Cultural Exchange: A Letter from VGI’s Community Solutions Fellow, Freeman Ahegbebu

freeman-ahegbebu-1My name is Freeman Ahegbebu, and I am an innovative young Ghanaian with a deep passion for community development, promoting education, and assisting disadvantaged children. Growing up, my father worked as a corporate driver while my mother traded palm oil to support the family.  While we were far from rich, food was on the table, and my siblings and I knew it was expected of us to complete our education.  

After graduating high school, I became a student teacher in the science department of a junior high school.  During my tenure there, two students who were siblings lit the fire I have for community development, especially in education.  I could tell that their parents struggled every term to pay the school fees, as they were always late in payment and the children rarely had food for lunch.  Many times I forfeited my own lunch for them and developed a close relationship while we talked over our special shared meals. At the same time, my father lost his job, which left my three younger siblings without financial assistance for their education.  My elder sister and I were thrust into the family “breadwinner” roles as we were both employed.  While my father was struggling for steady employment again, I was exposed to the hardships and challenges many Ghanaian families face in accessing education for their children.  It was as if my own siblings were the two students who I shared lunch with everyday.

After four years, my father found employment and things in my own family started to return to normal.  The two students I had been working with graduated with distinction and continued onto high school with support from their extended family.  This experience showed me first-hand the determination and challenges faced by a family in sending their children/siblings to school.  It also strengthened my belief in the power of education.

Through the past few years I have watched countless students flourish when given the opportunity to learn without having the constraint of school fees looming over them and their families.  I know that development is a slow process, which will take many years, and even generations to unfold.  That being said, I also know that in other places development initiatives exist that significantly increase access to education.  I am motivated by the prospect of ending this struggle for a basic education, and firmly believe that it is possible in my community and throughout Ghana.

I began volunteering with Cheerful Hearts Foundation during its inception and have continuously worked to improve and expand our role in the community. One of the three villages we target is Senya Beraku, a poor fishing community of about fifty thousand people. Many children are forced to work in the fishing industry, foregoing an education. Tragically, we discovered that Senya Beraku is a place where many children are being sold or trafficked to other fishing communities for exploitation or slavery. By collaborating with our community liaisons and stakeholders, we developed a community sensitization and education program aimed towards both children and adults. This was a great start but we felt as though we could accomplish much more.

Currently, we have rescued, sponsored and placed over 40 children in school. There are plans to begin rescuing children from Lake Volta and construct a rehabilitation center to address the mental health concerns of these victims. Throughout this experience, there have been many doubts in the organization and the project’s ability to effect change in the community. It has now been 7 years and the signs of our accomplishments are spread throughout the community, especially on the children’s faces. I have learned that many things seem daunting at the beginning but that shouldn’t dissuade you.

I am currently here in the USA through the State Department’s Fellowship program called the Community Solutions Program for four months, doing my Professional Development Internship with the Victory Garden Initiative (VGI). Personally, I learned that one could lead others to accomplish great feats with skilled minds and minimal resources. During my internship I have learned more about innovating sustainable farming while honing my gardening  skills and leadership capacity in a setting that promotes establishing honest and trusting relationships between the community and local development organizations which focus on child-welfare and lucrative use of farming land.

I have learned from the hands-on experience VGI provided me that it is not enough to simply have the skills and knowledge. This makes me feel very confident in my ability to convey the  knowledge gained to create a positive, forward-thinking and empowered community back home.

Currently there is a two-fold problem in Senya Beraku, Ghana, where communities are not utilizing cultivable land and instead depend on fishing as a sole source of income, as well as children not focusing on education and instead fishing to support their families. Upon returning from the Community Solutions Program, I plan on implementing a project focused on innovation and alternative income generation through use of cultivable land in order to alleviate dependency on fishing and allow children the opportunity to focus on their education.

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