The Tale of Three Bookcases

by Brady

Bookshelf Design

The design I made for the bookshelf

There’s been an ongoing saga related to the bookcases for the language arts center known as Kasadwini Atenaeɛ. Part of the project we’re doing with this rural community in Ghana is a library, which of course means we need bookshelves. We elected to do a hanging roof—a very strange thing here—in order to make the building naturally cooling. This comes with some downsides, of course, such as opening it up to water that may splash in during a heavy rainstorm. Given that possibility, we made a design for a large, double-sided bookcase that could stand in the middle of the room—tapered on the sides to ensure it wouldn’t fall on some hapless, eager reader. We figured that two of these beasts, which reach almost to the ceiling, would be enough for the modest collection of the little rural library.

The first carpenter we hired completely misinterpreted the design, building the bookcase from the side angle. Awkward. Okay, maybe that was my fault—maybe the schematic was confusing.

The second carpenter we hired, Kwaata, was the same one who did the wooden concrete forms and also installed our roofing sheets. His work was…okay. It got done, at least, and he lived in Asisiriwa and we liked the idea of using local labor. This time, our librarian, Kumi, supervised to make sure he understood the design. He estimated he could be done in a week, and he did work a week. He then told us that he needed more money because the prices of materials had gone up. This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon here: Ghanaian carpenters’ estimates are just that—estimates, and they are usually low and they always end up charging more money in the end. That’s just how it is.

So we paid Kwaata the extra money. He then quickly proceeded to do absolutely nothing. The bookcase was 90% done and it was just sitting there for weeks on end (a microcosm of the entire project, really). After two months, Kumi started riding Kwaata harder, checking in day and night to see when he would get back to work so we could move forward. Kwaata just gave him excuses. It became evident that he was pursuing other work instead of finishing this job, which—if you have a poor work ethic—is logical, because we had already paid him.

IMG-20180905-WA0007

Kwaata’s bookcase

On one occasion, Kumi went to check in and Kwaata flung a Twi proverb at him: Deɛ adeɛ wɔ no na wɔdi nyɛ deɛ ɔkɔm de no, which translates, “The one who has is the one who eats, not the one who is hungry.” The wonderful thing about proverbs is that they’re completely up for interpretation, and they can be offensive contextually without being offensive explicitly. But in the context, Kumi understood it to mean, “I have both your bookshelf and your money. I’m not the one who is hungry.”

 

Eventually, the day before we arrived in Ghana, Kwaata did finish the bookcase. Well, he thought he did. He made all the shelves out of hardwood except the top shelf, which is out of plywood for some reason and isn’t strong enough to support books, so we have to reinforce it. And of course we weren’t about to try to drag him back to do it—who knows how long that would have taken.

Enter Kwame, another Asisiriwa carpenter we met through Brakwasi, the committee chairman and ardent supporter of the project. Kwame started out seeming similar, making an estimate that was too low because he didn’t realize the current prices of the materials he needed. We told him we were on a short deadline because…

…we’re opening the library on Wednesday. Yes, we arrived thinking we would open the library on Friday or Saturday, but when we met with the chief, he told us he didn’t like the idea because there’s a funeral for one of his relatives that weekend and he didn’t want to pull people away from that. (For context, funerals are huge, expensive parties in Ghana that go three days. There’s a funeral going on almost every weekend, even in a small village like Asisiriwa.) Since Kaitlyn flies back to Germany next Monday, we were left with no choice but to move the inauguration up…to Wednesday, the 6th of March, which also happens to be Ghana’s Independence Day.

Kwames Bookcase

Kwame’s bookcase

Kwame understood our short timeframe. He bought the materials for the bookcase on Friday and then took Saturday off because he’s Seventh Day Adventist. Since Sunday isn’t his Sabbath, he worked all day—reportedly until 9:00 pm—and finished building the bookcase. He still needs to polish it this evening, but it’s already far superior to the one Kwaata made. The shelves are straight and smooth, the edges are rounded, and it feels like it could hold an archive of tomes.

 

The lessons I’ve taken from this? You need more than good ideas; you need good people. Not all local labor is equally valuable. Keep looking until you find people who do good work, no matter how many bookcases it takes. Two bad carpenters aren’t representative of all the carpenters in a society.

We’re tirelessly working to both finish the library and organize this opening ceremony. Your thoughts, encouragement, and donations in the next two days will be endlessly appreciated. Thank you for coming with us this far, and we’ll show you pictures from the open library soon!

Advertisements

It’s Finally Ghana Open

by Brady

It’s been four years since we wandered over to Ghana, landed in the office of Professor Kofi Agyekum, and said, “We’re thinking about helping a community build a library and literacy center, but we don’t know where.” It’s been four years since he replied, “I think you should come and see my village. It’s called Asisiriwa.” It’s been four years since the village elders said, “Let’s do this.”

cropped-ghana-2015-no-6-020.jpg

Prof. Agyekum presenting the idea for Kasadwini Atenaeɛ to some of the people of Asisiriwa

I thought the thing would be open a year later. God, I was so naive. I didn’t know about masons who made bad concrete and skipped town or local politicians who sold replacement concrete at a premium to line their own pockets. I didn’t know that local contractors were primarily farmers who mostly did construction in the dry season when there was no cocoa to harvest. I didn’t know that “I can do it in three days” meant “three working days over the next month or two”. I didn’t know about compassion fatigue, how to take care of myself, or the true meaning of patience underneath the surface definition of “waiting”. I didn’t really know what a broken heart felt like.

