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!

Advertisements

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.

I Shall Be a Mosaic

by Brady

2016 sucked. Sure, I could talk about how it was formative, go on about how it taught us important lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything, quote that cliché Nietzsche line about whatever doesn’t kill you…but I tend to err towards transparency rather than diplomacy.

We’ve been off the radar for a while and you deserve to know why. The truth is that this project in Ghana was much harder than we thought it would be. The truth is that we were not yet people capable of succeeding at such a monumental task. The truth is that we tried to carry the world and forgot about ourselves. The truth is that 2016 broke us.

When the world smashed us and scattered our pieces on the wind, we became useless. We groped for months trying to recover ourselves, our identities, our passion. During that time, things fell through the cracks. For one, we lost our 501(c)(3) status because the organization fiscally sponsoring us closed its doors in August without the whole Untold team being aware. Fundraising halted. People were left in the dark. I sincerely apologize for that.

mosaic01

Ancient mosaic in Bishapur, Iran

I’ve been thinking a lot about mosaics lately, those pictures that are made of hundreds or thousands of tesserae—bits of glass or tile. It’s a beautiful art form that I clearly would never have the patience for. It struck me, as I was recovering from the razor-wire-wrapped tornado that was the last year, that maybe I’m like a mosaic. I had made this pretty picture: my life. I had some nice achievements, pretty colors, a nice enough background. I was meticulously putting my pieces into a mosaic I could be proud of. Then God took a hammer to it.

I’m fairly certain that everyone can identify with the feeling of having their mosaic smashed, whether by circumstances, mistakes, or other people. You watch as your fastidiously placed bits of glass shatter to the floor and wonder, “What was it all for? Did this have to happen? Do I have the will to rebuild?” It’s hard to be optimistic when even your broken pieces are broken.

transfiguration-b

Mosaic in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome

But here’s the thing I’m learning: smaller pieces make a more beautiful mosaic. The smaller the bits of glass and tile, the more intricate the whole design can be. If you have the will and patience to take those tiny, humbled tesserae and make them into an entirely new picture, it will be exponentially more impressive than the last one. You are a piece of art, and breaking you has only made your potential more beautiful.

So Kaitlyn and I are making a new mosaic with smaller pieces. And you know, we’ll probably have to break a few more tesserae here and there as we envision how gorgeous the thing can be. We’re restructuring our organization, applying for our own 501(c)(3) status, and fixing the broken things.

img-20170110-wa0001

Villagers plastering the floors in the literacy center at Asisiriwa

I’m proud to announce that throughout the whole tumultuous darkness, we had a shiny rock in the form of Clement Quist-Nsabaah, who’s on our board for Ghanaian operations. Quist, as we affectionately call him, has continued pushing the slow progress of the literacy center in Asisiriwa. He and Akwesi Agyeman – the committee chairman in the village (whom we call Brakwesi) – have rallied the community and the workers to continue as the dry season arrives and the farms need less tending. At this point, the interior walls and floors of the center have been plastered, and work has commenced on the exterior walls to get the whole building protected.

img-20170112-wa0008

Masons giving the literacy center a skin

I also need to give a shout-out to Asante Abrefa at Abre Engineering in Kumasi, who did our steel fabrication. In a country and industry full of shoddy workmanship and no warranties, Asante has continued to fix any mistakes his team made quickly and at no extra cost, and also performing extra work we need done at a reasonable price. We will certainly be using them again on any future projects in Ghana.

We are not unlike this literacy center – pieced together with different materials by different people from different backgrounds who have something in common: a love for humanity and this mission. And in the end, we are each more beautiful for having been broken into tiny pieces that can fit better and more intricately into a bigger picture. We simply need the patience to rebuild, the love to know why, and the humility to hand our tesserae to an artist more capable than ourselves.

For the Kids Who Don’t Throw Rocks

by Brady

Why are we doing this, again?

This question becomes aggravatingly common after six months of living in a rural West African village, when being outside of your comfort zone has been the norm for too long, when the little annoyances grow into gross inefficiencies that grind against your sanity. The novelty of being an oburoni has long worn off, the lack of connectivity isn’t quaint anymore, and the perennial tardiness is no longer laughable. We would be much more capable of tolerating such inconveniences and wants if we felt like people still cared.

