My Life and Academic Journey
by Amankwah Yaw
In a family of three boys, I am the second son. My eldest brother was born in 1994, myself in 1998 and my youngest brother in 2000. My mother was a pharmacist’s assistant and my father was engaged in farming with a few hectares (approximately 10 acres) of cocoa. I was born on the 9th of July, 1998 in Kumasi where my parents lived and was named Amankwah Yaw by my parents.
I was a healthy baby and loved to play. And the numerous scars on my body serve as a testament to this. Two years after my birth, my youngest brother was born. We were a happy family in all respects. In 2003, my father went out on some errands, but never returned. We heard that he had died in a vehicular accident. It was the saddest day in all our lives.
My mum, Madam Evelyn Adwoa Agyekumwaa, after the death of my father, did everything humanly possible to raise us on the salary of a pharmacy assistant and took sole responsibility for my brothers and me as the breadwinner of the family. This continued for some time until she fell sick. Her condition rapidly deteriorated and this led her to several appointments with different specialists across the country. The medical condition drained her of her strength and what little money she had left until it was hard for us to feed as a family. Due to this, my eldest brother dropped out of junior high school.
We could not afford our own place and so lived with my grandparents. But in 2015, during one of the numerous power outages that had rocked our nation, popularly referred to as DUMSOR, there was a huge power surge when the power came back on, and the house that we were living in caught fire and burned completely. We could not salvage anything from the wreck. What I miss most of all are all the photos of my family that was destroyed. I have no picture of my father, and since he died when I was so little, I don’t know what he looks like.
Around the time of the fire, the last of the money that my mom had after selling the cocoa farm of my father ran out. We were, therefore, living on the largesse of friends, benefactors and the few relatives who could help. Rev. Fr. George Owusu Bempah since then became the backbone of my family and made it possible for me and my little brother to be enrolled as students of Our Lady of Grace Senior High School Ghana AFRICA (OLAG). He has supported several students at OLAG since the school started and has been our father figure till now.
I, as a person, believe that if life knocks you down, you can either sit in a corner, cry, blame the world and be miserable or get up and fight, so even though we were financially in the gutter, I never lost hope. So in junior high school, I poured all my energy into my books, and also pulled my little brother along.
It was extremely difficult as we were financially handicapped in every way. Getting textbooks, therefore, was a daunting task. I used to borrow from friends, a book from this one, another from another friend, and another. This was the only way I could read from the textbooks.
Then was the feeding. I mostly only had enough for transportation with a few pesewas extra (a pesewa equalling not even a half-cent). I, therefore, couldn’t buy food during break on most days. I devised a strategy therefore and became the errand boy of my classmates who had a little something in their pockets. They would give me a few Cedis when I came back from the errands (one cedi equals approximately $.21). They sometimes gave me their leftovers, and when in a generous mood, bought a plate for me to eat. It was not easy. The going was hard but I made it.
In my final year in junior high school, I wanted to buy a bicycle. I wanted it so badly that I made up my mind that no matter what, I would get one. So I started saving any money that I laid my hands on. I would save my lunch money (when some were available), and even my fare to school. I ended up walking the latter part of the second year, and for most of the third year. And even when I was given enough to allow me to ride to school and still have some money for food, I would save it and not spend it. Because I wanted to buy myself a bicycle so badly. That dogged determination, I must say, is still with me even today.
Getting to the end of my third year in Junior High School, which coincided with the preparations for our Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), I developed a severe stomach ulcer as a result of saving for the bicycle. By the time I was well enough to go back to school, the first mock exam, which was designed to test our preparedness for the final exam, had already been written. My mother suggested that considering my health status and the fact that the first mock exam had already been written, I should wait and write the BECE the next year. I told her that the fact that the others were more prepared made me want to be better prepared all the more. I did not yield. I sat for the second mock and passed, but not as well as I had hoped. I still did not lose faith. I wrote the BECE and passed with an aggregate of nine. The highest aggregate possible in the BECE is aggregate 6 and I had a 9. I was elated.
After Placement to the Senior High Schools (SHS) was released, I discovered that I had been placed at Saint Hubert’s SHS. I could not attend as a border, and it was too far for me to attend as a day student. As such my mother, through the assistance of some friends, got admission for me into the T.I Amadiyyah Senior High School.