Asisiriwa 4 040

The crack that formed in the foundation soon into construction

But now it’s almost ready. The language arts center known as Kasadwini Atenaeɛ will be opening within two weeks. Kaitlyn and I are leaving for Ghana tomorrow to help with the final touches – getting the rest of the furniture, stocking the shelves, painting the signboard, etc. The village has requested our presence at the inauguration ceremony. Apparently they wouldn’t consider opening it without us.

I’m not sure I believe it’s happening. I’ve watched so many deadlines blur by, I’m not sure I believe they exist at all. But there are plenty of people who want this center so badly that they have been giving sweat and tears and words towards its completion. Whether we have all the décor or not, Kasadwini Atenaeɛ, the first language arts center of Untold International, will open next month.

IMG-20180703-WA0005

The back of the library

 

Several people have asked me if we have everything we need, and the truth is “no”. Some people have been incredibly generous despite our lack of visible fundraising, being in Europe and everything. We’re still about $500 short of where we wanted to be for getting furniture, plus we’d like to make the space under the roof more secure against potential burglary, but that could easily be another $1,000. So if you’ve ever wanted to give to a cause that would show a visible difference in a matter of weeks, please feel free to donate here.

Let me take a moment to thank all those who have given to this crazy, up-and-down, amazing project. This bright, blue-and-yellow building is the talk of the town, and the people are so excited to reap the educational harvest that you have planted. We love you all, and we will update you on the grand opening over the next few weeks!

kasadwini AtenaeƐ

End of a Year, Beginning of an Era

by Brady

As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the victories and setbacks Untold International has experienced in the last twelve months as we attempt to finish a language arts center in a rural village in Ghana.

cropped-img-20180703-wa0006.jpg

 

Building progress has been frustratingly slow. We went into Ghana thinking we could get the building done within six months, a prospect I laugh at now. Between issues with fundraising, money transfers, structural mistakes, and laissez faire contractors, that six months has stretched into three years. This is, oddly enough, incredibly common in Ghana. The landscape there is dotted with half-finished concrete structures; people commonly add a bit at a time as they get the money, taking years and sometimes decades to make something habitable. We didn’t intend to follow this trend, but we ended up building more like the locals than we meant to. The silver lining is that we’ve kept going, and we now have beautiful, finished building that just needs furniture to be operational.

IMG-20180905-WA0007We have begun building the furniture, starting with big, double-sided bookshelves that are coming out nicely. They are being built by a local carpenter named Kwaata, who also did the concrete forms. Once we get just $2,000, the furnishings will be done and the center can open.

And open it will! We are actually now planning the opening and inauguration of Kasadwini Atenaeɛ (the language arts center in Asisiriwa) for either late February or early March of 2019. The local community has requested that Kaitlyn and I be present for the opening, and they are all very excited! This will be a huge milestone for us as an organization, and for all the individuals involved. If you would like get involved in making this a reality, we have more good news!

Untold International now has its own 501(c)3 status! This means that all donations made directly to us are tax deductible. So if you’re looking for a nonprofit organization to make an end-of-year donation to, consider us! You would be directly contributing to the opening of Kasadwini Atenaeɛ, and you could see the impact of your donation within just three months. We’ll be posting pictures and videos of the inauguration in March so you can celebrate with us! Click here to donate now.

Thank you to everyone who made 2018 an important year for Untold, and thank you in advance to everyone who comes along with us to make 2019 the beginning of a new era for the community of Asisiriwa. We’re just a few months away from changing some futures forever, and I grin wildly at the imagination-baffling potential that’ll be unlocked when these kids have the resources to empower themselves.

cropped-asisiriwa-3-021.jpg

Untold Profiles: Kwadwo Kumi

by Brady

IMG-20180919-WA0009

Our second Untold Profile is on Kwadwo Iveson Kumi, known to us as simply “Kumi”.

He’s the other librarian at Kasadwini Atenaeɛ, the language arts center that we’ve been building alongside the rural Ghanaian village of Asisiriwa. He’s a bright, sensitive, and soft-spoken guy who cares deeply about his community and is always looking  for opportunities to learn and grow. He has a special place in our hearts, and I interviewed him recently to give you all the chance to know him a bit as well.

Kumi, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. Now, you’re a native of Asisiriwa, right? How long has your family lived there?

Yeah, I’m a native of Asisiriwa and my family has lived here almost fifty years now.

So where are you currently working and what are you doing?

I’m currently working in Brodekwano [a nearby village] as a teacher in a preparatory school.

Asisiriwa no. 3 011

Students playing in front of the primary school

Cool. So in your own words, how would you describe the village of Asisiriwa?

