In 1999, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that over one billion of the world’s people could not access the advances in health that took place during the twentieth century. With a population of 27million, 60% of them living in rural areas, Ghana is a developing nation where a majority of citizens, plagued by health inequity, can’t enjoy advances in health care. It only takes a visit to my village, Tarkwa Breman in the Western Region of Ghana, to confirm this reality.
Born and raised in Tarkwa Breman, I lived and witnessed poverty, first-hand. Until 2005, we had no electricity or running water – these were mere luxuries that I could only dream of, as a child. Until TBCA’s efforts in 2016, we had no nearby health facility and the harsh poverty in the village forced parents to place priority on male-child education. The effects hit home — at age nine, my legs were nearly amputated after I had contracted a life-threatening water-borne infection from swimming in the village river, Ankobra. Month after month, I watched helplessly as my own family members and close friends died from preventable diseases. I saw my female classmates drop out of school only to succumb to early marriages, teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
In the midst of all this chaos, one thing struck me: how could it be that many people in the community, like my parents, who are hard working cocoa and rubber farmers and consequently key drivers of national development, wallow in abject poverty? How could we resolve this injustice?
As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), my search for answers to these questions inspired me on a journey of learning and leadership. Through my own experiences, my conversations with people in my village and my work with the non-profits I founded over the years, I discovered that health equity is the way forward for my community. By addressing social determinants of health, which include education and healthcare inaccessibility, we can achieve 100% health equity that is self-sustainable and create cycles of prosperity.
In the spring of 2015, I was awarded Penn’s President’s Engagement Prize (PEP) to make this a reality. With my parents, village elders and the wider Tarkwa Breman community, we brainstormed together and came up with a bold plan: establish healthy agro-campus, which comprises a community hospital and girls’ school that is self-sustained by proceeds from a community farm plantation.
There have been some exciting moments thus far, but the decision to pursue this path hasn’t been all rosy and has definitely been a risky one. I have had to turn down other career enhancement opportunities, move back home against the backlash of friends and family, work out land issues and get other professionals on board with the vision. However, every time I see my aunt, Maa Frimpomaa, who is in her late stage of type 2 diabetes, is quickly losing her eyesight to retinopathy and is at the verge of death, I am reminded yet again, why I chose this uncertain risky path. Lately, I also think a lot about my two younger sisters, Naomi and Deborah, who are in high school and college, respectively, and how similarly, so many young girls in my village could be empowered to reach heights like they have done. TBCA’s work is deeply personal to me. Rural communities with enormous cash crop production, like my village, have an amazing potential to self-sustain any social service. But they will need our support to ignite this fire of transformation. Our support.
By working with them to build and expand the school and hospital, we amplify the power of our belief and investment in the resilience and potential of a people who have been long neglected. I have resolved that successfully navigating this path will take more than talk – it will take guts and quality execution. But I remain strong because I know I am not alone, and that you will always be there to support me every step along the way.
Together, you and I can transform Ghana, one village at a time. I’m so glad we’re on this journey together.