A Life of Purpose with GEC
A LIFE OF PURPOSE WITH GEC
I always recall my first day of meeting with the GEC board that came to Ghana in 2011, about eleven years ago. I had come from a different region of Ghana to the capital city (Accra) and then got into school barely a few months before meeting with GEC.
Coming into Accra not knowing what to expect, my mind was already being stirred as I looked at the many opportunities that come with education and people who had their lives transformed by it, this was not my experience before. I started having my own dreams and aspirations for life, what I could do to be a blessing to my world too. Then that day came when I had the most amazing privilege to join the GEC family. All thanks to my wonderful friend Derrick (GEC Coordinator) for recommending me to the board. I feel a lot emotional even now as I recall those days, the smiles of Miss London (who I think of as my mum), it was a whole new experience for me and yes, I was very shy at first though I had a great time. This was the beginning of my journey with GEC. I was in for something I had not even dreamt of before.
Now of course I can talk about all the help, (financial assistance), I received from GEC which took me throughout schooling from grade 7 in 2011 to finishing my university in 2020, our amazing visits to many historic places in Ghana like the Castles, Kakum National Park, Boti falls and not forgetting our GEC family parties we had whenever the GEC board were in Ghana. I know I was not alone in this sentiment and that all of the GEC students looked forward to our yearly visits, family time, celebration, and learnings when the board was in town.
However, my main focus in this post is my remarkable personal transformation as a result of my association with GEC. I remember Miss London teaching us in one of our meetings how GEC started when she was motivating us to look out for a need in our societies and meet it. She shared that Miss Lauren and herself started GEC to help children in Ghana have access to education when they came to Ghana and realized a lot of children were not in school and had barriers to accessing education. They saw the brilliance of children and how badly children wanted to access education, yet fiscal barriers prevented them from being able to go to school. I was so inspired in that meeting and that was when I began thinking about what it meant and how to live a purposeful life.
As I thought more about it, I discovered that though a lot of people want fulfillment in life, they want it the wrong way, and that is the reason they are never fulfilled. To many people, being happy in life is about making more money, having properties, and having a good life. As beautiful as all these are, they don't bring true satisfaction and fulfillment. Then I discovered so many live without discovering their reason for being, what a sad life to live. Discovering one's purpose for life and fulfilling it is the greatest quest and achievement in life. I believe Miss London, Miss Lauren, Miss Akilah, and all our wonderful GEC board members and our sponsors have great purpose to live for. The reason being that they have identified a human need and are meeting it in Africa, in my home country of Ghana. A life of purpose is seeing a human need and not just closing your eyes on it, but reaching out to meet that need no matter the setbacks. It is putting smiles on the faces of people, making other people's hearts glad. This is where true fulfillment in life is. True fulfillment is not just thinking about yourself- but think of others. It is knowing that you truly made a positive impact on someone's life. This is what GEC taught me and how I lead my life. I will always seek to not just fulfill my life but think of those around me in need. I will be the leader that GEC first saw in me at age 15. Now 11 years, I am a changemaker.
I have seen countless times how the parents of our GEC kids rejoiced, they were so proud and thankful to God for sending GEC their way; it always touched my heart.
Today as a result of the motivation I received from GEC, I have been able to transfer that same inspiration to some of my friends with the intention of replicating the same vision of GEC. Our goal is to help other people have access to education in Ghana. Though not officially registered yet as a Not for Profit Organisation, we already have one beneficiary in the senior high school being sponsored by us with some others waiting to be accepted into our program. This is as a result of the incredible impact GEC made in my life.
So to all our board members, donors, and all who have GEC at heart, thank you! We know that a million thanks will not be enough but thank you for putting smiles on our faces, giving us the most amazing gift in the world which is education. Indeed GEC is a great family and it's an honor to be a part of it. To my mum Miss London and Miss Lauren, thank you for not giving up on your dream though it may have looked impossible. We remain eternally grateful.
As I round up, I want to encourage everyone to join in and support this great initiative, there are yet a lot of children to reach out to in Ghana. Let us give them the gift of education.
In Ghana we will say "Ayekoo" which is to say kudos, well done and "ye da moase" (we thank you). God bless GEC and make it more stronger and influential.
