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How A Chance Encounter With SAS Students on a Ghana Street Changed The Life Of One Man and a Thousand Children

A Group of SAS Students Looking for a Place to Eat Would Befriend a Street Vendor in Accra and Unknowingly Begin a Trajectory to Build a School in a Remote Ghana Village. 

In 2009, Fred Benneh, a native Ghanaian, was selling bracelets on the streets of Accra in Ghana. He had recently moved to the big city from the small town of Senase and was looking for a brighter future. One fateful day, a group of visiting Semester at Sea students stopped Fred to ask for recommendations for places to eat. Fred was quite helpful and outgoing, and the SAS students invited him to join them for lunch. 

While at lunch, the students asked Fred for suggestions on things to do while they were in Accra. Since he seemed very knowledgeable about the city, the students then asked if he would essentially be their guide for the next three days. Fred gladly accepted. 

At the end of their three days together, the students offered to stay in touch with Fred in the future on Facebook and email. Even though Fred didn’t have either Facebook or email, he quickly went to an internet cafe to learn how to use both. As a way to save money, he would go to the internet cafe between midnight at 3 a.m. in order to get the 50 percent off-hours discount rate at the cafe(and also because the internet cafe owner had the time then to help train him on technology). Fred would wait patiently for three months for his newfound SAS friends to complete their voyage, return home to where they had access to technology, and get back in touch with him. 

The SAS voyagers proceeded to give great reviews about Fred on social media, and future voyagers would then read those reviews and also book city tours with Fred. In yet another twist of fate, one of those future voyagers was to be a woman named Barbara Alison, who happened to be researching tours in Ghana as part of her upcoming Spring 2013 Voyage as a Lifelong Learner. Barbara reached out to Fred to learn more about his program, which, by that time, included trips to Fred’s small town of Senase, Ghana, and also included volunteer opportunities to help work on the town’s infrastructure. 

During the course of their dialogue, Barbara sensed a certain uniqueness and potential in Fred, and she learned more about his desire to help his community in Senase. Barbara also learned about Fred’s goal to one day build a quality education system for the kids in the community. After Barbara’s visit to Fred’s village, she was inspired to find a way to help the young kids in the Senase village community. She thought one of the best ways she could do this was to help fund Fred’s own education so that he could gain the skills needed and return to Senase to build the quality school that the town so desperately needed. 

Eventually, Fred was accepted to a business school in London, and, with some financial assistance from Barbara and her husband Mike, he was able to work towards a degree in Social Entrepreneurship. 

Newly educated with a college degree, Fred returned to Ghana, where he worked to start an Uber division for the country of Ghana, all the while starting to work on his dream of building a school in Senase. 

In Fall 2015, with support from Barbara and Mike Alison, Fred was able to fulfill that dream, and Semanhyia American School (SAS) was opened with three classrooms for 120 local school children. The goal was to continue to grow and to add one additional grade each year. Since 2015, additional support has come in and the Semanhyia school is now up to eight grades with over 300 students. 

For every subsequent SAS voyage that returned to Ghana, Fred would continue to offer immersive volunteer opportunities and homestays for SAS students at the Semanhyia school. When Semanhyia expanded its reach to kids that lived beyond walking distance to the school, it was a former SAS student that helped find an unused school bus in New York that was then donated and shipped to Senase. When Fred needed an architect to help design the new school, it was another former SAS student that helped him do just that. The connections between Semanhyia and Semester at Sea now run very deep, and the volunteer opportunities for current SAS voyagers and alumni continue to this day. 

SAS has turned the volunteer opportunity into a formal field program that is in very high demand among SAS students. The SAS program participants have the opportunity to work in the classrooms with the children, ride with them on the school buses, prepare breakfasts for them, perform painting projects on the school playgrounds (complete with a SAS ship on the playground), and more. Fred, along with Barbara and Mike Alison and other key contributors, have a vision to build a high school nearby the K-through-8 school so that the kids can continue the amazing educational opportunities they have and also to be able to include more science and technology programs. 

Semester at Sea, as an organization, is looking to continue to grow this partnership with Semanhiya and other initiatives like it. Dan Garvey, the Chair of the Board of Trustees for ISE, stated, “It is a key component of the Semester at Sea experience for students and Lifelong Learners to have these types of immersive activities in the countries we visit. Semester at Sea provides incredible opportunities to build long-lasting partnerships with the people and the organizations we interact with on our journeys. By actively participating in programs like Semanhyia, we are able to make a huge difference in many people’s lives and leave a legacy long after the ship has left the port.”

The significance of Fred’s chance encounter with those ten Semester at Sea students on that fateful day in 2009 is not lost on him: so much so that the name of the school, “Semanhyia” means “What if we had never met?”

As the success of the Semanhyia elementary school continues to have a significant impact on the community, and now that the land has now been purchased for the high school, there is still an ongoing need for volunteer teachers, teacher-trainers, and other areas of expertise to help either remotely or on-site. Additional financial assistance is also needed. A house has been built across from the school specifically for volunteers to stay while they are volunteering at the school. 

For more information on volunteer opportunities or ways to help, contact fred@farminginafrica.com. 

Fred is now also involved in livestock farming to provide a better food supply to the Senase community. More information on that initiative can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuqpaA4IH1U 

If you would like more information on the work we are doing to support The GodFreds Foundation and the Semanhyia School, you can learn more here: 

Our Story — The GodFreds Foundation

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