Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Mary Kay's Aggie Award

Charlie writes:

Last month, Mary Kay was named a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachary Department of Civil Engineering at her alma mater, Texas A&M University.

Her citation read:
     Mary Kay says her civil engineering father, Daniel D. Clinton, Jr. P.E. '52 inspired her to become a civil engineer when he guided her through a 6th grade report on using math in civil engineering. Numerous trips to Aggie football games -- and the family picnics with Tinsley's fried chicken -- sparked her love of A&M traditions and pageantry. When her father said she could go wherever she wanted for college but he only would pay for A&M, she didn't want to call his bluff.
     Mary Kay's days at A&M were filled with activities ranging from President of Chi Epsilon, Dean's Student Advisory Council, ASCE, Concrete Canoe Team, to founding member fo the MSC Legislative Forum Group. Her fondest memory is the "Camraderie" of classmates during late night study sessions, slaving in the basement computer lab trying to get a program to run, and building the "Rock" and "Rock-elle" concrete canoes. She says nothing could top "the days when the CEs would take over and open and close the Dixie Chicken and have our big domino tournament. That was what really defined us as CE majors!" She credits Dr. Gene Marquis as a great advisor, friend and mentor. He required hard work and had high expectations "but was always willing to take time to explain a difficult concept to us -- as many times as it took for us to get it."
     When she was 35 years old, Mary Kay was named the Design Manager for the F. Wayne Hill Water Reclamation Facility in Atlanta, the first (1997) wastewater treatment plant designed to meet drinking water standards. The facility discharges to the lake that supplies water to much of metropolitan Atlanta. After overcoming many hurdles, the award-winning $200 million project was completed on time and on budget.
     As stated in Mary Kay's nomination, "she is doing something that most of us have never done ... using her civil engineering skills to provide people in poverty with safe drinking water and improved living conditions." Mary Kay's biggest career step was leaving the corporate world to use her civil engineering skills in Ghana, West Africa to establish the Methodist Development and Relief Services' water program that has supplied clean, abundant water for rural families. Also under her leadership, a new Pure Home Water charitable organization fabrication facility has been constructed to distribute appropriate technology water filters throughout Ghana.
     The Clintons are an Aggie family. Her grandfater helped establish the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Her father, uncle, sister, brother and now her nephew all wear maroon. Her husband, Dr. Charles W. Jackson, IV, P.E. BSME/MIT, MS, PhD ME/Stanford University is a math professor at Ashesi University in Ghana. Son Chip Jackson is a PhD Aerospace Engineering student at Virginia Tech, and son Ken Jackson has completed his freshman year in Computer Science at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

We were thrilled that Mary Kay's parents, uncle Kenneth and sister Laura, as well as our son Ken, were able to join with us in the celebration.
 Following is her acceptance speech:

Dr Autenrieth, Faculty Members, Students and fellow Aggie CE graduates and supporters, it is a great honor and privilege to be recognized this evening as a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering. It is hard to believe that thirty-four years ago, I sat in the atrium of Zachry with several thousand other fish engineers as the Dean of Engineering told us to look at those seated on either side of us -- only one of the three of us would graduate in engineering. It was hard work, with lots of late nights studying, waiting for printouts to see if our computer programs ran, and of course, the nights at the Chicken playing dominoes. But for those of us who graduated four (or five or six) years later, the hard work was worth it. Our time at A&M -- both academic and extracurricular -- shaped who we are today.
I have always wanted to be a civil engineer. My twenty-three year career as a municipal consultant was fulfilling -- all I ever dreamed. I had the opportunity to work with great clients to help solve the challenges posed by the rapid growth in the southeast US in the 80s and 90s. I managed the design of wastewater facilities ranging from 1 MGD to over 200 MGD, and worked on leading edge projects incorporating the use of ozone and membranes into wastewater treatment -- now common practice, but innovative at the time. I loved my work.
But all of this was just the prologue.
According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report for 2013, about 768 million people, a little over 10% of the world's population, does not have access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water. We have made great strides -- in 2006, there were 1.1 billion people without access to safe water. But there is still a long way to go. And we are not talking about access to 80 gallons per person per day -- the amount we use on average here in the USA. We are talking about the basic human right to a mere 5 gallons per day -- within a 30-minute walk of your home.
At the same time, 2.5 billion people, over one-third of the world's population, do not have the dignity of access to an improved sanitation facility. And over 1 billion of these people practice open defecation - going out into the forest or behind bushes to do their business. All of this results in death, disease and a reduced standard of living for everyone, not just the poorest of the poor. In 2009, the WHO reported that water related disease was the leading cause of death in the world, killing 3.4 million people every year. In Ghana alone, 30,000 children die of preventable diarrheal disease each year. The vast majority of these deaths are children under 5 -- the future of the world.
In 2002, I had the privilege of visiting Ghana for the first time. While our family was there for two weeks on a short mission trip, we fell in love with her tropical climate, warm and friendly people, and rich cultural heritage. But at the same time, we saw villages without water and children drinking from rivers or ponds. At that time, my two boys started asking why children had to live that way and whether or not I could do something about it.
At the same time, I clearly felt the call of God on my life -- to love the least in this world as He loves them. God clearly showed me that while no one is dying of waterborne disease in the US, His children around the world ARE dying. God had given me the talents and A&M had given me the education to be able to make a difference, so what would I do to meet that challenge?
In 2006, I quit my consulting job with Metcalf and Eddy to pursue a new dream. Our family moved to Ghana, where I work with the Methodist Church of Ghana to bring water and sanitation to remote rural villages.
The most fulfilling part of my career is now. It is not the most technologically advanced work - pit latrines and clay or stone pot filters have been in use for thousands of years. But it is the most significant work I will ever do. Whenever I go to a village and distribute ceramic pot filters, or drill a borehole, all the small children gather around. I love to spend time interacting with them -- teaching them a song or just chasing them around the village. But the best part is knowing that these children will now have a much greater chance of growing up to live full and productive lives, all because I have given them a cup of water in Jesus' name.
Living as a missionary in Africa is not everyone's calling. Certainly, if you had told me at graduation that thirty years later I would be telling you these stories, I would have thought you had rocks in your head. But we are all called to care, and we are all called to make a difference in this world. I challenge each of you to find something you are passionate about that makes the world a better place. Dream big -- change the world. You may not be able to change everything, but you will make a difference. And life is much better when you are living your dream and are passionate about what you are doing.
And to God by the glory for all the things I have been able to accomplish.
Thank you.
 I'm proud of you, Mary Kay!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Big Day in Buiyilli

Mary Kay writes:

Last week, my friend Reed Hoppe wrote a great article about me for The Mission Society's news feed. I hope you read it through my Facebook or Twitter feeds.  If not, you can read it here.  I thought you would like to see the next installment of the story.

Today was the big day in Buiyilli.  The activity started early at the Pure Home Water office, as our staff assembled and prepared to take 58 filters to the village of Buiyilli in the Tolon District of Northern Ghana.  We picked up Jason Von Behren, the American missionary who had identified the need for clean water in Buiyilli and raised the funds for the filters, and set off to the village.  Over an hour later, driving down a VERY dusty and bumpy dirt road, we arrived in Buiyilli.

Upon arriving, the PHW staff set things up.  This is what 58 filters look like all lined up:

The women started gathering as well.  We had asked them to bring soap and basins of water for washing the buckets.  We were expecting about 50 women, but had many more than that gather.  You can see how poor the water quality in Buiyilli is - and I saw many women and children drink this water during the course of the day.  When you are thirsty, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

Peter (in the blue shirt) and Abraham (with the microphone) did a great job of demonstrating how to clean and put the filter together and how to take care of it properly.  The village children were restless, of course, but the women listened attentively.

