Jemma, our charity founder, wanted to explore the world after completing her A-Levels in Essex and was interested in going to Africa from a young age. At 18 she left her hometown, Brightlingsea to spend six months volunteering as a teacher in Ghana. Through a gap year agency Jemma was placed in the home of a wealthy Ghanaian family, where she met 14-year-old orphan Mabel. Mabel was the families house girl, she cooked and cleaned for the family. From the moment Jemma and Mabel met they became close friends.
While Jemma was in Ghana she volunteered at a local school for girls, it was here she learnt about the issues facing young women in Ghana. Girls were often the ones kept back if their families struggled financially. Being a girl in Ghana was tough and for some women, like Mabel, it was near impossible. While teaching, Jemma met Ben Antwi, an experienced and passionate teacher in Kumasi. Ben took Jemma under his wing at school, helping her understand the Ghanaian ways of teaching.
When Jemma returned home from her teaching placement she kept in contact with Mabel. She would always find Mabel under intense pressure to complete all the household chores. There were occasions when she was very unhappy, not regularly going to school.
Jemma was desperate to help Mabel. She had only completed a few years of primary school and had been kept back every year for poor attendance and failing her exams. Jemma felt helpless, without anyone to turn to in Ghana for help. Jemma was forced to leave Mabel with the family when her gap year in Ghana came to an end. Upon return to the UK Jemma found it hard to adjust back to normal life, constantly thinking about Mabel.
It was not until Jemma started work as a secondary school teacher in 2013 and began earning money, she decided to support Mabel through boarding school in Kumasi. Jemma and her sister Laura went back to Ghana in 2012 and made arrangements for Mabel to leave her work as a house girl and break free. During this trip, Laura caught a life-threatening case of malaria. She was lucky to survive and with thanks to the help of the caring Ghanaian hospitality she was well looked after.
With help from Jemma and her family, Mabel was able to gain permission to leave the family she was working for and left to start a new life studying catering and boarding at the Ramseyer Vocational Institute in Kumasi. Mabel has now graduated and is an incredibly happy and healthy young woman.
Jemma remained good friends with Ben and visited him many times on her trips back to Ghana to visit Mabel. They shared ideas about helping more children access education in Kumasi. Eventually they decided to build a school in a small village just outside Kumasi and it would be known as the Brightlingsea School.
It took Jemma three years to fundraise the required funds to build the Brightlingsea School and some personal funds from Jemma, Ben and their families. Ben and Jemma opened the doors of the Brightlingsea School in 2016, it now has over 130 children registered at the school.
Porridge and Pens was established as a registered charity after the Brightlingsea School was set up. The Brightlingsea School is now supported financially by Porridge and Pens and owned and managed by Ben.
Porridge and Pens has grown in supporters since 2016 and now has four projects changing lives in Ghana.
The inspiration behind Porridge and Pens comes from Mabel and Ben and the need for totally free schooling in Ghana.