New site for Child Support Ghana goes live!

Finally, after many hours of work, the new website for the Child Support Ghana NGO and Dutch Foundations is live. Child Support Ghana is a non-profit organization based in the Upper West Region (UWR) capital Wa, Ghana, West Africa, who support needy children by providing them with a roof over their head, loving care, education and healthcare. This organization is the vehicle for the awesome work my dad is doing in Ghana. His work is supported by a Dutch Foundation who raise funds and volunteers for the projects. Doing their website, has been a long standing side project of mine.

The new ChildSupport-Ghana.org website, as created by Herko Coomans
Screenshot of the Child Support Ghana homepage

Out with the old

In the old situation, there were three different places you could find new and out-dated information about the various projects and activities. First there was the Wa Yiri Children’s Home website, which I quickly built using the Mambo content management system. This was 2004-2005, and Mambo has matured a lot since those days. I used Mambo mainly because I needed a system that non-web-savvy people could use and publish content. But this turned out not to be such a good choice. The non-web-savvy people were non-Mambo-savvy people too -or better yet, Mambo wasn’t as user-friendly as it lead us to believe. So the information published on the site quickly became outdated and irrelevant.
In february 2005 my dad went to Ghana to find out if he could settle there -at least for a while, maybe even indefinitely- and make a real change. He wanted a weblog to keep everyone informed of his travels, his journeys, his experiences, and as he settled in more, his projects as well. His weblog was dubbed Under African Skies and became the major source of information about the works of Child Support Ghana. This is chiefly due to the fact that my dad could publish all this information, including photo’s, all by himself (he doesn’t have running water or is connected to a sewer system, but he does have an ADSL broadband internet connection -when there’s power…). And this was made possible by the awesome WordPress blogging platform, which has grown in sheer awesomeness ever since those days. Now the new website is powered by WordPress too.
The third site you could find all kinds of information about the project is the Child Support Ghana Foundation website, the main website. This website should have been maintained by the Board and volunteers of the Child Support Ghana. It was also created by me, and I was seen as the person who should keep it up to date. But, since I’m not the best at keeping sites up to date, this didn’t work very well. So this site contained outdated information as well, and as it is part of the official communications of the Child Support Ghana Foundation, this became a growing problem.
The solution was simple.

In with the new

About a year ago, I decided to merge all three websites into one, using the Child Support Ghana domain, where all information is published by those who know it best. I created an information structure based on the available information and topics, and set out to validate that at some of the visitors and users of the websites. It was tweaked a little, and accepted. I based thenew structure as much on the information that wasn’t available, as on the information that was. Thus, I hoped to create a content strategy for the volunteer-driven site, ensuring the publication of compelling and motivating content.
Te new site caters to three different groups of visitors. First and main, it’s targeted at potential sponsors and donators. These are people who support the projects Child Support Ghana executes in Wa, because they feel connected and want to be involved in small and bigger ways. So, the website needed to provide information about the projects and their merits. More so, it needs to sell the projects to draw people into the site, and make them think “something special is going on here, I’d like to learn more about it!”. And for this kind of third world development work, nothing conveys this better then photo’s of the people Child Support is helping out. So on the homepage, I added a photo carrousel (using JonDesign’s excellent SmoothGallery script) with photo’s of the projects.
I also learned that the second best way to sell the projects is to provide authentic content. This means that we’re not hiding the fact that working in the Upper West Region of Ghana is difficult, and that Child Support Ghana is forced to make difficult (sometimes even life-and-death) decisions. By merging Eric’s weblog into the new site, we’re ensured of hundreds of authentic posts filled with experiences and anecdotes of life in Ghana and the work of Child Support Ghana.
Now that we have the visitors attention, we need to make it easy for them to become involved in Child Support Ghana, and donate funds and/or time and effort. Donating funds is easy using the TipIt service, a quick donation via iDeal and/or creditcard is available on each and every page on the site. Since our main audience is based in The Netherlands and Belgium, iDeal and creditcards basically covers the main means of doing online transactions. If people want to participate in other ways, there’s a whole section on how to support Child Support Ghana.
The other group we’re trying to convince to participate on the site is the potential volunteers. These are good people who want to donate their skills and experience and participate in the projects in Wa. This group is really looking for information on the projects, trying to find what their value to those could be. Also, they’re looking for practical info about the life in Ghana, as well as infom on how to get in touch with the people behind Child Support Ghana to see if going there for 6 months is a viable option. We try to provide the necessary info on the site, but I still feel that’s the one area we don’t have enough information -yet.
The third main group is English-speaking/reading visitors. As the success of Child Support Ghana spreads through the news channels of Ghana and other non-BeNeLux countries, the need to provide quality information in English is growing. More and more people and organizations abroad are supporting Child Support Ghana now, so we created a whole new section just for English content.

The new design

A large part of my time and effort went into the redesign of the site. This is because I’m never really satisfied with the quality of my skills and experience to create a really high-end design, but for this site, I tried pushing my limits. First though, I went looking for inspiration, and was awestruck by the beauty and effectiveness of Rob Goodlatte‘s Wiser Girls theme. WISER is also a third world development project, supporting and running a girls school in Africa. The design of the WISER site is stunning. I definitely didn’t want to copy and steal it, but as you can see, a lot of elements from WISER went into the Child Support Ghana site.
Because I didn’t want to copy it, I had to recreate the design. And to complicate things more, I decided to create the theme using the Carrington Blog theme framework for WordPress, created by Crowd Favorite. This framework would allow me to create a flexible and sustainable theme, which is easy to extend and add new template types to. This would make maintaining the site easier.
And to top it all off, as a self-proclaimed webstandards advocate, I had to bring it all together in standards-compliant, semantic markup and stylesheets. Due to the complexity of the Carrington Blog theme, and trying to recreate a look and feel, I’m sure there are many many opportunities to optimise the code I used. But overall, I’m quite happy with the results!

So, please take a look at the site, read through some of the projects, perhaps even read a few blog posts made by my dad, and let me know what you think of the new site!

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