As a 9 year board member of Ghana Educational Collaborative, I often reflect on our journey as an organization. Here we are in the month of February, the second month of the year. It’s interesting because the number two has various meanings. It shows compansionshop, oneness/ union and also difference or division. February the second month of the year, some call it the month of love, while many others celebrate the powerful contribution of those in the Black Diaspora. All in all things it has been a reminder of why our work as Ghana Educational Collaborative is important during this time.
February the second month of the year ushers in GEC’s continued journey of becoming an anti-racist, equitable and just organization. We can't say we love our students and families in Ghana without first understanding our positionality, how we’ve been socialized and how we unconsciously perpetuate systems of oppression. Sounds intense? I know, but this work begins with us. We can’t hold a mirror to others unless we first hold a mirror to ourselves. As an organization we are doing intentional work to examine and reimagine our policies, practices, and structures that are currently in place. This will only strengthen our work with one another and the partnership we develop with our students, familines, Maties Masie’s Board in Ghana and beyond.
“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. As a team we watched A Danger of A Single Story and we asked ourselves the following questions: “How have you fed into or combatted the single story?” How have we as an organization fed into or combatted the single story? We dove into these questions and named specific times when we fed into the single story and how that impacted our students in Ghana and their families. This is not a time to feel shame, guilt or place blame, but a wonderful opportunity to lean into discomfort and grow as individuals and an organization. If you have the time and space I invite you to watch the TED Talk and ask yourself similar questions in various areas of your life, especially if you value the humanity of others.
In the spirit of love and combating a single story I would love to highlight our wonderful board in Ghana. Wait! We don’t do this by ourselves? Of course not, we partner with a team of adults who bring numerous gifts, experiences, wisdom and passion to GEC. The board in Ghana is none other than Matie Masie. The name comes from an adinkra symbol which means, “What I hear, I keep.” It’s a symbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence. I had the pleasure to work closely with this phenomenal board and they have provided a strong foundation as GEC has developed over the years. The work with our students is not possible without the engagement of Matie Masie. Together we have worked to support the students and families in our program. As we move forward in 2021 I envision Matie Masie expanding and becoming a leader in our work.
As I conclude my thoughts about the second month of the year, I would like to leave you with a few things. “Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”-bell hooks. As we shift from the “month of love”, let's carry this with us. We have chosen love. We seize the responsibility to understand who we are, how that impacts others and to hold ourselves accountable. We made the commitment to acquire the knowledge needed to be in community with our entire GEC family. We are taking the steps to operate with respect even if we don’t understand, or may disagree in order to maintain trust. Now this all seems warm and sweet, but we continue to examine and reimagine when we fail to see, fail to act, fail to combat a single story, fail to reach our goal, fail to show respect, fail to build a community of trust, fail to increase our knowledge and fail on our commitments. Love is a powerful choice, but in the end I choose love.
This time of year has long been my favorite because of our annual GEC board retreat. In non-Covid times we would spend a long weekend together at my parents’ home and work and rejoice in one another’s company. It is a time of personal grounding, of friendship, of family, and of lots of hard work. Even if we could not gather in person this year- it felt that we were in one space- our special space. From Ghana to Kenya, to California to Louisiana, and so many places in between- we came together with the common bond of wanting to support our amazing young scholars and their families. Our Zoom time ended and I cried yet they were tears of appreciation. Of gratitude. You see, my best friend, London, and I had a wild idea in our young 20’s that we would create and operate a nonprofit and an NGO - on a different continent, while both still working as full-time educators. Inspired by our experiences in the classroom, traveling abroad to Ghana, and through our work with organizations like America Achieves and Teach for America we knew that we wanted to be lifelong advocates for educational equity both in the US and aboard. In truth, we were young and naive when we started GEC. We had to learn, unlearn and relearn mindsets and skillsets. We dove in head first learning how to run and operate nonprofits nationally and internationally and honestly we did not always get it right. We did however have a steadfast belief that we could always do better and that our students and families deserved our best. We were, (and are), committed to always improving our organization and be responsive to the needs of our students, families, and schools.
So here we are- over 11 years later. I think my post-board call tears flowed for more than one reason. My heart breaks every day from the injustices continuing to occur in our country: racism, inequities inherently derived from systems of oppression, political divisiveness …. Ohhh… the list goes on and on. After all we suffered in 2020, heading into 2021 it still seems that at times the world is truly a dumpster fire. But not today. Not for the hours I just spent with my brain trust of amazing board members. Over the course of our online “retreat”, we tackled conversations on the inherent bias in our work, reflected on the past year, and planned for the year ahead. This retreat was different- I am different. I am now the mother of a young male- and I consequently see the world through a parental lens whereas before it was solely through that of an educator... I think I feel just as our GEC parents feel- - I want the best for our children, I want quality educational opportunities for our children and I want the best we can offer our children in this world.
