It’s a cold Tuesday morning in Chorkor, Accra, and children gather at Nana’s House — a social intervention centre run by the nonprofit BASICS International — taking turns to collect their breakfast: hot chocolate with buttered bread.
Schools have closed and that means busy days at the centre, managed by BASICS International CEO Patricia Wilkins. She works with a team of staff and volunteers to see to the educational and holistic development of children living in poverty.
To the children, Wilkins is far more than the woman who pays their school fees and gives them access to opportunities they could only dream of. She is the aunty they never had.
Nana’s House is a happy place where children enrolled in the program get access to all the financial assistance required to be in school. They have access to mentorship, counselling, tech camps, and study support. They also develop creative skill sets which include playing chess, dancing, drumming, singing, reading, and coding, among others, aimed at making sure they “don’t fall back into those holes that they were in,” said Wilkins.
The intervention centre is the physical evidence of the work to which Wilkins, 57, has dedicated 22 years of her life.
Children at BASICS International dance Kpanlogo a Ghanaian cultural dance
Responding to the Call
Aunty Pat, as she is affectionately called, had a successful career working in the “cutthroat” fashion industry in New York City. On one of her lunch breaks, she decided to pay a visit to a shelter she had read about in the papers. That one-hour visit turned into three — and she spent time observing the distressing conditions that some vulnerable citizens were experiencing.
Later that year, she convinced her family to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with the people at the welfare shelter.
“That was the first time that I think, on a more organised level, [I] started doing things. But I think since I was a kid, it was always in me — like, I took care of old people on the block. I started a company when I was 10 years old, where we cleaned up people's homes and did errands for them,” she told Global Citizen.
Children from BASIC International learning how to code
After her experience at the shelter, she couldn’t shake the strong urge to shift away from the fashion industry and move into humanitarian work.
“I just felt God speaking to me, telling me just do this full time, this is what you are supposed to do,” Wilkins said.
With little hesitation, she quit her well-paid job, gave up the posh lifestyle it offered, sold all of her possessions, and left the United States to pursue her calling in humanitarian work.
She told Global Citizen that, at the time, she became the butt of jokes between her family and friends. While some thought her decision was absurd, others speculated she was going through a break-up, and that this was her way of dealing with it. However, these reactions did nothing to quash the strong desire in her spirit to help alleviate poverty and uplift the vulnerable.
She arrived in Ghana in 2000 after spending a few months volunteering for an orphanage in Russia.
“I really wanted to go where I felt that people looked like me. I wanted to go to that continent that we’ve heard so many dark stories about,” she said. “Obviously I was quite naïve and ignorant of Africa and I just felt I would come and see the whole place filled with poverty.”
While the entire continent is not poverty-ridden — and Africa should not be defined by its poverty — it’s crucial to note that the majority of the world’s poorest live here. In fact, according to the World Bank, 431 million people across the continent are unable to afford food, shelter, education, health care, and sanitation. The situation has worsened as a result of current inflation rates caused by the war in Ukraine and the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Ghana, significant progress has been made in eradicating extreme poverty, but many rural and urban dwellers remain poor. A report by the Ghana Living Standard Survey showed more than 3.5 million children live in poverty, with 1 in 10 living in extreme poverty.
Why Did BASICS International Choose to Work in Chorkor?
Chorkor, the location of Nana’s House, is a densely populated fishing community that carries extreme poverty like a burden on its back. Water, sanitation, and hygiene are major issues in the community. School-age children either roam the streets aimlessly, contribute to the fishing economy, or sell in the local markets — depriving them of access to quality education and a prosperous future. Teenage pregnancy is endemic, adding to the city’s issues, and the crime rate is also high.
Education can offer a way for children in a community like this to escape poverty — and that is the tool Wilkins and her team are deploying.
Children learn how to play chess at BASIC International, Chorkor
BASICS International is an education-focused organisation doing the work of making education and child care accessible in vulnerable communities. The organisation is also one of Global Citizen’s regional response partners for the End Extreme Poverty NOW campaign for Global Citizen Festival: Accra.