The village of Asisiriwa have a population of about 1,500 peoples in Asisiriwa right now, including childrens and women. Containing over 250 buildings, and there is one school in Asisiriwa. Good reception, and they have…the street and everything is very cool. Asisiriwa is a very good place for people who have a good manner, like hospitality – they are very good in hospitality. Everyone that come to Asisiriwa always feels good and happy to stay with them because they like peoples and they are sociable. That’s what I can say about Asisiriwa.

 

I know you and your family experienced a tragedy very recently. Would you feel comfortable telling the story of what happened?

Yeah, I feel comfortable of telling the grief that we – me and my family – went through in…May, the month of May. My father was everything to our family. He’s very nice, capable of doing everything for we to be happy. So, in the month of March, he fell sick. So, it was very sad that my father, who always do everything by hisself, couldn’t do anything. So, he was being in the hospital for almost two months. One day he came home and he said we shouldn’t waste our money on him and we should pray for him just like that. So…that was a blow to the entire family, because we know that what he was saying, he have seen something, that maybe he is going to join the ancestors. So, on the 14th of May, he passed out. It was a grief and so sad moment for the entire family. And that’s it.

Wow, that’s really terrible. I’m sorry that you had to go through that. Do you mind sharing how you’ve been able to navigate that grief and how you’ve handled the tragedy of losing your father?

It not easy for you to lose a father. And…words cannot explain how painful it was for being and losing your father. I was able to navigate all this grief – even you are part of my grief counselor. When I was talking to you, you give me so many things, ‘cause you advise me how to go through this. And my friends also – because that time I don’t even feel like even talking to someone, ‘cause all my heart was full of sorrow and…and my ego and my emotion was spent. As I was saying, words cannot even explain this. I will give thanks to my friends also who always being my side. I started reading some books when I’m alone and feeling sad, I just listen to some cool songs and always watch some movies that have a funny – a comedy, comedy movies. Movie like The Wedding Ringer also helped me, how he become a wedding ringer [chuckles]. And Mary also always advised me with this one. That is it.

IMG-20170724-WA0004

Kumi & Mary: the librarians at Kasadwini Atenaeɛ

Thanks for that. You’ve shown a lot of courage in working through your grief. I’m again very, very sorry for your loss, but I’m very proud of you for pushing through. You just recently told me about a new personal goal of yours. Would you describe what it is and why you want to do it?

A world without ICT [Information and Communications Technology] – I don’t know while this 21st century would do. Or world without this technology – I don’t what this will do or also go through. I don’t know whether the 15th century of this kind of stuff, I don’t what they are doing. So I want to be an IT expert. Clement Quist has been my role model for the past nine years right now, and he is an IT expert also. Due to that, he is my role model. I check and see…without ICT in my life, I don’t what my life will be. And Asisiriwa here, we don’t have an ICT expert in Asisiriwa right now. Even the minor-minor and petty-petty thing that my role model told me, about Quist told me or teach me…when Quist leave here, people always come to me and I’m using it here. So if I sit down and check if I become and ICT expert, I can able to develop Asisiriwa and also put into some people here. And since Quist leave here – in Asisiriwa here – to live in a different community, the teaching of ICT in Asisiriwa here has gone down, because we’re learning that those who went to write their Basic Education Certificate Examinations this year was finding difficult to answer some of the cheap-cheap-cheap questions under ICT, as I compare to when Quist was here it was very good. So I’m going to do that: to come back and develop Asisiriwa, because right now they are building a new ICT laboratory for Asisiriwa, but they don’t have someone who will be there for Asisiriwa. So it’s a one-year intensive course that is organized by West Africa Examination Council, and I want to put myself in and I want to help my community. That’s why I’ve decided to do that course also: to help my community and to develop Asisiriwa also.

That’s very cool. I’m excited to see how that goes and where it takes you. So how did you get involved with Untold International and the language arts center called Kasadwini Atenaeɛ?

When I was in Asisiriwa, I saw the seal of Untold International, and I don’t know what they are coming to do. That time, I don’t know what you, my boss, Brady, is coming to do in Asisiriwa. So I ask my role model, Clement Quist, “What’s this foreign people doing in Asisiriwa?” and he say, “Oh, okay, this could be your chance! Because we know you in Asisiriwa in 2009 – the best student in Asisiriwa, you and Mary.” So he said, “Okay, if you want to join this, I will introduce you to them.” So one day, he said, “Okay, there is interview going on, so you and Mary – you and someone – is going” (at that time, I don’t know it’s Mary) so he says “you and someone is going to an interview, and they want one person.” So I say, “Okay.” He said, “I know you people are very intelligent, so they are going to pick one.” And I was very nervous, because I know Mary to be the best English in my class, and I’m also the best Mathematics in my class also, so this is a white people, what am I going to do?! [Laughs] So I came to the interview, you interview us, and you said you want us. So that led me to know the Untold International. So Clement introduced me to Untold International.

 

IMG-20170607-WA0002

From left to right: Kumi, Quist, and Mary

Nice! And what is your role at Kasadwini Atenaeɛ?

