Northwestern seniors work on NGO for Ghanaian children

Colin Gilliland (left) and Mitch Steinfeld are the co-founders of an NGO in Ghana that seeks to give education and support to children in Ghana.

Courtesy of Colin Gilliland

Colin Gilliland (left) and Mitch Steinfeld are the co-founders of an NGO in Ghana that seeks to give education and support to children in Ghana.

Jeanne Kuang, Reporter

Two Northwestern students in the African Studies department are working on their own nongovernmental organization to help disadvantaged children in Ghana.

Help the African Child aims to build stronger communities by providing education to Ghanaian children, said Medill senior Mitch Steinfeld and Weinberg senior Colin Gilliland, the organization’s co-founders.

HAC Ghana has built schools, daycare centers and temporary shelters in all ten regions of Ghana to look after about 5,000 children and give them education and support.

“About half those kids have been recruited out of child labor and some of them taken from human trafficking organizations,” Steinfeld said. “That’s been our main focus. From there we’re securing funding and also local resources to build schools, and to give education to these kids so we can build leaders for future communities.”

The organization also operates a volunteer program and works with the Ghana Education Service to build curricula for the schools.

Steinfeld and Gilliland began working on HAC Ghana two summers ago, when Steinfeld traveled to Ghana for an undergraduate research grant in journalism. There, he met Wolfgang Ampem, a Ghanaian man working to improve children’s lives who co-founded the organization with the students.

“He showed me some of the projects he was helping with, some of the schools he had helped to build and some of the kids he was helping,” Steinfeld said.

Ampem was disabled and orphaned as a child, Gilliland said. After being forced to survive on his own in harsh conditions, he resolved to work to help Ghanaian children gain opportunities for brighter futures.

“It inspired me and I came back … and since that point (Colin and I) started working to make Wolfgang’s vision of a foundation into a reality,” Steinfeld said.

For the past two years, the students have been in contact with Ampem to get the NGO started and running.

“A big part of the process so far has been trying to translate all these ideas we have and all this motivation into an actual feasible project,” Gilliland said.

Steinfeld said they started with focusing on their vision and scope, “understanding what role our organization should serve in the world,” before turning to the business side of incorporation and government bureaucracy.

They filed paperwork to start a partner organization on their end in the United States. The U.S. branch, Ghana’s Pride, has recently been granted recognition as a corporation and the pair are seeking 501(c)3 charitable organization status from the government.

Prof. Will Reno, director of undergraduate studies for the Program of African Studies, said he believes the students have a “good grip on how things work and what’s realistic.” Reno said they proposed the NGO as their research requirement for the African studies major.

“I was pretty confident when I saw the proposal they had,” he said. “They knew what they were doing.”

Steinfeld and Gilliland are currently working to partner with Northwestern-founded NGO GlobeMed and looking for ways to raise funds and awareness on campus. During Spring Break, Gilliland will be in Ghana for an undergraduate research grant; he plans to work with Ampem in person while he is there.

“Since freshman year when we’ve been taking African studies classes together, the two of us have been wanting to do a bigger project like this that would have a lasting effect,” Gilliland said. “This is the perfect opportunity.”