Life in T.I. Amadiyyah SHS was a bit difficult but also interesting. The bunk beds we slept on had springs that had been used by generations of students and so were quite loose. My mattress was as thin as a heavy bed sheet. My uncle had used it in school and it was the same mattress I had been sleeping on ever since I graduated from a mat, so it was pretty thin. A new cover was added to make it a bit more presentable, but it was quite hard to sleep on at night for I could feel every bulge and weld. Due to this, body pains were my constant companion and so I devised a new strategy: sleeping in the classrooms. Sometimes reading till I fell asleep, other times just stretching for a good shut-eye. It was hard, for I had to wake up very early, rush to the dorms, freshen up, and rush back to class; but at least it came with fewer body pains.
My uncle, Reverend Father George Owusu Bempah, in my first term of school, suggested to my mother that considering my performance, our financial difficulties and my love of the sciences, a newly established school, Our Lady of Grace Senior High School (OLAG), would help me greatly since there were great facilities there. And they were offering scholarships to needy but brilliant students too. I transferred there and continued with my studies after I received the scholarship grant that I had applied for.
With my scholarship at OLAG, the burden on my mom was greatly reduced, and this allowed her to concentrate on my youngest brother, who was also rapidly approaching the Senior High School. Words cannot describe how happy they were when news of my scholarship reached them.
My uncle, the man of few words that he was, admonished me and made me promise to not let him down and so made me promise to either be the best in the school or be among the best. My mother also prayed for me when I visited her one time, to be a better man.
She came to the school during one visiting day and just couldn’t hold back her tears. She was so happy she said, “so is this really me, Lord I thank you.” Her gratitude was more than words could describe.
I discovered that I had a natural aptitude for maths and science at an early age, and also that I loved computers and anything electronic. Phones, TVs and other machines will attest to this fact as they were the first to fall victim to my curiosity.
In the three years that I was at OLAG SHS, I honored my mother’s wish and became a better man. I honored my uncle also by finishing among the top three graduates of OLAG in 2017.
The facilities were wonderful, the staff superb and the students had the best facilities. Anytime we the students went into the community, the comments we received always made me happy. I love the atmosphere so much.
I studied hard and took part in all activities in the school where I earned leadership positions including House Prefect of the Main St. Joseph Boys Dormitory. But even with all these, the prevailing financial difficulties were never far. I still had to find other ways to survive the years there. My mom’s medical condition meant that money was always difficult to come by. In fact, she cannot work much and is dependent on the help of others. So, I had to make ends meet. Rev. Fr. George helped as much as he could. But at times I had to find ways of getting some little cash, because, at that age, there were things that I thought I needed, but felt I couldn’t ask. I therefore as in Junior High School, devised strategies of earning some cash: helping my friends, doing some errands for them. Stuff like that. In all this, I looked for opportunities to become involved with any tech thing that I encountered.
My teachers upon the discovery that I loved tinkering with anything electronic, suggested I pursue a related course in whichever university I attended. I asked around and some choices were proffered, but after an organized trip to Ashesi University**, I knew I wanted to go there. So with guidance and help from the administration of Our Lady of Grace SHS, I applied to pursue a degree in Electronic Engineering. Here again, money was a challenge, but I was asked to apply for an Ashesi scholarship with the assurance of being offered help. This was a very heartwarming thing to hear. Dr. Agnes Akosua Aidoo, a member of the OLAG Board of Governors, also contacted me from Accra, asked for a copy of my application and followed it up for me at Ashesi.
This Mastercard Foundation scholarship* to study at Ashesi University is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. Now I stand to be the greatest in my family; to become an icon, a beacon that will shine and serve as the one that the rest of my family can emulate and look up to. And hopefully, the one that brings my family out of the current difficulties that we are in. I am most grateful for all the help that has been given me all these years.
**Ashesi University is a private, non-profit liberal arts college located in Ghana, West Africa. It offers a four-year bachelor’s program grounded in a liberal core curriculum, featuring majors in Business. Iit was established in 2002. ASHESI is also known as the best University that trains student for industrialization. The University is well known as the second best Information Technology University in Ghana after Ghana Technology University college. Tuition Fees: For the 2016/2017 academic year, tuition fees are $3,758 per semester, which also covers textbooks.
*The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program is developing Africa’s next generation of leaders. The program allows students whose talent and promise to exceed their financial resources to complete their education. With a vision that education is a catalyst for social and economic change, the program focuses on developing leaders who are transformative, encouraging them to be active contributors in their communities. The Program provides financial, social, and academic support to Scholars. Financial support includes, but is not limited to, tuition fees, accommodation, books, and other scholastic materials. The scope of majors and degrees eligible for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program varies from institution to institution.
Amankwah Yaw / OLG SHS Ghana Africa Graduate