My role in Kasadwini Atenaeɛ is to supervise and welcome every student or every person that come to the library. And I’m also like a machine to the Kasadwini Atenaeɛ. The reason I’m saying I’m like a machine to Kasadwini Atenaeɛ is to make sure that everyone that come to the Kasadwini Atenaeɛ, if the person need any help in there, I’m the one responsible to help that person and make sure that every book in Kasadwini Atenaeɛ must be cleaned, and I have to make sure that there will not be a dirty in Kasadwini Atenaeɛ. And to organize an event every month to see whether the Kasadwini Atenaeɛ is helping the people in Asisiriwa and the other villages around Asisiriwa.

Why did you want to be a librarian at the center?

I decided to be a librarian in the center because in all my life I like helping peoples to understand how the world really going, to put education in someone’s mind. So when I come to Asisiriwa, my chance of being, teaching as a professional teacher in Ghana, was somehow not really working for me, because there is no money at the moment, and even when I get a chance of pursuing my education, I just get back on something. And it give me the opportunity when I come to Asisiriwa, Clement introduce me to this, and give me the opportunity that, okay, on all my dreams that I want to help some peoples in Asisiriwa or some peoples in the world by putting education in their mind, this is the way I can start it. Because at first I was teaching as a part-time teacher for some students in Asisiriwa and I went to Accra to do some petty trading and I came back, so helping people is my first priority in life. And I know that being as a librarian will also help me to help so many peoples in life, because as I like education, I also want people also to like education.

img_0699.jpg

Kumi jumped on the roof to volunteer with attaching the sheet metal

What do you think of the design of the center?

The design of the center is very nice! From my perspective, it’s very nice. Because I always like blue color and yellow color, so since it is being painted yellow and blue, it’s bright and everyone talk about it in this community, even so many compliments about it. They like it, they like the design. Even the metal roofing and the fiberglass that is used, even to create the center – I like the painting and the design, and the kind that they are going to use for the door and the windows… It’s going to improve the literacy center. I like the design, everything about it is very perfect. Thanks for even choosing that color and that design also.

I’m glad you like it! Do you think the people of Asisiriwa are excited for Kasadwini Atenaeɛ to open?

They are very excited about it and they want it to be open because, since they know me being connected to you, sometime they ask me, “When are you going to open this? We want to come there!” So they use it here and other peoples also even ask so they are waiting for it to be open. They are happy, they are happy here.

What effects do you think Kasadwini Atenaeɛ will have on Asisiriwa and the villages surrounding it?

Kasadwini Atenaeɛ will help Asisiriwa and the villages around Asisiriwa because I know reading help you to influence the language, I mean any kind of language that you are learning. Reading this book or this language book will help you to become fluent in that language. So it help the student also in Asisiriwa to learn and many other, because when they close from school, they don’t have anything to do. So all that they do is with going, playing football, and peoples who…doing nothing. Reading will help you – picture you – to know every world, because I have not been to – let me say – America before, but I can talk about America because of reading some books and…it will help Asisiriwa very well. It will increase people’s language in English and they will become fluent in English, as well as the Twi – they should know how to write the Twi and how to write the good English.

Asisiriwa Fun Day 032

I know that some people in Asisiriwa definitely see the value in education, while others don’t seem to. Do you think it will be difficult to get people in Asisiriwa to use Kasadwini Atenaeɛ?

I don’t think it will be difficult to find peoples in Asisiriwa to use Kasadwini Atenaeɛ, because what I have seen in Asisiriwa peoples is they always like something new. So if something new opens in Asisiriwa, they always try to use it. They try to see what it is inside, so it will be our job to make them even feel good when they come there, to get understanding of what Kasadwini Atenaeɛ is coming to do for them. So it will not be difficult, because since they want it to open, people are asking so many questions about, “When are you going to be opening?” So when it will open, it will not be difficult to use Kasadwini Atenaeɛ. The way we will announce it and the way we will advertise it, will always influence people to join it also. The first people that will come there, or the number of people that will come there first place, if they get to know what is inside Kasadwini Atenaeɛ, they will go and spread the good news to others. So I don’t think it will be difficult for us to get peoples in Asisiriwa to use Kasadwini Atenaeɛ. They will all join us – even those who don’t understand will join us. I know the number will continue increasing day in and day out when the Kasadwini Atenaeɛ opens.

Do you have any ideas for events you want to put on in the library?

What I have in my mind is – the first event that I’m going to organize for the peoples in Asisiriwa – from three years to nine years, I will just give them the drawing sheet and a pencil and then a color for them to draw what they have read, or what they can see around the Kasadwini Atenaeɛ. And for those from ten years to eighteen years, since they are developing their mind, I will just ask them to think of what they can write – anything that come to their mind – they will have to write it down for us to check if they are getting an interest or getting a benefit from the literacy center Kasadwini Atenaeɛ.

KumiProfilePicAnother idea that I have in my mind is: maybe one day the event will be organizing from another literacy center around Ghana, maybe connecting us to the Osu Children’s Library, so that we will connect to them, and one day we organize some literacy day for them, or maybe another event for both of them. And it will help we the village, we peoples around Asisiriwa – the towns and villages around Asisiriwa – how teaching and learning is going on in the city, and it will improve them and they will connect to them, and having friends in the city. That’s another idea I have in my mind.

