Wednesday, June 13, 2012
East Ridge resident Mary Parham, 80, is packing several trunks full of African-American baby dolls, stuffed animals and 100 pounds of clothing for young ladies to bring to the residents of Mpatado-Takoradi on her third trip to Ghana this summer.
She will visit 300 students attending a school named in her honor. Mary Parham International School officially opened its doors May 2, 2001.
Prior to the founding of the school, Parham served as the secretary of East Ridge Church of Christ. One day in the early 1990s, she received a letter from John Blay Eshun of Ghana seeking church support in order to be able to attend Bible college.
“Our preacher asked me to respond to the letter, so I did and we started correspondence by mail,” said Parham, adding that the church supported Eshun all through Bible college. “Then, one day he wrote to me and said, ‘Mom, I’m starting a school and I want to name it Mary Parham International School.’”
Parham visited the school for the first time in 2004. While there she helped launch a library with 600 books. Her husband built bookshelves to hold the classics and children’s books.
Her last visit was in 2010 and Parham said she cried with Eshun because she thought she would not make it back. She had lung cancer at the time, but responded well to treatment and said she feels fine now.
Parham and her daughter Kathy Hannah will travel from Atlanta to Accra July 9, then take a five-hour bus ride to the village in Ghana. They will stay until July 19.
Hannah said if someone is coming the village celebrates.
“They had a parade for us,” she said of her and her mother’s last visit. “They were singing ‘We are the children of Mary Parham School.’”
The school is accredited and parents pay $350 per year for their children to attend. Tuition includes uniforms and a daily meal consisting of rice with fish in it.
“Every year on Mother’s birthday our family makes a donation to the school to honor her and to send children to school,” said Hannah.
In the last 11 years the school has gone from enrolling 11 children to 300 ranging from ages 5 to 13.
Parham said two years ago Eshun sent her a letter saying he planned to start the Mary Parham Vocational Technical School for girls. His purpose is to bring girls ages 17-20 off the street by offering free admission and teaching life skills. Eighty women are enrolled.
“They learn a trade so they are not dependent on men,” said Parham. “They learn tie-dyed shirt making, bead making and soap making. They also learn about nutrition from a nutritionist. They receive one meal a day and must attend church once per month.”
According to Parham, Eshun has purchased land in another village and also plans to start a university.
“He goes on faith,” she said. “East Ridge Church of Christ helps support him and my family helps support him too. We sponsor 10 children in our family.”