Inside a classroom at the Woodfield Manor Autism and Special Needs School, thirteen-year-old Efua is stringing beads.
Guided by her instructor she runs a thread through a number of them. She was brought here from an orphanage to be given the skills to be able to communicate and better relate to the world. But this opportunity may soon be over.
The school is now on the cusp of closure as funds meant for the children invested in Gold Coast Fund Management are locked up. Founder Cornelia Boateng quit her health insurance management job in the UK to establish the autism school for charity in October of 2013.
Boateng worked in London for 30 years and her last job was with the Central and North-West London Foundation Trust, a health insurance firm.
The school in the Accra community of Frafraha in the Adenta Municipality was founded to support and train children from under-privileged homes living with autism. The school with 20 teachers and 43 pupils has got a library and state-of-the-art facilities to develop autistic children into adults able to manage themselves.
To keep her dream alive, Boateng sold her family home and invested the money to run the school with the returns on the investment. But after a year, the ¢200,000 ($40,000) invested is now locked up as the investment company struggles to pay clients.
“You can’t always go out with your begging bowl. So when we finished we set aside the money from the sale of my home so that the interest from the investment would be used to pay staff salaries, water and electricity bills. We put it in GN Investment (Gold Coast Fund Management). The first year was fine and then since October 2018, nothing!” she said.
Some aggrieved customers have accused the Gold Coast Fund Management of giving their monies to affiliate company GN Savings and Loans branches in Ghana and other African countries and Chicago, USA.
The customers have, for close to a year now, been demonstrating over their locked up funds. But the company accuses the government of not paying for contracts it pre-financed.
The situation is badly affecting the school, Madam Boateng says. For example, the swimming pool inside the school is now dry. Authorities stopped filling it with water after a bill submitted by the Ghana Water Company turned out to be way beyond the school’s budget.
“Because it’s terrible, and if we close this school, we’ve just diminished every kind of hope for these children.
“At the minute, we’re on the verge of closure. I can’t go out borrowing money from people to pay staff salaries, water bill. Right now we have a swimming pool. You can see it’s totally empty. We don’t fill it with water anymore because the last bill was two thousand cedis ($400),” she said.
In her resolve to ensure the school continues to run, Madam Boateng says she’s been pursuing the Gold Coast Fund Management, but that has yielded no result.
“You go to the office, there’s no manager [there]. It’s only a receptionist. Some are very, very rude. The staff are very rude. I guess that’s what they’re doing to defend themselves against the people because I see that some of the people go there very angry,” Madam Boateng said.
Often when there are developments relating to investments, resorting to the law courts is an option. But Madam Boateng says that’s not on the table. It all comes down to money, she said.
“How are my going to get the legal fees for this? I can’t afford to. You know the time that I have to spend working with the children, I’m out on the street chasing GN Bank for money. If I put solicitors’ fees in the [mix], I can’t,” she told our news team.
An official of the firm contacted by Joy News indicated the company was investing the case of the investor.
The President of Gold Coast Fund Management, Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom, said in February this year that the company had paid nearly GHS60 million of customers’ deposits.
But at the moment Madam Boateng is not one of those customers who have been paid. Her student, Efua, and the rest of the 43 special needs children at the Woodfield Manor Autism and Special Needs School would just have to be sent home to the poor families.