SOGAKOPE, GHANA — Laura Russo, who is from Port Washington but studying abroad in Amsterdam, quite literally stepped out of her comfort zone when she headed to Accra, Ghana for a 10-week physical therapy internship. When she arrived back in June, she had no idea of the lasting impact her visit would have on the small Ghanaian village of Sogakope.
Ten weeks ago, students of Sogakope Primary School hardly had any school supplies. Parents couldn’t afford them, and teachers had to pay out of pocket if they wanted their students to be able to do more than learn math with sticks in the dirt.
“If the teachers don’t buy [supplies] out of their own salary, these kids don’t even get an education, and that’s not fair,” Russo, 22, told Patch.
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Ten weeks later, the children have 600 notebooks, 600 pens, 450 pencils, 10 packs of markers and crayons each, rulers and math kits that include a compass and protractor. The teachers received notebooks, as well.
Russo had visited Ghana to complete an internship and ended up enriching the lives of 140 students.
She grew up and went to school in Port Washington before earning her BA in medical anthropology at SUNY Geneseo last May. She wanted to experience something new, so she enrolled in the European School of Physiotherapy in Amsterdam, where she’s currently working for her certificate in physiotherapy. The school requires four, 10-week internships that each have to be done in a different country. Russo had yet to travel to Africa, so she decided on Ghana as her first internship.
Once Russo arrived, she was blown away by how genuinely kind and friendly the Ghanaian people were.
“They really made me feel welcome,” she said. “I felt like I owed something to these people. Even though they were really happy to have me here, I just felt like giving something, because they really did change my life over the course of nine weeks.”
She quickly befriended a local Uber driver named Vincent. Russo asked him if he knew any local charities or organizations in the Accra area that could use some help.
Vincent suggested Sogakope Primary School, where he was educated as a child. He told Russo that foreigners had come to Sogakope in the past, taken pictures with the children and vowed they would return with school supplies, clothes and shoes only to never come back.
“People would visit the school, and then these kids would have the hope that they would be getting this gift one day,” Russo said. “They never did.”
She promised her visit would be different.
Russo knew she had to go about her project the right way, as Vincent warned her that other Ghanaian schools had used donated money elsewhere or re-sold supplies. So she took matters into her own hands.
Starting August 4, Russo created a GoFundMe account titled “School Supplies For Ghanaian Children.” Thanks to the generosity of those who donated, with many coming from Port Washington, she raised over $700, which went a long way in Ghana.
The whole process took a week. The fundraiser began on a Monday, and she finished collecting on Friday. Saturday, she picked up the supplies and delivered them Monday, August 12.
“It wasn’t my plan initially to do something like this, but it was so easy, and I would do it 10 times again,” she said.
In fact, she plans on starting a new GoFundMe campaign next February or March to once again help Sogakope Primary School. Next year, she’s hoping to aid the students in obtaining items like backpacks and other materials their parents have trouble affording. Russo is excited to see what happens when she raises funds for a couple of months instead of four days.
Friday, August 15 will be Russo’s last day in Ghana before she returns to Amsterdam. She’ll be coming home to Port Washington in November.