 

If you would like to sponsor Kumi or help him achieve any of his goals, please go here to make a tax-deductible donation. Thanks for reading, and be on the lookout for more Untold Profiles in the future!

Untold Profiles: Mary Akayini

by Brady

We are blessed with the opportunity to work and interact with such incredible people, but most of our followers don’t actually get to see them, who they are, or what they do. That’s why we’re launching a new series of blogs called “Untold Profiles”, where we’ll highlight and interview people involved with our project to build a language arts center and library in rural Ghana. They may be board members, partners, or just people whose lives have somehow been impacted by what we’re doing.

For our first Untold Profile, I interviewed Mary Akayini, a bright, kind, and ambitious young woman who will be a librarian at Kasadwini Atenaeɛ when it opens. Enjoy!IMG-20180703-WA0015

Mary, thanks so much for making the time to talk to me. Now, you aren’t actually from Asisiriwa, right? Could you tell me where you’re from and how you ended up where you are?

You’re welcome, Brady. Well, actually, my parents came all the way from the North to search for greener pastures down here South. So I was actually born here – I was born in Nkowinkwanta [a nearby village].

You’re studying right now, right? What are you studying, and how close are you to finishing?

Well, right now I’m studying a diploma in basic education, and I have two months more left to complete…yeah, two months: September.

I know that your family suffered a tragedy last year. Would you feel comfortable telling the story of what happened and how you managed to get through it?

Hm, well, last year was a very painful year, full of problems here and there. Early last year, I think…June, yeah, I lost…we lost…the last-born of our family. He was only three years old, and it was very painful, and it was a very shocking news to the family. Later, November, we lost another one – a brother – our eldest brother, he also died. So it was another big tragedy to the family. But, with the help of family members, relatives, friends, you and Kaitlyn, we were able to come out of it. Actually, I had to pay school fees – no money – so you and Kaitlyn helped out with what you could, and other family member helped out too. My other brothers also had to pay school fees – it was terrible – but God and friends helped us out. We were able to overcome it thanks to God and to our friends and relatives.

Wow, what a terrible year. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but thank you for sharing that with me, and thank you for your courage in getting through that. To switch gears a little bit, you said you’re studying basic education. What would you say your dream job is?

You’re welcome, Brady. Thanks for your help. Without you, it wouldn’t have been okay. Thank you very much. My dream job is teaching – I love to teach and I’m going to be a teacher.

That’s fantastic. And is there a particular reason you want to be a teacher?

Mm, actually there’s no reason. I just love to teach. Since I was a kid, my dream was to be a teacher. And I’ve always prayed and hoped one day I become the best teacher ever.

So how did you get involved with Untold International and the language arts center called Kasadwini Atenaeɛ?

I got involved through a friend and a teacher called Quist. Yes, he introduced me to Untold International.

And so what is your role in Kasadwini Atenaeɛ?

A librarian. Yeah, I’m a librarian at Kasadwini Atenaeɛ!

 

IMG-20170607-WA0002

From left to right: Kumi, librarian; Quist, operations supervisor; Mary, librarian

Why did you want to be a librarian in the center?

Well, because I love to teach, it has been one of my aspirations to help the younger ones in our community to learn how to read, ‘cause there’s much joy in reading, so when I had this opportunity, it was like a dream come true. I’ll love to help the kids around – especially those in our community who don’t like to read. I’ll love to help them learn how to read – to love reading.

What do you think of the design of the building?

Well, the design of the building is very beautiful, and it’s nice, and it’s really going to help where it’s situated, how it’s been designed, where we’ll be having the literacy class and then where we’ll be having our readings. It’s okay, it’s very beautiful, and I love it – I love how it’s been designed, the paintings – wow – it’s very nice.

IMG-20180703-WA0006

Once we get funding for the furniture, this beautiful building will be operational

Do you think people in Asisiriwa are excited for Kasadwini Atenaeɛ to open?

They are very excited, especially the elders in the community, ‘cause they know it’s going to help the younger ones growing up. They are very happy it’s going to be opened, and even they are still wondering why it’s not open yet. And I think a lot of questions are coming, “When are you going to open the literacy center?” and stuff. Yes, they are very happy, ‘cause it’s really going to help the community. And not only the community, but it’s going to help all of the people around.

What effects do you think Kasadwini Atenaeɛ will have on Asisiriwa and the surrounding villages?

I think it’s going to have a positive effect on the community and the other villages around. Yeah, ‘cause, you know, in our community here, kids don’t like reading – they don’t love to read – and it’s really affecting them badly. But with Kasadwini Atenae, it’s going to help them learn how to read and love to read. So it’s going to enhance the community’s way of living, it’s going to help them love reading, and it’s going to help them improve their vocabulary and their English language. So it’s going to have a positive effect on the community.

IMG-20161028-WA0006

Junior high school students playing Scrabble in Kasadwini Atenaeɛ while it’s under construction

I know that some people in Asisiriwa definitely see the value in education, while others don’t seem to. Do you think it will be difficult to get people in Asisiriwa to use Kasadwini Atenaeɛ?