Asisiriwa 4 040

One of the cracks that formed in our foundation as a result of poor workmanship.

The lead mason took over a month to fix his own, simple mistake because he was off chasing work that would pay him new money. The assemblyman went back on his word to cover certain material expenses. I haven’t heard from our structural engineer in months after he failed to show up for three work days. People keep asking us to pay for random crap. One of our favorite teachers no longer believes the literacy center will have much of an impact because the community doesn’t appreciate education. Someone in the town is defecating in school classrooms at night.

And then someone started stealing from us. It wasn’t anything valuable. My sandals disappeared a few weeks ago, and then our bottle of dish soap vanished from our front porch. These things are cheap and relatively easy to replace—nuisances really. But what it represented to us costs much more: disrespect. Just after this, we learned that the banging sound on our roof wasn’t crows: children were shooting rocks at our house with slingshots. After I shooed them away, I slumped down on the bed and stewed in the discouragement. Have we worn out our welcome? Does the community really care so little about our presence here that they stoop to swiping our stuff? Why are we even doing this if no one cares about us or our project?

photo (2)

Kaitlyn has a dramatic shift in contentment when she finds a coffee shop

With our funds effectively gone, it’s horribly tempting to throw our hands in the air and skip town back to America where we blend in, people care about us, others understand our English, the weather doesn’t oppress us, we know all the customs, and people don’t take dumps in classrooms. We could just give the village the finger and go sit in a Starbucks with frappuccinos and free WiFi. “We did our best,” we could say. “They just didn’t want us there.”

“It just wasn’t meant to happen.”

Unfortunately for my comfort levels, I’m really terrible at giving up. Unfortunately for that frappuccino, there are still people here who care.

12901257_208945902819221_2418607808095218332_o

Kumi was so excited about his training that he posted this picture on Facebook, saying, “Off to Accra.”

Mary and Kumi, our librarians, are in Accra right now excitedly training in order to return to Asisiriwa and show their people the love of reading. Quist skipped a friend’s wedding and drove two hours to come help us with a fundraising video. Professor Kofi Agyekum has insisted on paying for the materials the assemblyman went back on in an email that said, “Thanks for all that YOU AND KAITLYN have done for Asisiriwa.” Nana Birago, our American Ghanaian grandmother, has publicly thanked us in front of her church. Our friend Kwasi at CIEE paid for a pickup truck to help us retrieve our boxes of books from the port, and he is bringing the CIEE students to volunteer at the literacy center every semester. Brakwasi, the committee chairman, has worked tirelessly to organize labor for the literacy center without being paid a pesewa because he believes it will give his children an “educational foundation” from which to launch the rest of their lives. Our roommate, Acheampong—a delightful alcoholic who is adorably protective of us—brought us a basket of oranges.

Martha Interview 019

Martha and her son, Louis.

Aside from those people, there are kids here who do care about their education. There’s Martha (who you’ll hear about in a blog post I want to dedicate to her), a girl who had to drop out of junior high school because she got pregnant and then returned to finish her third year after giving birth. There’s Sarpong Augustine, who graduated from JHS a year early because he smashed the third year exams in his second year and is now attending Senior High School a few towns away against the odds. There are Acheampong’s three children—Ruth, Princess, and the other one—who I occasionally catch sitting in a row on our couch, reading some Twi storybooks we stockpiled for the library while they wait for their father.

When I think about these people, I am reminded that there are plenty of reasons to keep at it. I’m doing this for the locals who want opportunities, for the townsfolk who don’t steal to get by, for the fathers who slave to make sure their kids have more options than they did. I’m doing this for the Marthas and the Sarpongs and the Brakwasis of Asisiriwa—of the world.

I’m doing this for the kids who don’t throw rocks.

And you know what? They’re worth it.Asisiriwa 3 021

Kaitlyn’s Journal #6

Note from Kaitlyn: I ask that readers be lenient with this entry. It is not my intention to further divide, inflame, or isolate. My own bewilderment at the political turn of events in the US colors this journal, but ultimately what I want to highlight is the simplicity and necessity of love–that we as humans bear the heavy weights of our lives together, and that in our shared experience we find in ourselves strength and truth and beauty we never knew we had.