The campaign, and particularly the festival in Accra, builds upon Global Citizen's continued expansion of its pan-African movement, with recent festivals staged in South Africa and Nigeria, and aims to call for immediate action for girls, for the planet, and to create change. You can learn more about the festival, the campaign, and Global Citizen's impact by reading our explainer.
Over the years, Ghana has made significant progress to increase school enrollment and also to close the gender gap in its educational system. However, there are still challenges stopping thousands of children from going to school. For instance, there are expenses parents must cover even though basic and senior high school education is free, including things like daily meals, books, and stationery.
When she jumped in to start supporting four kids through school in the early 2000s, Wilkins never imagined her support would grow into an entire organisation. But a trip back home to the United States to be with her mother — who was thankfully spared during the Sept. 11 attack in 2001 — changed everything.
Wilkins was humbled by family and friends in the hundreds who now wanted to pitch in and help out when she asked for support to keep the four Ghanaian children in school — and that is how Brothers and Sisters in Community Serving, or BASICS, was birthed: as a faith-based nonprofit providing education and social intervention programs to children from poor communities.
"When people sometimes ask, is this a religious organisation? I go: No! It's not a religious organisation,” said Wilkins. “You know, this was [born] out of what God used me to do. It doesn't mean that everybody that walks in this door, whether they're receiving benefits from BASICS, or they work for BASICS, worships the same God that I do. It doesn't mean that and I'm OK with that.”
BASICS International now services up to 1,000 children per year across all levels of education in Ghana.
Children watch a movie at Nana's House
The children of Chorkor are being shaped through access to education, food, social services, home visits, health care, motivation, and inspiration. They also get to be in a community of like-minded peers who are being raised to change and uplift their generation.
What’s more, school children who are not in the program are not left out. For parents of those who need it, BASICS acts as an advocate to help demand quality education from school authorities.
“I Didn’t Want to Go Fishing”
Obed Nii Armah Tagoe spends his free time volunteering at Nana’s House. A fourth year student in university, Tagoe is one of the many children who now have a chance at a better life through education thanks to BASICS International.
When Wilkins approached Tagoe’s father 16 years ago for his consent to enroll his son into the program, he obliged — not particularly because he wanted a better future for his son through education, but because he thought his son was useless at fishing as a livelihood.
Obed Nii Tagoe volunteers at BASICS as his way of giving back to the organisation
“I didn’t want to go fishing,” Tagoe told Global Citizen. “Even though I tried going fishing three times, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be there. I wanted to go to school.”
He told Global Citizen that he is eternally grateful for the opportunities BASICS continues to give him.
“What BASICS has done for me, I can pay [forward],” said Tagoe.
He continues to give his time to Nana’s House as his way of giving back to the organisation that changed his life.
Opportunities for Women
BASICS is also home to Hedzole, a social enterprise designed to give economic freedom to mothers from around the community and girls who, for various reasons, dropped out of the program.
Bintu Baka celebrates the economic freedom she now has through Hedzole
It is headed by Bintu Baka, a beneficiary of the BASICS program. Hedzole makes handmade eco-friendly products such as tote bags, bedspreads, shopping bags, and curtains for sale. The profit-sharing arrangement allows women to make incomes comparable to teachers and bankers in Ghana.
“It enables me to take care of myself — concerning my health and my rent,” says Baka. “I am even planning to go back to school.”
That’s precisely what BASICS International wants to accomplish — getting communities out of poverty by sharing wealth, information, and resources.
Global Citizen Festival is calling on world leaders, corporations, and philanthropists to do more than they’ve ever done before to End Extreme Poverty NOW. Through our global campaign and with stages in two iconic locations — NYC’s Central Park and Accra’s Black Star Square — we will unite leaders, artists, activists, and Global Citizens around the world on Sept. 24 to achieve an ambitious policy agenda focused on empowering girls and women, taking climate action, breaking systemic barriers, and lifting up activists and advocates. Wherever you are in the world, you can join the campaign and take action right now by downloading the Global Citizen app.