Joe & Kirby Recount Their Stories
Joe’s Motivation for Educating Children
By the time you finish reading this story, a child in Africa will be lost to malaria or any of the water-borne or water-related diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, while another child may drop out of school due to lack of funds and resources both at home and in the schools…. Please help us make impacts in the lives of these kids.
I have lived in two African countries – Ghana and Tanzania, and clearly there is no difference in the number, variety and enormity of the challenges facing the kids across our beloved continent. I’ve always had in my mind that, come what may, I would do what I can to help as many kids as possible to go school so they can do better than I did, for I believe in education, and as you read below, you would find out why. Kirby and I have had a lot of discussions in this direction for a number of years.
Then last year, 2010, I had a chance to listen to Ms. Anne Keyworth speak on the healthcare system in Ghana to a large audience at our work place. Anne is also a GBAF board member and proud daughter of our own colleague and board member Ms. Amy Keyworth, who works with me at the NC Division of Water Quality. The content of Anne’s presentation was more personal to me because, while growing up in Ghana, I had experienced at first hand most of the issues she talked about. Since that was my first time meeting Anne, I tried to contain my emotions, and so I interacted with her and some of the listeners, and thanked Anne for her selfless service to Ghanaians. To tell you the truth, I went home filled with tears as I reflected on her presentation on my way home. My desire, passion and motivation to do anything, however small, to save a child’s life has since then gone through the roof and I am always looking for opportunities to give other kids a chance to reach their potential.
Now, my personal life, academic and professional careers have not been without struggles and challenges. I grew up in a small town, Piase, about 8 miles from Lake Bosumtwi and about 18 miles from Kumasi. In my childhood life from the early seventies to early eighties, my only sister at that time, Jane (deceased) and I lived with our grandparents as my father lived in another region so he could work on his cocoa farm. He only came home occasionally to visit us. We had no potable water, and so we would wake up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to fetch water from one or two streams about 2 miles away. This happened 2 to 3 times almost every morning before going to school unless there was significant rainfall the previous day or night. It is the same water the whole family would use for cooking, bathing and washing ourselves and our clothes. These streams drained large drainage areas with all sorts of pollutants, especially when indiscriminate defecation was very common.
As you would expect, there were frequent and severe outbreaks of water-borne or water-related diseases – cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, bilharzia, malaria, etc. There were several instances my sister and I contracted some of these diseases and stayed out of school for many days. The worst part is that many children lost their lives and there’s no doubt that many of them were brighter and had greater potential than me. Others did not get the needed support. Other kids walked several miles to attend school in our town. And most of friends many dropped out of school due to lack of support and resources both at home and in school.
In my own case, though my sister was equally brilliant as I was, I remember vividly with sadness the night my father had to sit us down to tell us that he could only support one of us to attend secondary (high) school for lack of sufficient funds. Our father believed in education because he was a middle school teacher himself before taking over his father’s (our grandfather) cocoa farm. We also knew he loved us dearly and therefore would do everything legally possible and within his means to ensure both of us attended secondary school, but the means wasn’t there. As is predominant in an African culture, though I was younger than my sister, but being the male, my father convinced my sister to learn a trade and therefore chose me over her to try out the Common Entrance Examination that would eventually lead me to qualify to attend secondary school.
It was not an easy moment, but my sister turned to me and said she would do whatever was necessary for me to further my education but I should remember the sacrifice she was making on behalf of the family. So we thanked our father for having such thoughts about our future because many parents in the town at the time did not support their children to further their education. Even if you were fortunate to complete elementary school, you still ended up on the farm, became a palm-wine tapper or migrated to the city, Kumasi, to stay with friends or a relative and look for something to do.
My sister and I sobbed and wept for a long time that night and that was the night that really changed my life – I would become what I am today through education, dint of hard work, and obviously with God’s help. I was more determined never to let my father down but more importantly to reward my sister whose opportunity to learn a trade did not materialize. I would spare you all the details from that night until her unfortunate and painful death in December 2000 while I was studying for my master’s degree far away in Tanzania. But I am always convinced that if our dad could afford to support both of us, my sister would probably be alive today because she wouldn’t have made some decisions and bad choices. She left me (and my family) with three beautiful girls who, with God’s help, we have been able to support. Last year, the oldest earned her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and is now a teacher.
As you reflect on my story, now you understand why I said earlier on that I believe in education and more importantly why I would like to help other kids to, at least, have a chance to succeed. Please know that there are many kids out there today who come from poorer families, perhaps with no mom or dad, and are facing more difficult challenges than my sister and I did. Sadly, I had a chance to succeed at the expense of my sister. So my pitch to you is:
Give Back Africa Foundation has come out with a mission, goals and programs to address many of the issues the kids in underprivileged communities are facing in Ghana and beyond. Please join us to reach as many of these communities and kids as possible, for our satisfaction should come from the impacts we make in others’ lives. Out of these efforts many little boys and girls would not tread on such path as my sister did. I strongly believe, through education, the majority will make informed decisions and better choices in life, there will be major accomplishments and achievements, and they will be responsible citizens leading a life that eluded my sister due to lack of funds to support her education. There will be many success stories you and I can be proud of. Thank you.
Kirby Tells Why He’s Involved in This Mission
Joe and I started brainstorming on things we could do to help our communities in Ghana and other sub-Saharan African countries about two years ago. At that time, I did not know our life stories are very similar.
For me, what I remember sadly is that during my primary school days, my family and I lived in a village about 15 miles from Techiman in Ghana. The nearest school was 4 miles away. I walked to school every day, that’s 8 miles a day, sometimes through the rain. Anytime we went to town and I saw kids that had schools in their neighborhoods and did not have to go through what I and my little brother were going through, I asked why some kids were so lucky. Today, I consider myself blessed that I was able to come out from such a situation to be where I am. I go home often and I see kids still going through similar problems that existed during those days when I was a kid. Some kids do not have to walk 8 miles to school like I did; others have to, but the majority face diverse challenges.
While at University of Ghana, I wrote my final examination at the University Hospital. I was broken down by malaria and shivering likes a fish that had just come out of water. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t want to defer my graduation either so decided to write my examination at the hospital. I relied on several bottles of the energy drink Lucozade to give me some spirit to write the examination while on the hospital bed. I wrote the exam and passed and proceeded to get a masters and a PhD.
The majority of the children will not have their stories end this way, even though they may be smarter than I was. This hurts.
It’s for this reason that I joined with the volunteers that you will find on this website to form the non-profit organization called Give Back Africa Foundation. I invite you learn about our mission and goals and the many ways you can get involved.
We cannot solve all the problems in Africa but with one child at a time, one family at a time and one community at a time, we can make a difference
Please, if you know of individuals or organizations that might be able to support GBAF, recommend us to them or contact our board at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss such contacts.
Thank you very much for your time and support.