After the demonstration, I gave a small message on Psalm 115 and God's love for the village and Jesus the Living Water.  I stressed to the villagers that it was not me or Jason that brought the filters to the village, but God who had heard their pleas for safe water to drink.  I also told them that just as they will be proud to share the water from these filters with their visitors as a gesture of hospitality, so too they should share the Living Water of Jesus with their friends and visitors.  Everyone that drinks the water should know that it comes from a God who loves the people of Buiyilli and give thanks to Him!

Afterward the women collected their filters, cleaned them and got them ready for use.

The women of Buiyilli wanted to say a big THANK YOU to the donors in Atlanta, Jason, Pure Home Water, and most of all to Jesus for the gift of safe water for themselves and their children!

It was a long, hot day, but finally we had all the filters cleaned and ready to be used.  The villagers started heading for their homes, the women carefully carrying their new filters on their heads.  And we climbed back in the trucks and started the long, dusty trip back to town.

But I intentionally didn't say I would tell you "the rest of the story" in the first paragraph.  I don't know the plans God has for Buiyilli, but I do know that amazing things are happening here, as God brings His Light to a formerly dark corner of the planet.  I am grateful that I got to be a little part of Buiyilli's story today.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Having the name "Charles" in Ghana

Charlie writes:

On one of my treks about the Accra environs a few weeks ago, I came across a bar west of Korle Bu Hospital whose outer walls had been re-painted courtesy of the Club brewery. Since it was in my favorite color, green, and had my name on it, I just had to stop and take a photo!

Having the name "Charles" in Ghana means that you will use that form, rather than "Charlie," since the name "Charlie" (pronounced, and sometimes even spelled "Chale") would be used in the sense of "friend" as painted here. In fact, the "flip-flops" that most people here wear are called "Chale Wotes." Accra even has a street art festival called that, see photo below, their facebook page and their Twitter hashtag #chalewote.

When I first arrived, I would hear students at MUCG conversing, and my name would be popping up WAY too often. Now, I have to listen carefully, when people are using "Charlie" to refer to me by name, they generally will pronounce the 'r' in it a bit more.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. 
Proverbs 22:1 ESV

Monday, June 17, 2013

Your True Love Has Produced Real Testimonies

written by Mary Kay and Pastor Peter Awane
We don't always get to see the words of Scripture come to life, but in the past month, I have seen the message of 2 Corinthians 9 play out in a very real and amazing way.
Pastor Peter Awane and his family
Friends of mine have been helping a local pastor, Peter Awane, in Zuarungu, near Bolgatanga. Peter has been a believer for more than 25 years. He spent 18 years translating the Old Testament into his native FraFra language, and in 2008 the first copies of the FraFra Old Testament were placed in the hands of the people.  Pastor Peter has a great vision for transforming his community through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Peter has a 5-acre plot of land in Zuarungu where he is centering his ministries, which include a Christian radio station, a church and school for children of prostitutes and HIV/AIDS patients.  He has plans to build a middle school and high school, including dormitories and a skills training center for students and women in the community.
The Primary School at Peter's ministry complex
My friends are helping to raise funds for the construction of Peter’s school buildings.  They knew he needed water but weren’t sure what to do about it.  But one remembered that I did water projects and pulled me in to help.  I agreed to see what I could do, and finally met with Peter over Easter weekend to see his ministry and assess the need.  Through the generosity of Living Word UMC, a church in St. Louis committed to providing water in communities in the Upper East through The Ghana Project, I committed to provide the borehole, electric pump, tanks and piping that are needed for a ministry complex of the size Peter dreams of.  In mid-May, the borehole was drilled, but much to our disappointment, while we hit water, there was only a flow of about 10 liters per minute – enough for a handpump, but not enough for the mechanized system that is really needed. 
After receiving an impassioned email from Pastor Peter and a distressed call from my assistant, I spoke with the driller.  He thought there was another location, near a traditional well, that he could drill and hit lots of water.  I gave the go ahead for a second attempt, hoping that this would not harm the flow into the traditional well. 
I want to share with you the email I received from Pastor Peter recently.  (edited for clarity)

