Nelson teacher Jaimee Perrett decided to volunteer at a school in Ghana, to try something different before settling down in New Zealand.
But it ended up changing her life.
“All I wanted to do was go back there when I left,” Perrett said of her first experience in the village of Tetrem five years ago.
“It’s a warm, loving, caring place … so beautiful, such simple pleasures, and so much love and kindness.”
Perrett had since revisited the West African school community, helping set up a school library, and provide new text books, furniture and white boards with other international volunteers.
This month sees the start of the most ambitious project to date; helping rebuild the school from scratch.
The 29-year-old has coordinated the fundraising campaign for Tetrem’s new Good Foundation school over the last 10 months.
She said the villagers had long dreamed of replacing it.
“It was built as a temporary structure until they could have enough money to rebuild it, but that was over 15 years ago.
“It’s a bit beyond temporary now.”
There were dirt floors and gaps in the walls and roof. Lessons often had to be called off in bad weather.
Perrett’s campaign had raised nearly $20,000, enough to start building the 60m x 80m school, designed by a local on Microsoft Paint.
As a new entrants’ teacher at Birchwood School in Stoke for the last seven months, she had also saved up some of the remaining $10,000 needed to complete the project.
“They’re such humble people. If there’s anyone that deserves it, it’s them,” the 29-year-old said.
The couple that ran the school cooked meals for students and volunteers, as well as housing orphans and students who lived far away.
“They’re all fed, they’re all clothed. If somebody doesn’t have all of those things, they help each other,” Perrett said.
Over 300 students aged 3 to 16 attended the school.
When she wasn’t in the school teaching, Perrett spent much of her time during her first visit to Tetrem (through volunteer exchange organisation, AIESEC) with the family, “dancing, singing, playing.”
She relocated to the UK in 2017, where it was easier to find work to help fundraise, and to get to Ghana.
She was due to head to Tetrem on January 27 to set the plan in motion.
In February, Perrett’s sister Megan Perrett and her cousin Zane Johnson would be joining her to help start the rebuild, which was expected to take around seven months.
Locals had already cleared the land and would do most of the work, but Johnson, a builder of 10 years, had gone over the designs and would help with the foundations.
“They’ll have a concrete floor and proper walls,” said Johnson, who wasn’t sure what else to expect from the experience, two hours’ drive from the nearest city.
Everything would be done by hand, he said.
Two volunteer builders from Gisborne would go over to put on the roof, while friends from the UK were also due to pitch in, Perrett said.
She planned to return to New Zealand to work if the project rain out of money.
By not having to constantly fix the school building, those in charge of it could focus more on the students’ education, Perrett said.
“There’s nothing going to stop us.
“I’ll be dedicating a good chunk of the rest of my life to making this school better and better.”
*Anyone wanting details on how to donate could email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to the school’s Facebook page where progress on the build would also be posted.