I watched in awe today as our young leaders rose to leadership in our organization. From our Program Manager, Derrick, in Ghana ( an alumnus of the program and a current graduate student), to William (our eldest alumni and now GEC board member who is a research assistant at Harvard), to Megan (our now Secretary of the GEC who joined us as a youth board member and is a senior in college), they each stepped into their individual leadership roles. As they did, I watched myself be able to step back. What I saw unfolding was the vision London and I had all along- to pass along our dream of a community focused on education equity to the youth members themselves.
During our call, we also reviewed our fundraising and I reflected on the unwavering amount of gratitude I have for our donors who have supported us each step of the way. We have operated solely on friends and family donations for 11 years. With each student who was able to attend school, with each family that received basic supplies during COVID-19, I see my family and friends in the background making this all possible. With all this in mind, I want to announce that this year we are focusing on the people who make GEC possible by launching a “Thankful Thursday Campaign”. Every Thursday in 2021 we will highlight our students, families, schools, educators, board members, and donors who make-up the GEC Family. We want to recognize the individual efforts that have allowed us to build our community and create opportunities for those who need it most. To those that helped us along this journey, I want to say: ‘ woaboa me pa ara, medaase (Twi). You have helped me a lot and thank you. (English)”
Meet Priscilla Hanson! Priscilla was born in Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana. She is the youngest of six siblings and comes from a family that truly understands the importance of education. Priscilla’s mother was forced to drop out of school when she was young because her family was unable to pay for it, and as a mother wants the opposite for her children. Priscilla’s mom sells biscuits and drinks on the side of the road to support her family and put food on the table, but unfortunately still struggles.
Priscilla is extremely hardworking, curious, and competitive. Her efforts in school do not go unnoticed, and teachers often name her as a student assistant or “cupboard girl.” She truly is a servant leader and is always looking to help others in whatever way she can, always being an example to those around her!
In the future, Priscilla wants to become a lawyer and serve as an advocate to ensure that Ghana is more just. We have no doubt she will accomplish her goals, and the GEC family is so proud of the young woman she is becoming!
1. What were some graduation highlights?
I think the biggest highlight was having Lauren and London come to my graduation. It reminded me how quickly the time went by. I met them about the same time nine years ago when they came to Ghana in 2010, looking to start the non-profit. I didn’t have any plans to go to high school because I wouldn’t be able to afford it, so it was very surreal to see them there nine years later. I’ve had the GEC support system to get through college and now graduate, to have them there to support me was everything. Having that support system and being reminded of how things would be different if I hadn’t met them nine years ago.
My mom called me right before I went on the stage. She Facetimed me and I was able to share that moment with my family in Ghana. Derrick livestreamed the graduation for my family. Derrick sent me the video of everyone watching my graduation. When they mentioned my name on stage, the whole group went wild. 5,000 miles away they could share that moment. I was the first person to graduate from college in my family, so it was my family’s celebration. Having Lauren and London there in person and my family back home watching and sharing with them back home was very surreal.
2. What did it feel like?
It felt surreal. I don’t have emotions to explain it. I experience a lot of reflection about the four years. It’s been such a whirlwind. I haven’t even taken a breath. To see everything culminate. I was very inspired as the first in my family to graduate. I wanted to make sure I was giving it my all. I received two awards. I didn’t just graduate--my efforts were also recognized. In general, it felt surreal thinking back and being the first person in my family to do this. It felt like a lot of firsts. I wasn’t just the first person to graduate. I wasn’t doing it from my local university. I traveled all the way to the US. I wasn’t just graduating. I was graduating with honors. I got four publications in academic journals. I wanted to make it count - for myself and for my family.
3. What’s next for you?
I am currently living in Boston and taking a research year with two professors. I'm working at Beth Israel Medical Center, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical school. I plan on applying to medical schools for Fall 2020.
4. One word about the Importance of GEC in your journey:
Transformative. GEC was the turning point of my life. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I missed school that day and didn’t meet Lauren and London. It makes me really appreciate what I have now and inspires me to keep going to pursue my dreams.