Account               

            Bank: HSBC                                                                           Bank: Wells Fargo

            Account no: 62155907                                                           Account no: 6268919351

            Sort code: 400409                                                                   Routing no (wire). 121000248

            IBAN: gb15midl40040962155907                                         Routing no (direct) 054001220

 

Contact: Please contact us below, we would be delighted to hear from you,

 

            James Riggs (CEO of Alma Mater Education)                          3 Lanfrey Place

            jriggs@almamatereducation.org                                               London

            (+44) 7766 733008                                                                  W14 9PY

www.almamatereducation.org

UK registered Charity Number 1159983

US Registered 501c3

First Exam Results

2018 has been a wonderful year for AME so far. We are excited to update you all on our achievements, and would like to extend our warmest thanks to all of our supporters for their continued support.

 In July our third year students became the first to sit the National WAEC leavers exams, and results have been fantastic – even better than we could have hoped for, with 70% passing all the exams they sat, and many qualifying to go onto study at University. An astonishing outcome for a rural school such as ours, sitting its first national exams and we could not be happier.

From myself and all of those at Wioso SHS, a huge thank-you to our supporters who have made this possible.

 The challenge for us now is to not rest on our laurels, and to push on with the development of additional classroom infrastructure and a Science Lab and ICT suite. We will have further demands for  utilities as we grow and must expand both the solar provision and the water supply with additional boreholes.

 Moving into 2019, we will also require a boarding facility as those students from the more rural areas often cannot walk to school each day as distance/weather prevents it. As a result the provision of a boarding facility will allow us to specifically benefit the very poorest students. This addition, planned for the next two years, will also in itself present challenges as we move more into the area of care and support. This will require experts in the field of child support and additional staff investment to support students 24 hours a day and provide a safe environment for them.

 If you could help in any way with our fundraising push then that would be fantastic, and for any donations our bank details in the UK and the US below.

 

            UK Sterling   Account                                                          US Dollar Account               

            Bank: HSBC                                                                           Bank: Wells Fargo

            Account no: 62155907                                                           Account no: 6268919351

            Sort code: 400409                                                                   Routing no (wire). 121000248

I           BAN: gb15midl40040962155907                                          Routing no (direct) 054001220

 

Contact: Please contact us below, we would be delighted to hear from you,

 

            James Riggs (CEO of Alma Mater Education)                          3 Lanfrey Place

            jriggs@almamatereducation.org                                               London

            (+44) 7766 733008                                                                  W14 9PY

www.almamatereducation.org

UK registered Charity Number 1159983

US Registered 501c3

Phase 2 Complete

Hello everyone, and it is my great pleasure to give you a quick update on all that has been going on at Wioso Senior High School and Organic Farm in Ghana.

We have finally managed to complete Phase 2 of the school building, more of that below, and will be welcoming a further 100 students during September.

Our current students continue to perform extremely well, and we are all excited to see our first national exam results, which our oldest students will be sitting in June next year. We are optimistic that they will do extremely well, as the quality of the teachers continues to impress, and they have all taken the 'Alma Mater Education System' to heart. Lessons around the school now are far more creative and student inclusive, and it is not uncommon to see lessons outside, at the farm, and around the site.

It is full steam ahead once more after a difficult 2016 which saw us miss the deadline for finishing Phase 2, resulting in student intake last year being very low. A combination of a falling value in sterling, unseasonal weather and a delay in getting the solar equipment from Europe, meant that we missed our construction deadline last September.

However, I am very happy to report that we have caught up this year. Phase 2 is finished, and all of the power at the school is now provided by the African sun. We have a further five classrooms ready to go, and aim to have our ICT suite installed early in 2018, which was generously donated by Felix Vogler and Panagenda last year, and will be named the 'Panagenda ICT suite'.

After the problems of last year, there have understandably been a few parents in the local area who have been waiting to see how the school building progresses. Although cutting it fine, they are now seeing the progress made at the school and are beginning to enrol their children to begin in Wioso next month. Our target enrolment rate is 100, and we have had over 500 applicants for study already.

 Of course, our aim is to make the school economically self-sufficient as well as ecologically - which we have already achieved through our Organic farm, solar power and borehole water supply. Our aim, with the new students this year is to be up to 70% economically self-sufficient, with a running cost deficit of just £12,000. This target is a great motivator, and we would have gone a long way to proving the model, alongside providing free education to half of our students if we can achieve this.

 Going forward, it has been identified that we need to develop a hostel, and provide a bus service, to allow many of the students from the more remote areas access to our school. These are the most vulnerable children, with absolutely no chance of an education, and the ones that AME was set up specifically to help. Our site can provide an education, renewable utilities and food from the farm. A hostel would be a cost-effective and secure way to provide these students access to an education, and is repeatedly requested when we visit these communities.

 Thank-you so very much for taking the time to read this update, and for your continued support with our ambitious project in Ghana. I hope you all agree that so far things have been a great success, and we can all be rightly proud of what we have achieved. Simply without your support, none of this would have been achieved, and from all of us at AME and the students in attendance, a massive thank-you!

