WESTWOOD, N.J. -- Westwood's Barbara Tobiassen recently returned from Ghana, west Africa, where the her nonprofit is helping to build Pleasant Living Springs Academy, a preschool/primary school in a deprived area.
The school provides a safe learning environment for kids while their mothers work. The school now has two gardens, which grow some of the fruit and vegetables used in the school's nutrition program. The students have a snack of fresh fruit in the morning and a well-balanced lunch.
Tobiassen ran a consulting firm until 2001, when she decided to teach as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana. Afterward, she continued living and working with Ghanaian students for five years and founded Zelcowa -- Zealously Encouraging Learning for the Children of West Africa.
Over the past nine years, she's directed its activities from the U.S., and she travels to Ghana to meet with and select Zelcowa's scholarship recipients and ensure projects are running efficiently.
The substructure and superstructure of the school are now in place. "Now that they are complete, we plan to have seven classrooms operational this year," Tobiassen said. The school has grown from 70 students in September to 95.
"As soon as we put a roof on one of the classes, more come. I am happy that they now have the materials to quickly make the needed desks and chairs."
Tobiassen also helped to sort and unload nine large barrels of school supplies Zelcowa sent -- lots of which was gathered by New Jersey students and groups. The supplies helped complete the two newest classrooms, by adding shelves, paint for desks and chairs, and materials for dual-sided whiteboard-blackboards.
Zelcowa also provides educational and medical resources to the community, through its Saturday Reading Program and a free "Bumps and Bruises," in one of the new classrooms. Zelcowa has also built libraries and science resource centers, as well as provided students with counseling, tuition and basic materials needed to successfully complete high school.