The fact that I strongly disagree with Donald Trump does not make him less human to me. The fact that I fear the direction of my country’s path does not make it less precious to me. I wish the courtesy of respectful disagreement was freely given, but I know better. I still ask for it.

________________

Asisiriwa Day 34

11 December 2015

The world is plummeting and I am happy to live with the sounds of birds and with cool, quiet mornings full of mist and easy sunlight. I still miss home, and it seems that the more home rips itself to shreds, the more I miss it. The more affection I feel for it, even as it snarls itself into semantic knots, dripping with ignorance and xenophobia, and relishing the righteous anger and indignation of those who remain. I miss it, long for it, but am glad to wake up into the lightbulb-colored mornings of this provincial African village, blessed by one more hour of electricity, dressed in purple batik—unwashed and yet, clean.

We returned from a four-day trip to Accra, which I mischaracterized as a “mini-vacation” upon our arrival; it was more like four days of errands, fraught with erratic internet access, during which I learned more about the depravity of my home country’s moral descent. It doesn’t take much to garner my disapproval—I am, after all, an unmediated idealist—but for some reason this downturn into a kind of self-indulgent fascism under the misnomer of “free speech” and “security” brought about new malaise in my heart as I considered the future wrought by such an interminable present.

Hate is the order of the day, it seems. With Trump spewing his ignorance like some sort of infectious rage disease, the US seems further away than ever. And what is it about the opposition voices that seem so small and weak? Why is that? Is it that measured and logical responses always seem insignificant compared to that visceral and primordial anger that humans seem incapable of fully renouncing? Is it that when shocked human beings respond indignantly, we seem somehow to also be descending into that cesspool of raucous discord from which a return to civil discourse and common courtesy seems insurmountable? To listen to Trump’s supporters is to listen to echoes of the oldest form of insulated hatred in human history—a terrifying shadow always trailing behind humanity, stumping along in the wake of all progress and harmony, threatening slowly its brutal self-assertion as soon as we spend too long in the exhausting light of cooperation. It is as if truth and goodness are the sunlight and we can only spend so long in it before we become bleached through, burned by our own closeness to something so fine, and must either retreat back into the shadows or risk the shadows overrunning us entirely, boiling our blood and making us go mad with the voracity of our self-destruction and desire for chaos.

Have you ever noticed the delight with which a child, after constructing something painstakingly intricate, destroys the very thing she built? It is a common theme in analytics, though still very much an enigma to me, that dance between creation and destruction. We swing between each, and it is never too long before one triumphs over the other, though perhaps the perverse pleasure we all receive from the onset of chaos suggests it is somehow our natural state. Our preclusion for riots, our penchant for genocide and violence, as if somehow destruction is our prerogative—as if, for all our large brains and hairless figures speak of evolution, we are, at our core, too wild for ourselves.

And yet.

For all our thanatos, we are blessed also with eros, the creative instinct, the compulsion to move forward and be better. Though the hatemongers roar loudly, and in the voice of that beast which is at once mysterious in its scope and simultaneously so familiar, quietly clearing the corners of the world are those who touch and bring light. Fear whips us into frenzies, but there remain oases of calm composure, whose disappointment doesn’t quite reach rage, and for whom I must remember also to stay soft, to see good, to look for love, and not to become hard. It is the natural thing, to harden your defenses against the barrage of the world; but light cannot shine through stone.

We each have a responsibility to meet the fear and anger with the only thing that has ever bested it: love, compassion, empathy. We must demand it of ourselves, and we must demand it of others, trusting ultimately in their own capacity for love to change them. If they are stone, we can only warm their stones with our light. It is our prerogative to shine, and to keep shining. And that, I think, is what we can and must do.

People forget the goodness of each other every so often, and must be reminded that, if given the opportunity, most of us will rise to the occasion. Our lives are not easy, nor are they simple, but this is shared fatigue. We carry our own shadows, and we need not be afraid of them if we remember that we are made of light, and we can choose whether to warm the world or burn it.