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08.08.2005 General News

Couple dedicate lives to Ghana's poor

The Daily Journal

When Georgene Walker went to get her income taxes prepared eight years ago, never did she realize it would lead her to get involved with trying to save lives in faraway Ghana.

She contacted Attu Mensah, an accountant and native of the African country, to help with her taxes. Although visually impaired by glaucoma, she said, he was a whiz at solving federal income tax problems.

Mensah helped her get a $500 refund, instead of the $1,200 Walker thought she owed the government. And their collaboration forged a strong friendship that slowly deepened into love.

Now the Buena Vista couple aren't only committed to each another for life, but also to helping the poor and sick in Mensah's native land.

"Attu is legally blind and sees nothing but total darkness now," said Walker, 65, a registered nurse and nursing instructor for Camden's adult vocational school system. "Even with his disability, he still wants to help the people of his country."

Walker and Mensah have already taken a firm stand to make the less fortunate of Ghana their top priority. In July 2004, they established Warababa, a nonprofit charitable fund named after his hometown in Ghana that can receive donations to help the couple carry on their work. Two months ago, the Internal Revenue Service approved its nonprofit status.

Next year, Walker will retire. She and Mensah plan to go back to Ghana, where they'll live part of the year. They hope to offer much-needed food, money and clothes, as well as guidance on how the residents of Warababa can prevent disease.

When not overseas, Walker said, she plans to use her downtime to raise funds for the lifesaving project so dear to her and her beloved's heart. Some day, the couple even hope to establish a social service agency that can carry on their work.

Mensah's family owns 19,000 acres of land in and around in Warababa, a tiny town of about 400 people in southern Ghana.

Walker initially thought that the property -- used for fishing and some farming -- could be converted into a seaside resort. But when she went there for the first time in 1999, said Walker, she realized how desperately the people of the region need help with health care, sanitation and housing.

After she carefully talked it over with Mensah, the pair decided to make it their goal to reach out to those less fortunate in Warababa, whose name means "You will come" in English.

"My mother was a queen of the region who owned a lot of property, and my father was an educator who worked for the government to set up schools throughout the land," Mensah said.

Although Mensah immigrated to the United States on a soccer scholarship to study business administration in 1977, he returned periodically and gave money to the people there -- especially fishermen living on the family's lands who needed to repair their nets.

"They are poor and I tried to help them wherever I could," he said. "They have a lot of health problems like typhoid and E. coli, which are spread due to poor sanitation. They use the ocean and even the beaches as a toilet. Their mind-set will need a lot of changing."

At present, Mensah is researching a means of harnessing solar power to provide electricity to Warababa for the restrooms along the beach that he hopes to build for his people, as well as to power their thatched-roof homes so they can have running water and adequate lighting.

Besides sanitation, another main concern is lack of refrigeration, which the local population could use to better preserve their supply of fish.

"They catch lots and lots of fish -- pretty much every kind you can imagine," Mensah said. "But since they have no refrigeration, they have to sell it right away or smoke it to keep it from going bad."

Although AIDS is a major problem, it's not as rampant as in some parts of Africa. In Ghana, it's mostly spread through contaminated blood supplies and sexual contact, and there's much misinformation among the people about how it's transmitted, according to Walker.

"There's a commonly held belief among men who are infected with AIDS that if you have sex with a virgin girl you will be cured," she said. "A lot of men -- no matter how old they are -- really think this will help them combat the disease. I want to re-educate them about that."

Walker and Mensah said whatever spare cash they have goes toward buying clothes and food to bring to the Ghana, or to help needy people there fix or purchase the fishing nets that provide much of the population with its living.

This year, Walker and Mensah didn't go to Ghana, largely for financial reasons. Walker said she's getting ready for retirement and wants to pay off some bills so she can have more money to help the natives.

Walker said she recently received word that Annette Knox, the superintendent for Camden's schools, has pledged $1,000 toward their cause.

"I'm so thrilled," Walker said. "I never expected her to do it. This is a good sign. It looks like God is really helping us."

When not overseas, Walker said, she plans to use her downtime to raise funds for the lifesaving project so dear to her and her beloved's heart. Some day, the couple even hope to establish a social service agency that can carry on their work.

Mensah's family owns 19,000 acres of land in and around in Warababa, a tiny town of about 400 people in southern Ghana.

Walker initially thought that the property -- used for fishing and some farming -- could be converted into a seaside resort. But when she went there for the first time in 1999, said Walker, she realized how desperately the people of the region need help with health care, sanitation and housing.

After she carefully talked it over with Mensah, the pair decided to make it their goal to reach out to those less fortunate in Warababa, whose name means "You will come" in English.

"My mother was a queen of the region who owned a lot of property, and my father was an educator who worked for the government to set up schools throughout the land," Mensah said.

Although Mensah immigrated to the United States on a soccer scholarship to study business administration in 1977, he returned periodically and gave money to the people there -- especially fishermen living on the family's lands who needed to repair their nets.

"They are poor and I tried to help them wherever I could," he said. "They have a lot of health problems like typhoid and E. coli, which are spread due to poor sanitation. They use the ocean and even the beaches as a toilet. Their mind-set will need a lot of changing."

At present, Mensah is researching a means of harnessing solar power to provide electricity to Warababa for the restrooms along the beach that he hopes to build for his people, as well as to power their thatched-roof homes so they can have running water and adequate lighting.

Besides sanitation, another main concern is lack of refrigeration, which the local population could use to better preserve their supply of fish.

"They catch lots and lots of fish -- pretty much every kind you can imagine," Mensah said. "But since they have no refrigeration, they have to sell it right away or smoke it to keep it from going bad."

Although AIDS is a major problem, it's not as rampant as in some parts of Africa. In Ghana, it's mostly spread through contaminated blood supplies and sexual contact, and there's much misinformation among the people about how it's transmitted, according to Walker.

"There's a commonly held belief among men who are infected with AIDS that if you have sex with a virgin girl you will be cured," she said. "A lot of men -- no matter how old they are -- really think this will help them combat the disease. I want to re-educate them about that."

Walker and Mensah said whatever spare cash they have goes toward buying clothes and food to bring to Ghana, or to help needy people there fix or purchase the fishing nets that provide much of the population with its living.

This year, Walker and Mensah didn't go to Ghana, largely for financial reasons. Walker said she's getting ready for retirement and wants to pay off some bills so she can have more money to help the natives.

Walker said she recently received word that Annette Knox, the superintendent for Camden's schools, has pledged $1,000 toward their cause.

"I'm so thrilled," Walker said. "I never expected her to do it. This is a good sign. It looks like God is really helping us."

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