In August 1948 I was directing a Church Summer Camp for teen-agers in Wisconsin. The Rev. Christian Baeta came to the camp for a week to tell me about the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ghana and the work it was doing. We talked at length and at the end of the week I invited him to spend the weekend with me at my home in Random Lake, Wisconsin where I was pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Church (United Church of Christ). On the way home we stopped to visit Lakeland College at Sheboygan where I was also teaching and serving as Head of the Chemistry and Physics Department. I invited Rev. Baeta to preach in my church on Sunday. After three days with us, as Rev. Baeta departed he invited us to “come visit in Africa sometime”. We thanked him, but told him that was not very likely to happen.
In February of 1949 all airmail letter came from Rev. Baeta in Africa. He told us that the E. P. Church had been planning for many years to establish a Secondary School in Ho. It was to be the first school of that level to open in what was then the Trust Territory of British Togoland. Now they had the land for the school and a grant from the British government to build the school. They wanted an ordained minister to head the school, and they wanted the school to have a strong program of science studies. He asked whether I would be willing to come and head the school. That was quite a surprise to my wife and me. I wrote back to him that it was a great challenge, and that we would give it serious consideration.
Back came a letter from Rev. Baeta saying, “The Committee is so glad to hear that you will come. Your house will be ready in. June.” Well, who could say “No” to that? So we wrote back that we would come, with our two children: son Paul, age 2 and a half, and daughter Jean, age 1. We then received approval by our Mission Board and were commissioned to serve as missionaries to serve under the E. P. Church. Because I already had commitments all the way until autumn, we could not arrive in Takoradi until October 13, 1949.
It was not until several years later that we were told that the British Colonial Office did not give permission to the Church for me to come as Head of the School until just the day before our ship landed at Takoradi. They were not sure that they wanted an American as I lead of the School, especially with stirrings for Independence under way. If the permission had not been granted, we would not have been allowed to get off the ship. Our friends did not tell us at the time, because they did not want us to feel unwelcome.
Well, our house was not ready in June as planned. It was not ready in October when we arrived, In fact it was not yet started. The land had been given by the Glalah family to the E. P. Church for the school, but a dispute arose between two branches of the family as to which one was really giving the land. Until that was settled no building could be started on the land.
So we moved into the old Bremen Mission house which had been built in 1865 at Ho-Kpodzi, and we started to get ready to open school in 1950. The Church gave us an old building on the grounds to use temporarily. But a great deal of remodeling and renewal had to be done. Students had taken the Common Entrance Examination and we had many who opted to come to our school. In fact there were about 500 well qualified for admission. But things were moving slowly and we were hampered by lack of funds. So in November I wrote to the Director of Education that it was absolutely impossible for us to open in January of 1950. it had to be some time later; maybe a couple of months later.
A few days later the Director of Education (a British Officer) appeared at my house. He wanted to know why we could not open in January. I showed him around the compound and explained the situation to him. He then told me that His Majesty’s Government had promised the United Nations Trusteeship Council that a school of this level would open in the Trust Territory of British Togoland no later that January of 1950, and it absolutely had to open then. I must do everything possible to make that happen, whatever the difficulties.
To help make it happen he would make available ‘WHATEVER funds were necessary” to make it possible. So now we could refurbish the old building as dormitory, classroom and office; build a “temporary” kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and latrines; and buy a truck to bring in materials and food supplies and firewood. So we hired carpenters to make the desks and chairs, bricklayers to do the building, people to make the bricks, and workers to try to get ready for 35 students to arrive on 31st January, 1950. It was a mad race to meet the dead line but everyone tried their best.
I held interviews and selected our first 35 students and our first two teachers, Moses Baeta and Samuel Ofori, to appear on opening day.31 st January’ arrived. So did the students. But the refurbished building and the “temporary” structures were no! all completed. Some students could be housed, but some had to sleep at our house and veranda. The kitchen was not ready, so we dug a pit in our back yard and the cooks prepared some of the food there and some in our kitchen. Some used our bathroom and some used a neighboring one. However, in a few days the other work was completed and we were in full operation. But we did indeed open the school on 31st January 1950 against all odds.
A few weeks later we had the official opening program at the Ho-Kpodzi Church. A large gathering came, including tile District Commissioner and thc Police Superintendent, the only two British Colonial Officers in Ho at that time. The Director of Education also came from Accra for the occasion, but, he arrived late. I asked him afterwards whether he had not gotten the invitation with the time of the event. He said he thought we would start on “African time.” I told him that at Mawuli, African time was clock time to the minute; just as we opened on time on the appointed date.
The first year was not easy. The temporary facilities left much to be desired. We could not always get enough of the foodstuffs we wanted. There were water shortages and we had to go with oil drums in the truck to Kpetoe to get water from the river there. Sometimes we went out the road toward Kpalime, and sometimes as far as Kpedze. People did not want us to get our water always at the same place. We found that bats had made their home in the roof of our dormitory. They brought a not so nice smell with them, although they did reduce the mosquito population. We had to try to encourage them to find new roosting places. In windstorms a huge silk cotton tree threatened two of our buildings. It was right in between the dormitory and the kitchen and branches would f’all off. It really swayed in a storm and we feared it might break off and fall on a building. So we decided we would have to cut it down. A sawyer promised to do it for us, but when he did not show up by 4 PM. we decided to do it ourselves. A platform was built above the buttresses and cutting started. When halfway through we attached ropes and tried to pull it down the rope snapped and the tree swayed back towards the dorm but did not break. We attached wire cables and cut some more, pulled, and down it came where we wanted it. It was 105 feet tall.
