Steve Tootell supports Ghanaian children who are eager to learn by turning his pottery wheel.
Tootell, a potter and art teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, is raising funds for a project by a former student to build a new arts facility at a school in Ghana through his work.
Since October, he has made 2,000 pieces of earthenware. This weekend, Tootell and volunteers, including school graduates, are going to the famous pottery town of Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture, to fire the works for six days straight in an “anagama” kiln.
The pottery will be sold at an exhibition to be held at the school from Sept. 1 to 15, and proceeds will be used to construct the facility at W.B.M. Zion Secondary School in the village of Old Tafo, Ghana, where former student Keri McGeehan is now teaching art as a Peace Corps volunteer.
McGeehan, 25, presently visiting Tokyo, said the Ghanaian school currently has about 520 students, but that figure is expected to grow to over 800 by next year and there is an urgent need for another building.
The shortage of space is already a problem. McGeehan said about 150 of her students must study outside when taking such lessons as painting because there is no room for desks in the building.
When it rains, students have to bring their work under the awning and wait until it lets up, she added.
“Because you can’t hear anything as the rain is so strong, we normally stop class,” McGeehan said.
Although the Ghanaian government provides funding for the school, it is difficult to rely on public funds for the $6,200 needed to construct the new facility, because corruption keeps the state budget from being properly distributed to schools, according to McGeehan.
“So funding from abroad is a huge help,” she said. In addition to the planned pottery exhibition, Sacred Heart students also organized their own fundraisers for the project, she added.
McGeehan said construction of the new facility, which is to have three classrooms and house up to 150 students, has already begun. It will be used by students to learn such skills as making batik, wood carvings and baskets — wares they can eventually sell to make money, she said.
Tootell, who has held many charity pottery exhibitions in Japan and Britain, said this endeavor is the biggest project of his career.
“Pottery is power,” Tootell said. “This is the way in which I can in person sacrifice to help other people and still enrich my own life as well as enrich everybody else’s.”
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