UCSB graduate student Gary Haddow is extending his passion for education to Ghana’s Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp, where he and two colleagues founded a free primary school that hopes to enroll 100 of the camp’s children this year.

A Ph.D. student in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, Haddow has spent the past year collaborating with Texas A&M graduate student Ben Travis and Liberian pastor Cyrus Greene on developing the Middle Grounds Primary School for kindergarten through fifth grade students. The school aims to provide each child with free quality education, uniforms and meals and is funded by private donations, reaching $25,000 to date, primarily from American Christian churches.

Haddow met Travis and Greene while studying abroad at the University of Western Cape in South Africa and, said Greene, — a Liberian refugee who lost his eyesight during an attack on the Buduburam Refugee Camp — provided the momentum behind Middle Grounds from the start.

“[Pastor Greenee] said he wanted to start a school if anyone was ever interested. The project literally fell into our laps and we hit the ground running,” Haddow said. “The students are excited [and] the only complaint from the community is that the school is not big enough.”

The school’s administration consists of website says 13 employees, most of whom previously worked in schools in the area that closed due to lack of funds. However, Haddow said he believes the school will survive since he plans to maintain a policy of gradual expansion.

“[Previous] schools collapsed because they reached too far,” Haddow said. “We would love to open with 300 students but that is unfeasible. Our goal is to expand slowly over the years, starting with 20 students per grade.”

Students hoping to attend the school undergo a rigorous application process including an entrance exam, mandatory meetings and interview process. The school gives priority to church members and females, which Haddow said is vital due to the increased hardships faced by young women in the community.

“Life in the camps is so much harder for females,” Haddow said. “The rates of dropping out are so high due to teen pregnancy [and] increased education shows decreased dropout rates.”

Additionally, Haddow said he hopes the availability of school lunches will have a positive impact on hunger and employment in the area.

“School isn’t just about the child. It’s about the community,” Haddow said. “For parents, it’s one less mouth to feed that day, which essentially provides that family with more money to put back into the community and for the community it provides more jobs.”

As an undergraduate, Haddow was mentored by UCLA sociology professor Reginald Daniel, who said the graduate student has been selfless in his humanitarian efforts. However, Daniel said the school will face obstacles due to its dependence on donations in a fragile economic climate.

“Philanthropy has declined across the board,” Daniel said. “It could have an impact but they have to set up the structure to sustain for at least a year or two. It’s not that the world has ceased spending money. It’s a question of generosity; they may withhold until they see how successful this is, how large it gets.”