By Christiana Ama Ahu (YES 2014-2015, Ghana, hosted by CIEE in Sacramento, CA)
My name is Christiana, and I want to take you on a journey to a little town in Ghana where many lives are being impacted. The journey starts with my participation in the Kennedy Lugar-Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program more than four years ago. I was hosted by two special families during my stay in California – one which included a host mother who is from Ghana, like me! I learned many important life lessons during my exchange year, and it shaped my thought process and interpersonal capacity immensely. The “American Dream” has shaped the goals I have in life. I now see myself as a global citizen, and I appreciate people from different cultures with diverse views and opinions. I am currently pursuing a degree at the University of Ghana, Legon, where I’m double majoring in political science and archaeology.
The next leg of our journey takes us to Kpone Bawaleshie, Ghana. Kpone Bawaleshie is a small town in the Kpone Katamanso District of the Greater Accra Region. I visited Kpone Bawaleshie for the first time in April 2018, when I went there to reunite with my host mother, who had come to Ghana from the U.S. to bury her grandmother. During my exchange year, my host mom shared many stories with me about where she grew up and how her grandmother was a teacher and an active philanthropist in the community. I came to see the great treasure my country had hidden in the hilly slopes of the region.
The Kpone Bawaleshie community is very small. On a typical day, the adults, who are mainly traders, farmers, and contractors, work tirelessly from dawn to dusk. Therefore, the children of the community find themselves with no supervision or meaningful activities after school. The number of females who dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy during the term in which I visited was shocking. After some discussions with my host mother, we decided to start an after-school program for 12- to 18-year old youths in the community.
Our program started on the basic premise that young people need guidance. We started with in-house group discussions on general topics of well-being. As the meetings progressed, we saw the need for empowering them even more. I had seen how young people in the U.S. spent time doing community service or other enriching activities in their free time. I wanted the same opportunities for the youth of my country. We wanted to give them skills that would complement their education so they could channel their efforts into activities immediately beneficial to them or their futures rather than wasting their after-school time. We began plans to create a skills hub for the youth who attended the in-house meetings. We brought the idea to the non-governmental organization Dede Oforiwa Memorial Foundation (DOMFO), which my host mother founded. We partnered with the Ghana branch of DOMFO to create an after-school football team and hairdressing class.
In order to expand the program, I applied for and was awarded a YES Alumni Grant to establish what officially became the Youth Empowering Skills for the Future program. The program trained 30 promising participants who frequently attended our weekly meetings with the skills of hairdressing, beading and accessories, and the manufacturing of beauty products. The bi-weekly training sessions were held from October 2018 through September 2019.
We held several mid-program activities to evaluate effectiveness. In November 2018, participants showcased what they learned with an all-inclusive skills summit. The event featured four working stations, each staffed with a volunteer and a trainer, who supervised as participants rotated through the stations to create a skincare product, hand weave headbands, make colorful, beaded hand accessories, and complete tasks in the hairdressing salon. In March 2019, participants held an exhibition of their products at the YMCA for their parents to see their work. The participants also led discussions on child abuse and personal hygiene. With the proceeds of the exhibition, a free health screening was organized for the community. Program participants reported that they were proud of themselves for giving back to their community. They also said they now believe in themselves more.
In the coming year, we would like to continue this initiative and seek the support of other organizations, government institutions, and individuals to help improve this program and give the youth in Ghana an opportunity to say “YES” to an empowered future.
We, the organizers and volunteers, are exceptionally impressed with the progress these young people have made over the course of a year. We would like to thank the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the YES program for giving us the opportunity to touch the lives of these young people. I would also like to thank the executive body and volunteers from DOMFO – you guys have been amazing! I would also like to give a special acknowledgement to my host mom Karena Crankson for all the support she offered as a co-lead, motivator, and, most importantly, a mom. I love you, Mom!