Your Obedience to God’s call, zeal for the Great Commission and faithfulness in going the extra mile especially with the poor and needy like my community has yielded very positive remarkable testimonies within Church and community. It has strengthened our faith and trust in Christ Jesus.  Our four years’ prayer for water for our school, ministry and community was finally answered in a miraculous way.
The first drilling did not provide our expected mechanized pump which the LORD promised us. And though there was jubilations for the hand pump we could not erase the memory of the promise of God neither could we stop the voice telling us that the promise will happen and the time is NOW!! It was very difficult to believe this voice and the promise which was confirmed in our prayer after the first drilling.
The ancestral well near Peter's property
Two alternate locations were identified by the driller after the first drilling did not give us our needed mechanized pump. We were so joyful when we were told the next day that Mary Kay had approved a second drilling, but at a specific place not under our control. We were faced with so many questions like how much will we pay for that land, how could we get the people to pay light bills since they were fetching the water free of charge,  the increased length of pipe needed and the different fields these pipes will pass through. The second location identified by the driller was on family land, a little closer to the school and church but almost in the same location where the first drilling failed. Now if we attempted and failed again, what would we tell Mary Kay who told us to drill closer to the ancestral well? (Note from Mary Kay:  I was never told about two possible locations, just the location near the ancestral well.)
Ben the driller who is a native saw and knew the complications involved.  He met us and we all agreed to go to prayer and ask God’s direction. The next day Ben called me and asked my opinion and l said our hearts are set on my family land and he also confirmed the same. Shortly l saw the guys who were coming to drill and they asked me to show them the locations. I showed them the one on the family land first because it was closer and asked that we go to the next location. They said no and explained that they see that place to be a problem area and so l should have confidence in God and let them drill on my family land. This was a confirmation of our prayer. So they started and in the fifth rod, a fountain!!!! a fountain!!! It continued and even more stronger up to the tenth rod!!! What a Mighty God we serve. The testimony is everywhere about how we prayed and how God worked.
Kids from Peter's school enjoy the safe water
from their new borehole.
We are now hearing that part of the members of the land on which the ancestral well is, said they were ready to oppose the drilling if we had attempted. Thanks to God who knows how to keep His children away from troubles. Now the Church is strong and has discovered that they can pray for and against anything and it would happen!!! Our faith, trust and courage in the LORD is strengthened by your LOVE ACTIONS. GOD richly Bless you as we look forward to rejoicing together in the dedication DAY!!!!
(email from Peter Awane)
This area of Zuarungu now has a community borehole and will no longer have to use the ancestral well, which is susceptible to contamination.  Pastor Peter has plenty of water for his school and ministry complex.  But most importantly, God is being glorified.  In Paul’s words...
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! – 2 Cor. 9:12-15
Kids from Peter's school say "Thank you and thanks be to God!"

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

We have a guest blogger today - our younger son, Ken.  Following is a descriptive essay he wrote for his Freshman English class at Rose-Hulman.  We are pleased to report that he received a grade of "96" on the essay.  Keep up the good work, Ken!

Meanwhile, I was a guest blogger on the Shine Girls (we're shining for Jesus) blog by Jillian Hill last week.  You can read here about how the Shine Girls celebrated World Water Day, without even knowing it!

Waking Light 

I wake up with the sun reaching across my face. My room is on the western side of the house, but the warm, golden light floods through the hallway that makes up most of the building. For a moment I just lie there, taking in this new day. The bakery next-door that had been so noisy the previous night is now almost silent. The smell of freshly baked bread wafts in, politely pleading for me to eat it. I lie still a little longer.