The erection of the permanent buildings was still delayed by the land dispute, so now we had to prepare for the admission of two second year classes of 35 each. The old temporary facilities would no longer accommodate 105 students. So we had to ask for help to build larger quarters. The Education Department and the American Church gave us funds to build another building. This time we decided to build it on the part of the school land that was not in dispute. Although it was “temporary” I determined to make it permanent as possible, so it would continue to be useful to the school later.
The new” temporary” building was to be constructed with swishcrete blocks. We made these ourselves using a mixture of mud, gravel and cement, and forming them under pressure with a hand operated machine. We could get many more of these out of one bag of cement than we could with regular cement blocks, and they were just about as strong and durable. We wanted nice large rooms, and to support the roof we needed big timbers. We ordered a sawyer to cut them from odum and make them 35 feet long, and 6 by 9 inches across. We had to go into the forest to find some trees big enough to cut six of these timbers for us. When they were ready, he came to get us. We went with all 35 students on the truck. We drove into the forest on a narrow dirt road about three miles off the main road. Then we had to walk another mile and a half after the road ended. We crossed two streams on logs that had fallen over them. We found the newly cut and wet timbers to be very heavy. So heavy that it took half of the 35 students to carry each one. We had to arrange the boys in order of their height so that the timber would rest evenly on all of the heads for carrying. It was tough going getting them out of the forest to the truck. We got two of them out the first afternoon, and we had to make two trips the next day to get the other four.
Some of the students had difficulty paying the school fees. There were not many government scholarships. I got money from churches in America to help those in need. I introduced a Work-Scholarship plan. Needy students were given jobs on the campus to work at laborers pay rate. When they earned as much as they could by working as many hours as they could without interfering with their studies, then they would be given additional money from the fund to pay’ the rest of their fees. This also became an issue with the public and the Education Department. They had to be assured that we were not using any of the scholarship money they provided to use to pay students to work. And they were not happy about the plan.
There were articles in the papers about how our students would never do well because of all the work and farming they had to do. But we persevered. After five years when they took Cambridge University Matriculation Exam at the end of their course (there was no West African Exam at that time), all but one member of the class passed the exam successfully. After that we had no more criticism about our program.
During the early days there were many trips to Accra for meetings and to get materials for the school. The trips always had to be scheduled, keeping in mind that the ferry over the Volta at Senchi operated only from 6:00 AM. to 6:00 PM. If you did not get there in time, you spent the night with many mosquitoes. We would also load up tile truck with as many students as we could carry, during vacations between terms, and visit the homes of the students to see their towns and meet their families.
Included in the kit list for all students was a hoe and a cutlass. Some came without these items, either because they thought we were fooling, or because they thought they were coming to study books and did not intend to use such tools. They were sent home to get them. We felt that agriculture was very important to the country, and we we intended to use these tools to improve methods of food production on our campus. We received “noise” about this in the papers also, but we persevered. During the early years every student was required to plant an oil palm tree and a coconut tree and tend its growth. (I thought it only fair that I should plant one of each myself, and I did so.) We planted bananas, papaws, pineapples, oranges, and other fruits, also yams, and cassava to use in our dining hall. In later years Rev. Agboka (his son, Benony was a Mawulian) allowed Mawuli to use a nearby piece of his land to grow more crops. When a food shortage caused many Ghanaian schools to close, Mawuli was able to feed itself and stay open. In the early years some of the teachers were not in favor of our agricultural program. However, some time later when one of them became Headmaster at another school, he came to Mawuli to find out how we did it, because the government began to encourage schools to help feed themselves.
At long last construction of the permanent buildings started. When excavating for the water tanks, the contractors ran into large rocks, so our class sessions were often punctuated by blasts of dynamite. There were also showers of stones from the blasts clattering on the roofs, and at times larger pieces of rock crashed through the roofs into the classrooms. It made our school days rather exciting.
When the new dormitories were completed we were told how many students should occupy each dorm. Using the standard type of dormitory bed, that meant that the floor space would be almost entirely covered by beds, leaving little room to move about. I decided we would use double bunk beds, not to increase the number of students, but to give more living and moving about space. At that time no beds of that type were available, so I designed some and had the carpenters build them. They were made to be easily taken apart for cleaning and reassembly periodically. Several articles appeared in the newspapers criticizing us for using these beds. “Students might fall out. The upper one might wet his bed in the night and drip on the lower one. It is not the African way!” Some parents complained. The District Education Officer in Ho came to see the beds and tried to get us to go back to the floor beds. We stood firm and used them. Incidentally, a few years later that same Education Officer, when he became the national Director of Education, came to see me to request the plans for the double bunk beds, because they wanted to use them at a new teacher training college being built.
The name, MAWULI and the motto, Head Hand Heart were chosen by the students.
Prof. Walter P. Trost
(First Headmaster, Mawuli School)
303 E. Washington St. – Apt. 120
Bensenville, Illinois 60106-3516
(Presented at Mawuli Fund Golden Jubilee Celebrations in New York, 22 April 2000)