Friday, 29 March 2013

Abayiwa’s Story by Rachel Gaudry

Explaining her vision for Obhema Child Care & Youth Development Centre

Ghana is a country supported by a large number of intelligent, accomplished and determined women. These women see the potential in their country, and are willingly to devote their entire self to bettering Ghana. Abayiwa is one such example. Although she stands only 5’4 tall, she is an absolute force of nature, commanding respect from all. She is also incredibly warm, humorous, and our informal guru in Ghana. I’ll spare you the details, but the woman knows how to get things done. Her sense of humour is evident in the fact that although she has another name, she prefers to be called Abayiwa or “young woman.” I want to share her story with you, as an example of how individual fortitude can be a catalyst for positive change.

In front of the 3-classroom school that Abayiwa is building

Abayiwa has an extremely successful career, with a completed degree in Nursing, her Masters in Philosophy, and a soon to be completed Master of Arts in Theology. What are most impressive, however, is how she came to achieve all of these things, and what goals have direct her life. Abayiwa’s story begins at age five. She was living with her Grandmother in Anagyi in the western region of Ghana, when an American volunteer visited her school. This woman spoke of the value of completing a full education, always working towards self-improvement, and the importance of seeing the world. As her school was a unique mix of children from many different Ghanaian tribes, she had already developed a strong sense of unity and tolerance for others. These new concepts, however, resonated deeply. Throughout her childhood, Abayiwa suffered from a variety of illnesses, including a life-threatening bout of Guinea Worm and two occasions of Polio. Thankfully her Grandmother, who was a traditional birth attendant, was able to nurse her back to health. These challenges, as well as the strength of her Grandmother, affirmed her decision to pursue nursing as a career, and to one day found an institution in which others in similar situations could be cared for.

Although her health improved after childhood, she faced a new set of challenges throughout her high school years. Without any financial support from her family, and living alone in the city, she was barely surviving. When she passed out from exhaustion and hunger in class one day, her concerned teachers proposed Nursing School as a possible solution to her predicament, as she would be fully taken care of. Again, her struggle through her teenage years made her question, “how many others are in my situation, and what can I do to help?”Abayiwa was very strong academically, and upon completing her 3-year diploma, decided to pursue midwifery. Her career continued to develop when she travelled to Nigeria on a scholarship to complete further education. Impressively, she returned home as the first Ghanaian woman to obtain a nursing degree. Unfortunately her credentials made her overqualified for most nursing positions available. She was eventually posted in the Brong-Ahafo region pioneering in a new field - family planning. Investing herself completely in her responsibilities, she rode her bicycle from one inaccessible hamlet to the next. Her deep love of cultural perseverance and community values emerged when she established a gathering place, central to all of the hamlets, for families to come together to hear her health talks, receive immunizations, antenatal care, and dance.  There is no doubt in my mind that she was a well-loved and respected presence when she explained that all of the young children would bathe in preparation for her arrival. What is perhaps most admirable was that she worked directly in the field, below her high credentials, in an extremely rural and challenging environment. She understood the importance of community development, and endeavored to unite and support all of those she encountered.

The reception area with Mango trees in the background

Eventually, the Minister of Health took notice of her outstanding efforts, and requested her skills in another position. A number of years have now passed since her “bike and hamlet” days, in conjunction with a number of successful promotions and accomplishments in her career. One thing that has not changed, however, is her commitment to caring for others, especially vulnerable populations. In fact, her 5-year-old vision, dreamt so many years ago, has finally come to fruition. Obhema Child Care & Youth Development Foundation, her own personal NGO, is up and running. With the land already purchased, her main focus is constructing the necessary buildings, and fixing up the present ones. Her complete and total commitment to her project was evident when she spoke of the children developing their talent and potential, the elderly coming to partake in events, and how green the grass will be for everyone to enjoy. Her vision is that this will serve as a community center, fully equipped with a school, living quarters for orphans, a recreational facility, and of course, a cultural hub.

When I asked Abayiwa what she thought some of the strengths of the Ghanaian people are, she immediately responded with a well-known Ghanaian slogan, “the Spirit of Community.” No one can possibly question what she is passionate about, or what she values. When asked what she believes to be the most important lesson that we, the 11 Canadians visiting, should take away from this experience in Ghana, she expanded the “Spirit of Community” to apply at a global level. She wants us to value cultural competence, learn from each other, and build on each of our different strengths. When “we are one,” we create the potential for change. Abayiwa is a leader, someone with ideas and ambition. This is only her individual story, but it serves to give voice to the countless other stories of passionate and visionary Ghanaians striving to build their country from the bottom up. 

Our thankfulness for Abayiwa’s hospitality and support are beyond words. Her extraordinary character and cultural insights have indisputably enriched our experience in Ghana. We are eternally grateful. 

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