Somewhere I hear birds chirping, a sweet song for only my ears. I lie, listening, when a rustle of palm trees joins in. With the rhythm of the wind accompanying the birds, our secret band is almost complete. Ah, there it is – the cock-a-doodle-doo of one of the many neighborhood roosters. The group quietly demands an audience – I couldn’t leave now! I lie still a little longer.

I realize that the sun no longer covers my face. That warm feeling only lasts for 15 minutes, due to the sun’s angle and the closeness of Ghana to the equator. Now my ceiling fan, currently set to five – or ‘hurricane mode’ – sends a cool tingling sensation through my body. The fan creates a trance-like state, blocking all outside noise with its ample whooshing. I stare at the rapidly spinning blades, hypnotizing myself into a place where time ceases to exist. I focus entirely on the fan, reinvigorated by the energetic cyclone it creates. I really should get up. I lie still a little longer.

I must have nodded off; the sun no longer reaches my curtains. I am aroused by music coming from my iPod – my mother’s small playlist of ‘Hip music’ is set to wake me. It is fast-paced music, with strong rhythms and catchy melodies. My body demands action at this point; I can no longer lie still. I get out of bed and put on the first clothes I find, a plain t-shirt and some mesh shorts. I exit my room and walk down the hall to the kitchen, where my mother hugs me and offers me some French toast. This is an interesting variety, made from bread with sugar initially cooked into it. The soft, moist sweetness is quickly shoveled into my mouth – covered, of course, with a large dose of maple syrup. I down it all with a glass bottle of Coke. Ah, that’s satisfying. With that, I can take on any kind of day!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Walking the dog at ACP Estates

Charlie writes:
 When Mary Kay and I returned from a birthday getaway to the beach at Anomabo, just outside Cape Coast, I was able to return to my usual walking routine with Ziker, our beloved African-American dog. [We say this because while in the States, he seemed somewhat unusual (just a yellow dog from the pound), when we arrived in Ghana, it seemed every third dog roaming the streets was his brother!]

 As is usual when I take these walks around our new neighborhood outside Pokuase, there are new plants to see. This time, the new ones were smallish trees that were bearing large numbers of yellow, cherry-sized fruit, that were covering a bright red seed. The weight of the fruit was so much that the trees were really sagging:

Laden branches
A row of such trees, 3-4 meters high.
The landscape architect at the ACP Estates had planted the streets with a great variety of species, and they seem to bloom throughout the year. Below is a closeup of the pale blue flowers on the same trees that were bearing the yellow fruit. I was a bit surprised to see flowers and fruit on the same tree at the same time...

We also passed some Bougainvillea thorn bushes, which have the craziest colors:

as well as some ripe palm oil nuggets and a bright red hibiscus flower:

Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." 

Friday, March 08, 2013

Late Luggage, Ghana style...

Charlie writes:

Rolling along the highway with our five bags
Rolling along the main highway with our five bags
Inside the Domestic Terminal
Back to the truck, off to lunch...

The second porter on that leg...
Back the last time...
This past weekend, a 13-member team from the Living Word
Church in Wildwood, outside St. Louis, Missouri, returned
for another visit to their friends in northern Ghana.
Mary Kay is escorting them this week, along with Nana,
the driver from the Methodist Church of Ghana. You can
read more about their trip at their Ghana Project website.

Unfortunately, there were five pieces of luggage that did not
make the short transfer interval at London's Heathrow Airport.
In fact, the team almost got cut in half when the pastor was
pulled aside for a thorough examination. The team members
were used to this happening, and were prepared to file
the appropriate papers at the late/lost luggage counter
downstairs at the Accra airport.

I should have checked the next evening to find all the bags,
but instead, Mary Kay had to remind me that the team was
looking forward to distributing some things from those very
bags to the place they were visiting on Tuesday, so I had better
go down and deal with it on Monday. The luggage handlers had
called her to confirm that all the bags had arrived on the
Sunday evening flight, so they just needed to be picked up.

