By Elizabeth Ussher Groff
“Small Steps to a Better World” is the motto of a Sellwood couple who travel to the African country of Ghana every year for three weeks in January. It is not a vacation – but they do arrive back refreshed and inspired by their work there.
Upon returning this February, in a letter sent to their local donors, they wrote: “With four borrowed motorcycles and a work truck, five U.S. and many local volunteers were in action for an intensely productive three weeks in northern Ghana.”
Lisa Revell, who also teaches a popular “Better Bones & Balance” exercise class at Woodstock’s Trinity United Methodist Church on the corner of S.E. Steele and Chavez Blvd (formerly 39th) – and her husband David Stone, a former Duniway music teacher, and now a PPS substitute teacher – have made their annual trek to Ghana nearly every January for all of eighteen years now.
Fourteen years ago they started the nonprofit Yakote Women Farmers (YWF). This organization has expanded its mission, and is now helping to provide supplemental food for students and villagers; is offering multifaceted support to teachers and students; is teaching sustainable farming techniques, and is giving student college scholarships in the Nabdam District of northern Ghana.
The organization’s donated funds and grants are used, in part, for the supplemental food project Revell started in 2007 to make it possible for school children to have more than one meal a day. Many of these YWF supporters live in Westmoreland, Sellwood, Eastmoreland, and Woodstock.
This January the nonprofit was able to designate $17,000 in donated funds for food projects. For 25 cents per meal, food staples are provided to a nutrition center for malnourished children. Additional support is provided to an HIV treatment center, to a new primary school, and to three junior high schools. The Ghanaian government does provide food to most primary schools, but currently not to junior high schools.
Revell also began an effort last year to provide desks for primary and junior high school students – children who often had to do their lessons on the schoolroom floor. This January she traveled to six schools, to inventory new desks that were built and provided in 2022.
Last year, needed school repairs were also begun. This January Revell identified eleven schools requiring repairs – which will be done with funds from a special donor who gave $10,000 specifically for school repairs.
Two years ago Stone began taking materials to Ghana to make abaci (that’s the plural of “abacus”, a mechanical calculator) for primary teachers. “Using an abacus makes mathematics more conceptual and enjoyable, and also makes math scores higher!” he said. In January, 316 abaci were fabricated by a four-member “Team Abacus” led by Ghanaian teacher Abongo Moses. Then, this February, after the YWF volunteers left, Moses led the annual Abacus Workshop for Ghanaian teachers.
In 2009 Stone also started the YWF Scholarship Project that supports Ghanaian college students for $650 a year. This January he again interviewed hopeful college applicants for scholarships. A record-breaking 22 students were accepted, making a total of over 60 students financially supported in 2023.
Julie Aquilizan, a Creston-Kenilworth neighbor and retired Duniway second grade teacher, was a YWF volunteer for the third year. Last year she raised funds from friends and family making possible a purchase of curriculum books. At a cost of $175 per school, they were able to provide for 43 primary and junior high school classrooms in the Nabdam District. The project involved considerable organization for fundraising and purchasing, and then arrangements for each school to pick up their books.
Tom DeMeo (Ghana 1980-82 & Botswana 1982-84) as a forestry volunteer in both tours was a YWF volunteer for a third year. He is a member of the Portland Peace Corps Association, which has many members in Inner Southeast Portland. He currently works in sustainable farming for the U.S. Forest Service.
In January, DeMeo traveled to villages on a motorcycle with his translator (of indigenous languages) Kolbil Ziib. The duo visited farms in northern Ghana, where they surveyed even more farmers than last year. Their goal is to provide organic farming information: Organic pest control; water conservation; inter-planting of trees and vegetables; and choosing improved seed. They followed up on a unique model of fencing made of wire supported by Jatropha, a plant that the invasive goats in Ghana don’t like to eat!
Last but not least, Marilyn Schuster – YWF President and a resident of Keizer, near Salem – co-led the group again this year. She successfully applied for grants from Milwaukie and Salem Rotary Clubs. Those clubs provided funds for more school desk construction, education support, and a large project providing locally-made and reusable fabric menstrual pad kits for almost all of the junior high girls in the Nabdam District.
The overall goals of YWF are to reduce malnutrition, to support education, to make it possible for women and male farmers to have more productive farms, and to empower people in the Ghanaian villages to use their skills to improve their own lives.
If you’d like to donate to nonprofit Yakote Women Farmers, you can send a check c/o Lisa Revell, 1675 S.E. Linn Street, Portland 97202 – or you can donate online at – https://www.yakotewomenfarmers.orgDonatio
ns are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. By the way, all YWF volunteers from the United States pay their own travel, food, and lodging expenses, so none of the donations are used for such expenses.
For any questions about Yakote Women Farmers (YWF), or for that matter her own “Better Bones and Balance” class, you are invited to email – email@example.com