 If you would like to donate to our 2017/18 fundraising drive, the account details are below. Our target for the next academic year is £120,000 to complete the school buildings and roofing, a hostel, a school bus, the sports field as well as an onsite hostel for those children who have to travel more than two hours each day. Naming opportunities include the science lab, classrooms and the new offices, as well as the school bus and hostel.

 Please contact me directly for any further information.

 

Warmest wishes

 James Riggs

            CEO Alma Mater Education

            jriggs@almamatereducation.org

            +0044 7766733008

 

Donations: Can be received via bank transfer, into our UK or US accounts, details below. Or via post to the addresses above.

 

UK Sterling Account                                                US Dollar Account               

Bank: HSBC                                                                           Bank: Wells Fargo

Account no: 62155907                                                           Account no: 6268919351

Sort code: 400409                                                                   Routing no (wire transfer). 121000248

From James Riggs, Founder and CEO

In 2014 I began working on a solution to the problem of educational delivery in rural communities. After many years of working in community development all over the world, the key elements I sought to combine were:

– An education that was contextually specific to rural life

– Sustainability; both financially and ecologically

– Providing opportunity for people to help themselves

– A project should be managed and run entirely by local people and partners.

The idea was to show that, despite many great achievements and good intentions, the traditional model of aid delivery in rural communities is outdated. To demonstrate an overhaul is needed to provide education to the hundreds of millions of children world-wide who need it.

Now, in 2016, that dream has become a reality. As we stand, having just welcomed our second year students into our pilot school in Ghana, we are quickly proving the validity of the model. It has not been easy, perfect, or without challenges, but it is working.

By the end of 2017 we hope to have demonstrated that a school with 400 students, half of whom are on full scholarships, in a rural community can be fully self-sufficient. At this point, we intend to expand, building more schools in Ghana and beyond. James Riggs, CEO (November 2016) The first two years of a revolutionary new approach to the delivery of Secondary Education in Ghana

Our Approach

Problem: Huge strides have been made globally in attainment levels of basic education. However, junior is where 'free schooling' usually ends. Ghana is similar to many developing countries, and beyond junior level, education is expensive, and out of the financial reach of many families. As a result, almost sixty percent of children will not gain any secondary level qualifications, with drastic effects on earning potential, aspirations, health and even life expectancy.

Provision and Economic self-sufficiency: Typically there have been two approaches to providing large scale formal education – free schools paid for by donations, or private schools paid for by school fees. The problem with the former is that they are financially vulnerable, and dependent on continued donor support. Whilst the latter does little to ensure that those who cannot afford an education, and whom also most need it, will attend school.

Our approach is very simple – it combines both these approaches. Half of our students pay a moderate school fee of roughly £60 a term, which covers that cost of being able to offer full scholarships to the other half, from the most impoverished rural communities. Crucially, all of our staff are from the local area.

Solution; context of rural life: Further, educational projects and educational attainment often pays very little attention to the realities of rural life. In these farming communities, education and agriculture should go hand in hand. However they seldom do. Our pilot project combines a formal secondary school with a 25 acre Organic farm. Not only does the farm provide an excellent source of nutritious food for the students, but also acts as a centre to run training programs in sustainable, organic farming and entrepreneurship – hugely relevant skills in the community.

Progress so far:  We wouldn't ever pretend that everything runs like clockwork. However, despite set backs (all of which we learn from) we are still on course to be 100% self-sufficient by next year, proving the validity and scalability of our model.

Year one: In September 2015, we recruited our first 120 students. Overall we were able to raise roughly half of our total running costs – a great achievement in just our first year. Alongside this, we opened the first five acres of the Organic Farm, planting basic crops and rearing chickens, to provide maize, vegetables and eggs for the school feeding program. By the end of the first academic year, the farm provided almost 40% of the food eaten at the school.

Year Two: Unseasonable weather, as well Farm Manager, Joyce AME Finance Manager & Director as a huge fall in the value of sterling against the Ghana Cedi after Brexit had large impacts on the start of our second academic year in September 2016. The upshot is that we are essentially two months behind schedule. Unfortunately the time taken to finish our second building block, as well as the delay to installing a solar micro-grid have hampered our second year student recruitment. Despite that, we are making up for lost time, and aim to have a further 120 new students in attendance by January 2017 and each day we continue to increase our student numbers.

The move towards financial self-sufficiency: The success of our model, and in proving its scalability, lies chiefly in it being able to pay for itself. As mentioned above, with 120 students in year 1, we were able to generate approximately 50% of our required running costs. Below is a very rough estimate of our expected costs vs income over this year, and next, outlining how we intend to develop towards being 100% financially self sufficient.

