For ten years, Sr. Irene Christine Oparku and the other sisters of the Society of Jesus (SIJ) watched the children of Ghana perform poorly in basic (elementary) school exams, which prevented them from furthering their education and limited their career options. The sisters’ primary mission of education of youth inspired them to action; they created nursery and basic schools specifically to meet the needs of poor children in Twifo Praso, Ghana.
But creating the school was just the first challenge. They would need resources and leadership to be successful. As a 2012 graduate of ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program, Sr. Irene had these critical skills that would allow their new school to flourish. In SLDI, Catholic nuns complete workshops in technology and leadership over a three-year period, choosing either an administrative or finance track. The program includes computer training, field trips and mentoring. Alumnae of the program continue on to mentor and assist new program participants.
As a graduate of the administration track, Sr. Irene learned grant-writing and leadership skills that led to her being named Headmistress of the Infant Jesus Preparatory school. With over 700 students enrolled at the school, her priorities are both safety and a quality education for the children. With her ASEC-acquired skills, she was able to secure two successful grants to aid in supporting her goals for the school.
Since the grounds were wide open, the school was severely lacking security. It was difficult to restrict the children to the property and other pedestrians and animals would freely walk onto the school grounds, causing both distractions and security risks. Students were also at risk of being hit by passing traffic. One of Sr. Irene’s successful grants was to construct a wall around the school, which has provided a safer environment and allowed students and staff to focus on education.
Another large challenge for the school was the inconsistent power supply and lack of street lighting. Without a reliable source of electricity, local farmers and artisans are not able to consistently work and students are not able to study after dark. The community also saw increased cases of robbery and rape at night due to the lack of lighting.
Sr. Irene’s other successful grant was for a solar power system for the school and some of the surrounding community. Now there are solar-powered street lamps in the area and she reports that these attacks have been reduced. The students also now have a place to study with light.
Both the solar lights and fence wall offer security and freedom for the local community, especially the women and children.
But aside from the practical skills of grant-writing, Sr. Irene’s ASEC training also provided her with an added sense of self-confidence and improved leadership expertise. She says,
“[The SLDI program] has helped me as a person. It has helped me to be self-confident, you know and to be able to approach people more in time of need.”
She also credits ASEC with teaching her “…how to conduct meetings, how to be able to motivate the teachers to work effectively and to have patience with my workers and also, to help them, to be able to give their best.”
As a result, Infant Jesus Preparatory School has become a leader in academic performance in their geographic region. The school is popular and enrollment continues to increase. Rev. Sr. Faustina Hasford of the Society of the Infant Jesus adds,
“Graduates from the school easily gain access to first class senior high schools across the country and always turn out to be among the best-behaved students in their schools.”