Having had experience with this on a prior trip, I made
sure that I had xerox copies of the photo and visa pages
of the relevant passports. When I arrived, they were expecting
me. We were able to find the five bags based on the descriptions
on the forms and confirmed via the tags.  I signed the register,
then opened each bag for the Customs officer on duty.

Next, I rounded up a cart, and loaded the bags up for the
walk to the local flights terminal. One of the porters
saw me struggling, so came along and relieved me of the
pushing - rolling the cart right along the main road
through the airport with honking taxis upset at him.
Arriving near the terminal, my pushers got nervous and
asked for pay before they would be seen by the police
or the other porters. So that meant another porter being
retained for the last bit.

Inside the terminal, I was directed to ask at the ticketing
counters for arrangement of transport for the bags up to
the Tamale airport. They directed me to the check-in stands,
and when I got to the front of the line, they directed me
to another, and that fellow called someone, returning with
the message "we don't take unaccompanied luggage!" I begged
him to check the other carriers, and the fellow at Starbow
was willing to accept the packages. He explained that they
would be carried for a fee of three ghana cedi per kilogram,
so he recommended I weigh them first so I would know the
charges. Since they were 70 kg, I would be owing GHS 210.
However, the space in the terminal was so limited that he
would not accept them until an hour or so before scheduled
departure. Thus, I rolled them all back to the Hilux and went
to lunch. Then I bought some neon green paper and scissors
and cello tape, preparing labels for the bags to make them
easy for Mary Kay to identify at the Tamale airport.

The drop-off went smoothly, and they issued me the required
claim tags. When I asked how Mary Kay would get the bags since
I obviously was not going to be able to get the tags to her,
I was told that if she knew the numbers, and showed ID, they
would let her take the bags. So, I called her with the numbers.
The stack of luggage claim tags
All five bags made it!
The original receipt had been for GHS 410, so I requested another!

Meanwhile, up in Tamale, Mary Kay was trying to figure out
how to get to the baggage area, since that airport only
has an exit from that area, so that only passengers can enter.
The flight was delayed half an hour, but eventually it arrived
and the team was able to make their way to Navrongo, arriving
at 8:30 p.m. Mary Kay passed the phone around
the Coaster bus, and I was gratified by the expressions
of thanks from all those involved.

Later that evening, I was back at the airport (on my third
visit to the parking area, the ticket-taker took pity on me
and let me come in without paying) and visited the BA ticket
office to see about getting reimbursed for the extra transport.
"Go to our offices over domestic terminal for that, sir,"
was my advice. There, I was attended to by a friendly rep
who informed me that such refunds were not allowed by airline
rules in West Africa. [This is just one of many examples of
the special treatment offered citizens of countries with
reputations for scams and lies.] She assured me that if
proper documentation were presented in either the UK
or the USA, the airline would make good on the extra
expenses caused by the late arrival of bags.
That meant I had to make another trip down to the
lost luggage counter, and after diving into a cardboard
box under the desk, we were able to recover the original
forms. The agent went with me to the internet cafe
in arrivals area of the airport to make copies.
Now I have to remember to make scans and deliver
to the team so they can follow up once they are
back in the US.

So, a transaction that would be handled over the phone and
result in the personal delivery of late bags to the hotel
ended up taking the better part of a day. As Chip would say,
"T.I.G." (This Is Ghana).

Genesis 32:13-21 (Jacob and his luggages)
So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.
These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, "Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove."
He instructed the first, "When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, 'To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?' then you shall say, 'They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.'"
He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, "You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, and you shall say, 'Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.'" For he thought, "I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me."
So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

For want of $400...