Of course there is still an incredible amount of work to do in order to reach this point, and there will be many more hurdles to overcome. Chief amongst them is our need to bring in the necessary funding to help us reach the point of self-sufficiency. We are extremely fortunate to have a number of wonderful partners, all of whom share our vision of an alternative, more efficient, way to manage a project such as this. All of them are committed to the idea that development work really can fund itself. Many of these partners, we know, will be with us for the long-term and will grow with us. However, we still need to develop long term partnerships with like minded people and organisations.

School-to-school partnerships: One of the key areas we are looking to develop is interschool partnerships. It is a core believe of Alma Mater Education that schools closer to home can truly benefit from partnering with our school in Ghana. From our experience, students here are greatly interested and invested in young people of their own age, when given the opportunity and if the information is framed correctly.

We are developing partnerships with schools in London at the moment, and one of the key provisions we aim to make is to regularly attend these schools, to keep the student and staff updated on our work. We are extremely fortunate therefore to have the successful young Hollywood actor, Will Poulter, as our first Patron. Will has starred in films such as the Chronicles of Narnia, Maze Runner and The Revenant. He is also very happy to attend our partner schools and deliver our message to young people, amongst whom he is very well known.

In the future we hope to be able to offer exchange trips to West Africa, with students staying on site, at specially built eco-lodges within the farm.

Contact Alma Mater Education: If you would like to get involved with us, or for more information about Alma Mater Education, we would be delighted to hear from you.

James Riggs (CEO of Alma Mater Education)

3 Lanfrey Place, London W14 9PY

james@almamatereducation.com

(+44) 7766 733008

Onwards and Upwards

It is hard to believe quite how far we have come in such a short period of time. Midway through only our second term, and it feels like the school has been part of the community for six years, rather than six months. Staff and students alike continue to progress and impress in equal measures. Rejoice, our wonderfully talented headmistress, has created a really tight-knit group amongst the staff. Of course this is a very difficult task when creating a new structure, with new procedures and methods of teaching, accountability and, crucially, student discipline. However Rejoice has expertly negotiated these potential pitfalls, and has insured that all of the teachers have bought into our concept of 'a student focused education.' Already this is paying dividends. Our end of first term exams have seen a small, but noticeable, increase in grades. This is especially prominent amongst the lowest performing students, who have formed our 'purple group', receiving extra support in basic numeracy and literacy - which is a problem with many students from the rural areas.

PHASE 2 CONSTRUCTION

There is no time to rest though, and we are just starting now on the construction of Phase 2 of the school building. Our new building will be two storeys high, and consist of eight more classrooms, and a science lab. Astonishingly, this will push our capacity up to over 400 students for the next intake this September. The clearing of the land has just begun, and we have to start quickly to get ahead of the game before the rainy season starts in late March. We believe that sport is very important and can be a great source of both enjoyment and learning for young people. Phase 2 also sees us expanding our sports field, with a full size football pitch, and two volley ball courts.

THE ORGANIC FARM AND AGRICULTURAL TRAINING CENTRE

We have also just started clearing the bottom of the site for the Organic Farm. The farm forms a key component of what we are trying to do in Wioso, bridging the gap between agriculture and formal education in rural farming communities. Our Project Manager, George Ansah, has a wealth of experience in organics and agricultural training and has a vision to turn our farm into a centre of excellence within the region.

The farm this year will aim to provide the bulk of the food for the feeding program, ensuring healthy and nutritious organic food for our students. Already we have been rearing chickens and harvesting eggs, which are used each week to feed the students. The natural mixture of local Moringa leaves and natural feed is working extremely well, as you can see in the photos the richer colour of the yolk of our eggs against a locally available one. It is these skills and expertise that the Agricultural Training Centre will promote throughout the community, with our adult training classes. Our partner, the Kumasi Institute of Tropical Agriculture has over twenty years of experience in locally available solutions to organic farming, and we are very grateful for their continued support.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

From the outset, we decided to focus on using renewable energy at both the school and the farm. Currently all of our water needs are covered by a deep bore hole, and we have just received word that a Ghanaian solar energy company are constructing our micro grid as part of their CSR program (full announcement of that will be in our next newsletter). This is extremely exciting, and secures long-term, clean energy for the school and the farm. Funding target for this year All of the work we are doing is only made possible by the generous donations of many contributors. To each and every one of you a huge thank-you, as quite simply this school would not exist without your support. This year, our funding target is approximately £110k. This will allow us to finish all capital investment for the year, increasing our capacity to over 400, finishing the sports fields, and building a farm to feed the students and serve the local community. We hope you agree with us when we say that represents pretty good value for money! Sponsorship opportunities include; naming of the phase 2 block, the classrooms, the science lab, the sports facilities , the farm, students and teachers.

CONTACT

Once again a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved with us over the past 18 months, and I very much look forward to keeping you updated on our 2016 progress. For any queries, please contact me here:

James Riggs (CEO of Alma Mater Education) 3 Lanfrey Place

james@almamatereducation.com London

(+44) 7766 733008 W14 9PY

Donations: Can be received via bank transfer, as follows, or via post to the address above.

Bank: HSBC

Account no: 62155907

Sort code: 400409

IBAN: gb15midl40040962155907