My thesis project is to assume responsibility for developing and sustaining Streetwise, a non-profit organization in Ghana that provides the financial resources for under-served children to attend school. More specifically, I will be tackling four key aspects of the project – expanding fundraising efforts, starting legal paperwork to apply for official non-profit status, creating a dynamic website in order to gain publicity and allow online donations, and hopefully attain photo and video documentation of the children Streetwise is currently supporting.
Ghana is not considered one of the most needy countries in West Africa, and thus is not a priority for many relief organizations, such as the PeaceCorps. However, education remains a problem for poorer areas of Ghana, including Accra, the country's capital, and should not be overlooked because the country is less desperate than some of its neighbors.
The project is relatively unique in that it was developed around the Jaynii Cultural Troupe, a music and dance performance art group that already existed in the James Town beach area. The children involved in the program not only benefit from the financial aid for school; they also develop their artistic skills and use them to generate income for the project. As an ardent supporter of music, art, and dance as integral parts of primary education, I appreciate that Streetwise includes the fine arts in an after-school program for all of the children in the program.
Finally, I have a particular attachment to Streetwise because it was founded by my dear friend Rachel Ishofsky, an NYU graduate. I have long admired her passionate activism and have wanted to become involved in similar efforts but have had trouble finding a particular cause to support. I am honored that she trusted me enough to turn her end of Streetwise to me, and I want to succeed in its development and sustainability.
The broad goal of my thesis is to ensure that Streetwise is able to accomplish its mission of enabling children in impoverished areas of Accra to attend grade school. However, since much of the structure it already in place, my focus for semester is to develop the four aspects I previously mentioned. Though these aspects differ in scope and realm, together they combine to accomplish the seminal goal: to boost fundraising efforts that will enable Streetwise to continue its mission. Although Streetwise has been successful over the last two years in financing the education of twenty-one grade school children, the project has no current source of reliable income. Since her return from Ghana, Rachel has organized two large fundraisers in New York, and the Jaynii Cultural Troupe is planning to hold a festival in August of 2009. The large events have raised several thousands of dollars in the last year, but they require a significant time commitment and are not feasible to hold more than twice a year. Ideally, the project will generate some continuous, if possibly small, income that is based in Ghana instead of relying solely on efforts in New York.
The primary audience of Streetwise in general is, of course, the children enrolled in the program. My particular audience includes, but is not limited to the children. To accomplish the goal of generating more income, my principal audience is the pool of potential donors Streetwise would like to reach. One of my tasks over the next few weeks is to identify specific groups of people or organizations that would be likely to support the project. The NYU community will definitely be included, as the project was started by an NYU student while she studied in Ghana though a program sponsored by the NYU Office of Study Abroad. NYU already has a history of supporting the project in the form of two small grants Rachel received during her final year of undergraduate study. Further developing a firmer sense of audience is a priority at this point, as it will greatly influence the content, design and functionality of the website I am in the process of building.
Streetwise operates in Accra, Ghana, and is administered jointly in Accra and New York. The location is already firmly established. However, the project will also make use of a virtual space at www.jayniistreetwise.org for publicity and to obtain online donations. At a later date, I will need to determine a location for a fundraiser to be held in the late spring or summer here in New York.
Description of Core Features and Functionality
The main thing I'll be building for the project is the Streetwise website. The intended effect is to publicize the organization and facilitate easy online donations. The website will provide information and statistics about the program, including the mission statement, contact information, documentation of the work Streetwise is currently doing, a budget, and fundraising goals. Another important aspect will be the online donation system, most likely powered by Paypal. I will be building all of the functionality of the site, but as I have absolutely no graphic design skills, I have enlisted the help of a friend from college, Emily Waggenspack, to design the site for me.
Ideally, the website will eventually feature the children in a variety of media – video interviews with them, videos of their performances, photos, report cards, graduation diplomas, etc. I'll be working with Streetwise's contacts in Ghana and possibly the NYU students currently studying abroad there to obtain some material in the near future; however, as a long term goal I'd like to raise the funds to travel to Ghana myself and extensively document the Streetwise's operations in Ghana and as many of the participants as possible.
Streetwise will never be “complete” in that there will always be children who need financial help to attend school. As I just became involved with Streetwise within the last month, I’m unsure how I will know when my part of the bigger project will be complete – perhaps when/if the organization could generate enough sustainable income from sources within Ghana to not require outside help? Perhaps when I pass the project along to someone else? At this point I am trying to make plans and set goals, but I think some of the direction of the project will be determined by how things unfold over the next few months. By March or early April I may have a more concrete idea of what a “complete” project would look like for Streetwise.
In many ways, Streetwise is already successful, and the goal of my thesis is to enable its success to continue and hopefully exceed its current level. Probably the most concrete assessment of success will be measured in terms of statistics – how many children attended school in a particular year and if they were promoted to the next grade, how much money was raised, how many new donors were recruited, etc. More subjective measures will include student interviews, documentation of their musical performances, and family evaluations.
My future plan, which may be in the very extended future, is to travel to Ghana to meet and work with the children and administrations that comprise the heart of Streetwise. The Jaynii Cultural Troupe is currently planning a festival for fundraising purposes in August of 2009, and I would love to be able to attend and record as much of it as possible. As an impoverished graduate student, I can’t finance a trip to Ghana in the near future, but I will be investigating grants that might make that a possibility. If not, I will make every effort to attend the 2009 festival.