Yeah, it wouldn’t be difficult to get people to use the center. You know, some of them understand the value in education, so with those people – with the help of those people and we the librarians – it’s going to be easy. When those who value education allow their kids to go there and they start to enjoy – they start to read, they start to express themselves with the English language – It will invite those who don’t value education. It wouldn’t matter much with the parents; the kids themselves will come. Depending on how we the librarians treat them and how we teach them and how we do things with them. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

Do you have any ideas for events you want to put on in the library?

Yeah, actually, events that will encourage the kids to come around. Drumming and dancing at some times, like a culture group – we’ll create a culture group and we’ll be drumming and dancing on some particular days fixed up. And once in a while we’ll have a reading competition – the fastest reader, the best reader – and at least we’ll give them some small-small gifts like a book or something. It will encourage them to learn how to read and encourage the others who are not taking part to take part. Also, things that will also bring the kids: food. Let’s say gari and sugar [like porridge made of ground cassava], so when they close – you know, in this community, it’s not easy for some people, so when they close from school there’s not even food at home for them to eat. So if you have something like gari at the center, when they close, it will bring them, ‘cause they know, “If I go to the library, I’ll get something to eat then learn and enjoy myself too”. So yeah, culture group, a little competition at some times will help.

Is there anything else you’d like our supporters to know?

Well, I would want them to know that their donations and support, it’s not going to be in vain. It’s going to help build up a community that was once illiterate about reading and education, but with their help and support it’s going build them up. And it’s going to help a young lady like me to bring out my best and to achieve my aspirations. Yes, it’s going to help a small community, like Asisiriwa, to bring out the best kids who are capable of doing a lot of things.

Asisiriwa 3 021

After our interview, Mary messaged me with another suggestion for getting the community involved with Kasadwini Atenaeɛ. She would like to meet with the headmasters at both the primary and junior high schools in Asisiriwa to fix “library time” into the class schedules, so that classes will rotate through the library during school hours as part of their daily lessons.

If you would like to sponsor Mary or help her implement any of her ideas, you can go here to make a tax-deductible donation that will open up new possibilities for her and the people of Asisiriwa.

The New Name of the Literacy Center in Asisiriwa

by Brady

Names are important. Not only do they give a first impression, but they actually inform the identity of the thing or person they’re attached to. Parents often name their children based on how or who they want them to become. “Look to your namesake, [Alexander, George, Martin Luther, etc.]”

Kofi Awoonor
The poet formerly known as George Awoonor

Igbo parents embed bold hopes or claims in their children’s names, like Chimankpam (“God knows my needs”) and Zioranmachukwu (“Show the world God’s beauty”). Ghanaians who wish to embrace their African identity often throw off their European-inspired “Christian” names and replace them with local ones, like the poet George Awoonor who became Kofi Awoonor.

When we partnered with the village of Asisiriwa in Ghana to build a literacy center and library, we were intentional about so many things, from using the local environment to stocking the library with appropriate reading material. We knew we had to be intentional about the name. It wouldn’t be enough to simply call it the “Asisiriwa Literacy Center”, because 1) it’s so much more than that, and 2) that’s not the right language.

IMG-20180220-WA0002

The not-quite-finished center

Asisiriwa is 100% Twi-speaking. Sure, there are some immigrants from the North who speak their mother tongues in the home and the kids have to learn English in school, but the language spoken in public – in almost all domains – is Twi. It’s the language of the heart there, and that’s why we have been committed to offering Twi literacy classes and writing workshops on an equal footing with English since the project started. The literacy center belongs to Asisiriwa, so it only makes sense to give it a Twi name.

Asisiriwa 6 004

Just a few of the kids in Asisiriwa who ONLY speak Twi

Thankfully, Asisiriwa is the home village of Professor Kofi Agyekum, one of the foremost Twi linguists of all time. When Coca Cola started its campaign of featuring people’s names on individual bottles and cans, they consulted Prof. Agyekum on how to do it in Ghana. When a local bus company wanted to give their coach types Twi names, they turned to Prof. Agyekum. So we had access to the expert.

Mole to Accra 2 208

Me and Prof when he first brought us to Asisiriwa

I provided some keywords to try and get at the heart of the project. Honestly, I don’t like the name “literacy center” to begin with, because it’s not really about literacy. It’s about storytelling. As our motto says, storytelling unlocks imagination, which unlocks innovation – it’s just that we have to offer literacy classes in order to empower the reading and writing of stories. So I wanted to move past the ideas of books, libraries, and classes. That’s when Prof suggested Kasadwini Atenaeɛ.

Professor Agyekum coined the term “kasadwini” in 1998, and it has been used since then within Akan Studies to refer to literature or verbal art. It combines the words kasa (“language”) and adwini (“art” or “design”). Atenaeɛ comes from the verb tena ase, which means “to sit down”, so it refers to a place where people sit (thus, a center). So Kasadwini Atenaeɛ (ka-sa-jwih-nee ah-tih-nye-ay) is a place where people gather and sit to enjoy the art of language. That, to me, is perfect.

