A Sulphur Springs couple and their church helped start and currently oversees one of the most successful Christian schools in Ho, Volta Region, Ghana in West Africa.
Sulphur Springs Church of Christ is currently the oversight congregation for Sonrise primary school and Sonrise Christian High School. Last year, 99 percent of Sonrise Christian High’s students passed the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, a rigorous test which takes three months to complete and covers four years worth of material. This is especially exceptional because only 50 percent of all high school students in Ghana who write the WASSSCE qualify for admission to universities, training colleges and other tertiary institutions. What’s more impressive is it all started in 1990 with a small room of Ho Church of Christ building with 16 students.
Sulphur Springs residents Ray and Cam Boatright joined Christians studying with World Bible School students in Ho, Ghana, West Africa in the mid 1980s. During that time Boatright became acquainted with African evangelist Sammy Dzamesi and his wife, Janet. He and Dzamesi reconnected when Dzamesi made a fundraising trip to the United States to try to gain support for the growing evangelism in the Volta Region. While in the U.S., Dzamesi and Boatright toured Sonrise Christian School in Covina, Calif. Dzamesi fell in love with the school “where children grow in the Son” and expressed a desire to start a sister school in Ghana. At the time, Dzamesi was told such a school was not financially feasible.
“We might not be capable, but we knew God can,” Boatright said this week.
So, they prayed earnestly that God would provide a means for a Sonrise school in Ghana. A year later, their prayers were answered. The students at Sonrise Covina were encouraged to donate funds during their morning worships, and the $500 raised was sent to Ghana to help start Sonrise Christian School Ghana. It began in 1990 in a small room of the Church of Christ in Ho, a place where children could get a quality education in a Christian environment. Not bad for a church that started just a decade before with only five members, and was the only church in the Volta region. Each year, the school added another grade, and soon the elementary became known in the region as the Sonrise, the Church of Christ School.
The school outgrew the church building, so a plot of land was purchased near the church. A multi-room structure for upper grades was constructed. The primary school now houses about 750 students from kindergarten through ninth grade, and is fully self-funded through school fees and through the church. It is overseen by a school board made up of elders and members of the Ho Church of Christ.
“In Ghana, the school structure follows the British structure, which is different from the United States,” Joseph Dzamesi, son of Sammy and current administrator with wife, Jennifer, of Sonrise Christian High School, explained during an interview at the Boatright’s home this week. “[Primary] education is through the basic school, your junior high and ninth grade.”
Over the next decade, the Dzamesi and Boatright families continued to keep in touch. In about 2003, Dzamesi pointed out a need for a high school in Ghana. The Dzamesi family, school, Boatrights and numerous Church of Christ members and Sonrise staff and students were in prayer for a high school for two years. Meanwhile, Joseph graduated from Pepperdine University with a master’s in business management.
“He graduated and I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Boatright explained of his encouragement for Joseph to consider going home to Ho to serve as administrator of a new high school.
Fundraising efforts were held, money was borrowed and 16 acres purchased. The high school was open in 2005. Within a few months, it was completely paid for.
“The money continued at a rate we could handle,” Joseph Dzamesi said.
To attend high school, Ghana students must pass a Basic Education Certificate Exam. Those who pass the BEC and are accepted to high school, much like college students in the U.S., essentially select a major. They pick from one of four academic areas to study — general science, business, general arts I such as literature and religious studies and general arts II which includes economics and government. They also must take the four core subjects: English, math, social studies and integrated science. Over the course of their studies, students must take four subjects in their major. When their studies are complete, each student must pass the WASSSCE exam.
Joseph explained that unlike Texas and the U.S., students who do not finish high school and receive their certificate don’t have many options. There are no GED classes to take if they don’t make it. Passing the WASSSCE, gives them the “option to become somebody tomorrow.” Essentially, Joseph explained, “no high school, no chance.” Students have to finish their high school certificate to do work. Since there are only five public universities, only the top students get in.
“It was an humble beginning,” said Joseph. “We had eight rooms and 132 students the first year. Ninety stayed in the boarding house. God has blessed us abundantly. Many people, including Ray and Cam, and the church helped through tireless efforts and fundraisers. League Street Church of Christ has been our oversight congregation since 2005. We had a dormitory, class and offices — very humble beginnings.”
Sonrise staff, which includes only top quality college graduates, try to prepare their students to “move on” and upward in the real world. Over the last seven years, Sonrise has gained a reputation for excellence, one of the best, if not the best, in the Volta region. Joseph, his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Janell, and the Boatrights traveled to Oklahoma Thursday to attend the college graduation of Joseph’s brother, Daniel, who earned a degree in electrical engineering. Another student has been accepted to Oklahoma Christian’s pre-med program, and another to a pre-med university program in Russia.
“We are best in terms of academics in Ghana. The national [passing] average on WASSSCE is 50 percent. Our first three graduating classes were 75 percent. We had 99 percent passing last year,” Joseph said. “We won a national award for infrastructure, the best in the region.”
Sonrise Christian High School now has 577 enrolled in grades 10-13. The school received in excess of 400 applications from teenagers hoping to enroll. The school only had room for 250.
“We’re still growing,” said Joseph, noting the need for even more facilities to meet the demand. “We build as we go along. God has blessed us. We don’t compromise on discipline. We want each to be a complete human being. We insist on the righteous way of doing. Parents bring their kids and sometimes they transform, in terms of behavior and academics. If they have problems and aren’t disciplined, they do not stay.”
Sonrise school strives to provide a quality education, good facilities and a Christian education.
“Educating minds and hearts — it’ s a winning combo. High school helps build great character. It’s important to educate their hearts. It’s at the center of all we do,” Dzamesi said. “In academics they do very well, and spiritually, too. It’s a mission field, an evangelic saving message of Christ. For some, school is their first opportunity to hear of Jesus. We baptized 130 students, that many accepted Christ. School helps them have control and lead life the right way.”
Anytime someone remarks on the success of the school and work being done by the staff there, they are quick to note that it’s God’s work; they are just his servants, carrying the message. That, Dzamesi points out, is the key to being successful in all things — putting God first in your life and all you do.
In July 2011, former Sonrise Ghana Christian religious studies teacher Meri Tracy contacted the Ghana school to advise she’d be coming back to Ho with a team from the Oregon school where she was teaching. They constructed a guard shack using the $3,000 her youth had raised for the project. The team lived and worked with the students for more than a week, and got the station built.
“We encourage as many young people as possible to come down on trips, do projects. It’s a life changing experience. They live with the students. Life at Sonrise is nothing like here. The students in Ghana are much more content with so much less,” Joseph said, noting the Sonrise students are very grateful for all help extended and enjoy their visitors.
“It’s a great learning experience for youth, and will completely transform them,” Boatright added. “We encourage young people to talk to their youth groups and come.”
Joseph and Jennifer left their sons, Justin, who will be 7 in August, and Jason, who will be 5 in November, at home in Ghana, but brought 2-year-old daughter Janell with them to the United States. Earlier this week they visited their old friends, the Boatrights who they consider grandparents, in Sulphur Springs and Thursday traveled to see Daniel graduate. Wednesday night, however, they reported to their oversight church, League Street Church of Christ, about the school’s successes. They will be traveling across the country through May 14, speaking through the Pepperdine lectureship and fundraising. They hope others will take interest in the school and donate funds or labor so that the high school can be expanded to help educate even more young people both academically and about Jesus, teach them skills that will be useful in life, while helping them learn to walk the path of righteousness. Ideally, the school would accommodate 800 students.
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