Mission of Mercy--Part IV - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

07/27/06

Mission of Mercy--Part IV

Last month, the Goodness and Mercy Foundation went on a medical mission to the Konongo Village in Ghana. Our Dawn Baker and Channing Beacham tagged along. They went to tour two schools along with Savannah dentist Dr. Phillip Cooper.

His intent was to get the students to come to the clinic, but what we didn't expect was how this tour would give us an experience of a lifetime.

While the Coopers were pleased to see the huge crowds every day at the clinic and treat them, many of whom had never been to a dentist, they got concerned when they noticed that they were not seeing a lot of children.

"I have a very strong interest in growth and development of children, so I wanted to see children as much as I saw adults," said Dr. Cooper.

So they took matters into their own hands. In order to make the mission a success at the hospital, often times it requires the doctors, like Dr. Cooper, to go in the community to meet the people and personally invite them to take part.

Our first stop was at the Holy Virgin School. When we stepped onto the campus, we couldn't help but feel our hearts sink. It was unlike anything that we had ever seen before. There was very little grass, mostly red clay. Off to the side, we spotted two large, black kettles with steam pouring out of them. School administrators told us that the woman was cooking lunch.

The classrooms were practically outside, mainly a half cement block wall and a roof. So the children are not protected from the extremely hot weather. And if it rains, they get wet when the wind blows the rain into the classrooms.

We couldn't help but feel sorry for the students stuck in what we considered were substandard conditions. But within a few moments, our spirits soared as we listened in on what these children were learning.

Ghanaians take education very seriously. No matter how poor the families are, they work hard to make sure that their children get a good education, because a lot is riding on it. Only the top ten percent in the country are selected to study abroad, where there are opportunities for a better life.

"It is true that brilliant ones are given scholarships and that gives the others the incentive to learn and get a scholarship to go to the white man's land," said Asantewah Bankoni, II, the Queen Mother. "That is why education is very important. Every parent wants their child to be someone in the future and have a good life and do better than they did."

We watched in amazement as the young students recited flawless French, Spanish, and English.

"The interesting thing is we went from classes that were English to French to Spanish," said Dr. Cooper. "So these children are learning languages at first, second and third grades they are bilingual almost from day one."

The teachers paused so that Dr. Cooper to talk to the children. "We are inviting all the children to the clinic to have their teeth checked tomorrow," he said.

As we left, we hoped that we would see them again at the clinic. Our next stop, a few miles down the road, the Oxford International School, one of the best in Ghana. From the moment we arrived, we were impressed by the positive messages that lined the school property. Large signs with important life lessons: "avoid teen pregnancy," "stay away from drugs," "education is the apprenticeship of life," "for success in life, make perseverance your bosom friend."

What was going on inside the classrooms was equally impressive. One thing that amazed us was just how disciplined these children were. As they greeted Dr. Cooper, in almost every class, the children stood at attention and said, "Good morning, Sir!"

"I'll tell you how disciplined they are," said Dr. Cooper. "There was one class where obviously the teacher told them to not say a word. I walked in, they did not move or shake a leaf."

School administrators couldn't be happier to see dentist.

"It is going to transform their lives," the Oxford School's George Aboagye said. "Some of them have dental problems like myself. But they don't know where to go. They don't have the money. We thank God that they found us a way where there was no way."

We learned quickly that there is no dentist in Konongo. So many of the children and adults in this village have never had the opportunity to go to a dentist before.

The next morning, the children took Dr. Cooper up on his invitation. Dr. Cooper had a captive audience as thousands of students filled the lawn at the clinic. He made learning how to properly brush their teeth fun, demonstrating proper technique as he called out, "You should brush up and down not like this. Swish, swish, swish up and down. Swish, swish swish all round and round. We brush our teeth to keep them clean!"

You could hear that message being sung all over the property. It's a lesson that Dr. Cooper hopes will last a lifetime.

We can't begin to tell you how wonderful these young people are. They really get it that education is their ticket out of poverty. They give 100 percent when they go to school.

Tomorrow on THE News at 6, we'll hear more from the doctors as they look back on the mission and share what they've learned from this unforgettable experience.

Reported by: Dawn Baker, dbaker@wtoc.com

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