IMG-20161028-WA0004

Asisiriwa junior high school students playing Scrabble in the unfinished center

IMG-20180305-WA0006Names are important. When the people of Asisiriwa and the surrounding villages walk by the bright blue and yellow building with the cool, slanted roof and see the signboard outside that says Kasadwini Atenaeɛ, they will know that their language matters, that something new and exciting is happening, and that somehow art is being consumed or created through words. And they will be welcome to join in.

If you would like to contribute to finishing the center, feel free to go here to make a tax-deductible donation.

9 Africans Who Are Smarter than You

by Brady

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “9 of the Worst Quotes about Africa”, in which I compiled nine bigoted, colonial, and generally racist things that have been said by people in power about the continent of Africa. I received a lot of xenophobic comments on that one, including this gem, which started off by quoting a line from the post about James D. Watson:

Listening Comment

Ironically, I received this comment while preparing to travel to Ghana to work with people who are worth my time, so I didn’t respond. While I was there, I realized that this ethnocentric comment was a great impetus for raising awareness about African geniuses. Listening’s ignorance on the subject is not entirely his or her fault, after all; in the West, our educations tend to overlook people of color, a trend that I’m all too happy to buck. So let me sate your doubtless feigned curiosity, Listening. Instead of naming one, I’ll go ahead and name nine Africans who are smarter than you and I.

To start off, I’m not sure where this user got the idea that Hannibal wasn’t black – scholars have no real idea what the brilliant Carthaginian general’s ethnicity was. His alleged family name appears to be Phoenician, but the Phoenicians were in North Africa for 1,000 years before Hannibal, during which time they very well could have intermarried with Saharan or sub-Saharan tribes. I’ll go ahead and stick to Africans we know are black, since that’s a distinction racism is obsessed with.

  1. Kitaw Ejigu

kitaw-ejigu-1Born and raised in Ethiopia, Kitaw Ejigu scored a scholarship to study automotive engineering in Japan before going over to the USA to earn his master’s degree in business and his doctorate in space vehicle systems engineering. After working for various aerospace companies like Garret Air Research and Boeing, Ejigu was hired by the Jet Propulsion Lab – a NASA research center – in 1977. During that time, he worked with astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and invented two aerospace mechanisms that were patented under NASA’s new technology programs. After developing mission spacecraft, earth-orbiting satellites, lunar and Mars rovers, GPS platforms, and missile defense systems, Ejigu turned his attention to the chaos in his native Ethiopia. He met with Ethiopian refugees in Kenya, paid for them to go to college, and formed a political party to stand up for them against the regime in place.

An African rocket scientist, philanthropist, and hero. Your move, white supremacists.

  1. Bennet Omalu

bennet-omalu-websitejpgAn Igbo from southeastern Nigeria, Bennet Omalu obtained his MD in his native country before immigrating to the United States, where he earned a master’s in public health and a master’s in business. While working as a forensic pathologist, Omalu – trusting a hunch – self-financed brain tissue analysis of a deceased NFL player, which led to him being the first person to identify, describe, and name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as a disease in American football players. This was so unpopular with the NFL that they demanded Omalu retract his paper. Omalu responded by performing more autopsies on football players that suffered brain damage and depression – some of whom had committed suicide – and he published another paper that collaborated his findings. He also testified before the United States Congress twice. It wasn’t until 2009, seven years after Omalu’s discovery, that the NFL acknowledged the link between football and CTE and stopped allowing players knocked unconscious by a concussion to return to a game or practice.

It took an African neuropathologist to stand up for the health of American football players.

  1. Nashwa Eassa

NashwaEassaNashwa Eassa is a lady to keep your eye on. She’s a nanoparticle physicist from Sudan who earned her master’s in nanotechnology and material physics in Sweden and her doctorate in South Africa (while she was pregnant with her first child). She was just recently awarded the 2015 Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World for her research on lessening film that accumulates on high-speed semiconductors. She is also developing a way to use solar radiation to purify water and investigating the possibility of collecting hydrogen by splitting water molecules. In addition to that, she founded Sudanese Women in Science, an organization dedicated to helping her countrywomen become scientists.

How many people do you know who are breaking down social barriers, publishing papers on nanoparticle physics, and raising kids all at once?

  1. Cheick Modibo Diarra

Cheick Modibo DiarraBorn and raised in Mali, Cheick Modibo Diarra went to Paris for his undergraduate before traveling the world and landing in the USA at a friend’s invitation. He decided to stay, acquired his master’s and doctorate in aerospace engineering, and taught as a physics professor before being hired by Calltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As one of NASA’s first astrophysicists, he participated in projects like the Magellan probe to Venus, the Ulysses probe to the sun, the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, and various Mars programs like Sojourner, Pathfinder, and Observer. Like many on this list, Diarra then turned his attention to his homeland, starting the Pathfinder Foundation to help facilitate education and development in Africa and the Solar Energy Research Laboratory in Bamako, Mali. He also served as UNESCO’s goodwill ambassador and was awarded the African Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 (the year after Nelson Mandela won it). This all led to Bill Gates approaching him and asking him to head Microsoft Africa, which he did until 2011, when he started a political party in Mali to help restore order there.

