To best understand the foundation and history of Crossover International School we will first need to understand the environment that this school has come into existence to help. Crossover International School is located in Tongor-Attokropo, Ghana on the shores of Lake Volta, roughly 2 hours’ drive north from Accra, the capital city of Ghana.
Lake Volta is a human-made lake, one of the largest in the world, stretching through the middle of Ghana. It was created in the 1960s when the Volta River was dammed by the Akosombo Dam, which provides energy for much of Ghana, including Crossover. A major industry on Lake Volta is fishing; the lake is filled with tilapia, which is both farmed in aquaculture tanks by international companies and caught from canoes by local fishermen. Tilapia farming is a major facet of the Lake Volta regional economy and well as providing the main protein source for most of the area’s inhabitants. In fact, Crossover is financed through tilapia fishing; teachers and some older students net tilapia and then sell the fish on market days at the nearby city of Dzemeni. At Dzemeni, each tilapia can be sold for 1.5 to 5 Ghanaian cedi (1.9 cedi equals approximately 1 US dollar) locally, to the capital city of Accra, and internationally.
However, the money to be made from fishing does not come without a price. Many Ghanaian boys, some as young as 6, are enslaved and forced to work long hours on fishing boats and canoes in the lake. When the Akosombo Dam was built, riverbanks flooded, creating Lake Volta; in consequence, there are still trees under the lake which frequently snag fishing nets. Many of the child slaves have to swim down to untangle the nets when they get caught, placing them at risk of drowning and/or contracting a parasitic infection called bilharzias; if they tear the nets, they are beaten. Other child slaves paddle the canoes, bail water from the bottom of the boats, or pull up the heavy nets full of fish. Young Ghanaian girls are forced to work in other areas; for example, as domestic workers, with jobs that include cooking, cleaning, and making clothes. In this form of indentured servitude or slavery, the girls are at the mercy of the person who pays for them, and thus encounter sexual abuse as well as general harsh treatment. Even if these child slaves are rescued, many have nowhere to go, leaving them vulnerable to recapture, or are forced to move to faraway refugee camps. This problem is especially hard for orphans, who have no family to return to.
Into this breach stepped the Crossover International Academy, founded in 2008 by David Yayravi, himself a refugee, to serve orphaned children rescued from lives of slavery. Originally, Crossover was housed in a small schoolhouse, but when Lake Volta flooded in 2010 due to the Akosombo Dam, the entire building was wiped out. Currently, the school is composed of two thatched schoolhouse structures (one of which doubles as sleeping quarters for the boys), a dorm for the girls, a small administrative office, and a tank, which holds water that the students bring from Lake Volta, about 1/4 mile away. The office, which houses the computers, is the only enclosed building. The other buildings are simply huts or shacks, with a roof supported by poles, dirt floors, and walls that either do not exist or are simply woven mats leaned up against the supporting poles. Since there are just two classrooms, there is not enough room for all the students inside, so some students have classes outside.
At night, the students sleep three or four to a mat on the hard dirt floor, with no sheets, blankets, or pillows. When it rains, the water washes out the sleeping quarters; the students spend the night huddled on benches, soaked and cold, crying.
Since Crossover has no outside funding, the administrators frequently struggle to feed all of the students. Wings for Crossover will build a permanent structure for the children at Crossover and strive to create a sustainable source of income for Crossover International Academy.