Huh, another African astrophysicist, activist, and philanthropist. Huh.

  1. Francis Allotey

Francis AlloteyA native of Ghana, Francis Kofi Allotey is an internationally respected mathematical physicist who acquired his bachelor’s in London and his master’s and doctorate at Princeton in the US, after which he became the first Ghanaian full professor in mathematics. In addition to being a member of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy, the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics in the USA, and the UNESCO Physics Action Council, Allotey also founded the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Ghana. Through his work on soft X-ray spectroscopy, he developed a technique – later named the “Allotey Formulism” – which is still used to determine matter in outer space.

That’s right – there are even physical principles with African names.

  1. Tshilidzi Marwala

Tshilidzi MarwalaA South African scientist and engineer, Tshilidzi Marwala obtained his Master of Engineering in Pretoria and his PhD of Engineering from Cambridge. He went on to work in the fields of artificial intelligence, computer science, economics, social science, and medicine. His fundamental contributions to engineering science include the concept of pseudo-modal energies and the theories of rational counterfactual thinking, rational opportunity cost, and flexibly bounded rationality. Marwala holds three international patents and has co-invented innovative methods in radiation imaging, an artificial larynx, and the first software agent that could bluff in a game of poker. In addition to his 9 published books and over 300 technical papers, Marwala is now the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research & Internationalisation at the University of Johannesburg.

Fun fact: in the time it takes for a troll to write a xenophobic comment below, Tshilidzhi Marwala can publish another paper on computational intelligence.

  1. Cheikh Anta Diop

Cheikh Anta DiopBorn in pre-independence Senegal, Cheikh Anta Diop traveled to Paris just after World War II for his master’s and doctorate. While there, he studied history, Egyptology, physics, linguistics, anthropology, economics, and sociology – he also wrote three doctoral theses and translated Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into his native Wolof. His most controversial theory was that the ancient Egyptians were black, which he supported with evidence from his many fields, like linguistic phenomena, ancient literary references, and archaeological data. He went on to claim that, since ancient Egypt was so influential to ancient Greek and Roman civilization, Western civilization was partially based on African culture. This was during a time when African nations were fighting for independence, and ideas of Africans being foundational to world history and civilization were incredibly unpopular. Diop was called a racist for his Afrocentric, largely theoretical hypotheses. He kept working, though, doing research, writing books, contributing to political movements, and established a radiocarbon laboratory in Dakar. As it happened, more evidence surfaced showing that the ancient Egyptians had close cultural links to the Nubians, an undeniably black African culture.

Basically, Diop sees your Hannibal and raises you ancient Egypt. Fold or call, “master race”.

  1. Haile Debas

HaileDebasAfter doing his undergraduate in Ethiopia, Eritrean-born Haile Debas went off to study medicine in Scotland and surgery in Canada. After a year of private practice, he turned to academia and served on surgery faculties at prestigious universities in both Canada and the USA before landing at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he became the chair of the Department of Surgery. As it happened, UCSF became one of the country’s leading centers for transplant surgery, the training of young surgeons, and basic and clinical research in surgery during his tenure. Debas also made groundbreaking, original contributions to physiology, biochemistry, and the pathophysiology of gastrointestinal peptide hormones that earned him national recognition. He kept climbing the ladder, becoming the dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, which became a national model for medical education under his leadership, and then the seventh Chancellor of UCSF, helping to establish a new campus and a comprehensive cancer center. He is currently a member of the National Academy of Sciences and serves on the United Nations Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa.

They’re going to have to start creating higher academic positions just for this brilliant African surgeon.

  1. Wangari Maathai

wangari-maathai-1Born in Kenya, Wangari Maathai obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological science in the USA and her PhD in veterinary anatomy in Kenya, making her the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate. Although she became the Chair of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi, she is best known for her Green Belt Movement, which worked with women to plant trees to protect the environment and improve quality of life – she helped women plant more than 20 million trees on farms, school grounds, and church compounds. The movement spread to other surrounding countries, bringing with it environmental education and a fight against land grabbing. For her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, Maathai has been recognized with at least 27 international awards – including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She served on many boards, including the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament, and was elected to the Kenyan parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote. She was listed in UNEP’s Global 500 Hall of Fame, was named one of the 100 heroines of the world, and received honorary doctoral degrees from 4 international universities.

Seriously, who needs white superheroes when we have African women?

The list could, of course, go on. I could easily write entries on figures like Philip Emeagwali, Bisi Ezerioha, Thebe Medupe, Mo Ibrahim, Venansius Baryamureeba, Seyi Oyesola, Kofi Agyekum, Gebisa Ejeta, Henry Odera Oruka, Mohamed H. A. Hassan, or scores of other African geniuses, and maybe someday I will. For now, it should be enough to know that the 9 African people above were – or continue to be – phenomenal and influential in their fields, oftentimes defying oppressed or disenfranchised circumstances to become internationally recognized and inspirational. Those who stand on the rickety platform of bigotry and claim that Africans are somehow intellectually inferior need to close Breitbart News and pick up something with a bibliography.