Charlie writes:
Emirita Professor Nana Araba Apt
Matthew Christopher Taggart
Prof. Astrid Tweneboah Larssen

Yesterday evening, the Ashesi community said farewell to three
long-term staffers, Emerita Professor Nana Araba Apt, Matthew Christopher Taggart, and his wife, Professor Astrid Tweneboah Larssen. As part of the celebrations, Ashesi's founder, Patrick Awuah revealed the truth about early days.

Actually, Matt was Patrick and Nina's first employee before
the college opened its doors. Over the intervening twelve
years, Matt has spearheaded Ashesi's fundraising efforts, helping to raise over $20 million in funds for construction of the campus and funds for scholarships.  Patrick remarked that his arrival prompted a move from an office over the Red Door Tavern to another, about the size of Ashesi's current reception lobby, on the fourth floor of a Seattle movie theatre.

Patrick's emotions caught up with him as he recalled times he had cowered under his desk in that office, his legs pressed against the desktop from below, shaking with fear. He also recalled Matt fussing at him from under a table for standing by the window of that office looking at construction cranes swaying during a magnitude 7 earthquake!  He also shared a story that inspired the title of this post. As he considered what event was the seed for Ashesi, he realized he needed to tell the story of his admission to Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia.

I had heard that Patrick, having graduated from the Achimota School, had been encouraged to apply to Swarthmore by the US Embassy college office which was in the building now occupied by the Barclay's bank adjacent AU Circle in Accra. Yesterday, we heard "the rest of the story."

Patrick told how he had received an offer of admission from Swarthmore, which at the time cost about $15,000 a year. The offer was accompanied by a scholarship covering all but $100 of those expenses. He excitedly prepared paperwork for a visa to travel to the USA, only to be rejected. When he asked why the application had been refused, he was told of the policy that students requesting permission to attend college in the USA were expected to document bank assets covering the family's total financial obligations for the student's four years expenses in advance.

Patrick explained that his parents had only enough in the bank to cover one year. He elaborated for his audience's consideration that in those days, Ghanaians were in economic distress. Finding money to buy food for the week was a challenge, never mind the astronomical sum of $400 for college tuition.

He argued, "if you let me go to the USA, I will be able to find some way to make the other $300." Still no dice, no exceptions would be made.

Crestfallen, Patrick had to write Swarthmore, appealing to them to reduce his family's contribution to his fees by a factor of four so he could get a visa. After an anxious wait, his family received another offer letter from the college, with a scholarship covering all of Patrick's expenses. As Patrick remarked, "we could handle four times zero, even if we couldn't cover four times $100." So he was able to re-apply to the visa section, got his visa, and began his college career that fall.

Patrick ruminated that an "invisible hand" had reached across the ocean and pulled him though a life-changing experience. A person or people unknown to him had donated money to the college. The college had awarded that money to his family without the donors knowing them, either. What a concept! He noted that recent alumni newsletters reported twenty million and fifty million dollar gifts being made for these "invisible hands" from Swarthmore in recent times.

He challenged the hundreds of students in the Cornfield Courtyard gathered to hear his address with the vision that some of them, come 20 or 30 years, would remember their Ashesi experiences, and provide the funds for a similar "invisible hand" for an unknown student to attend their alma mater.

Patrick noted that Matt had decided a few years into the project that Ashesi could not afford to pay him a salary that would support him in Seattle, and offered to relocate to Ghana to save the college precious funds. He recalled going back to Seattle, packing up their office, donating furniture to charities and closing up their office over the theatre.

Then, as we had heard before, came the December when the executive team had to postpone their paychecks. Yet, Patrick said the idea of stopping financial aid was never seriously considered, recalling the importance that "invisible hand" had meant to him and his family. A school dedicated to the vision of raising a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders for the transformation of a continent had to make provision for those unable to afford the cost to be extended that opportunity.

While Patrick admitted that he hadn't had to ride horseback, hat in hand, as had Edward Parrish the first president of Swarthmore College nearly 150 years ago, he already had international bookings in the first ten months of 2013, and November was filling in. He vowed to keep December free for his family here in Ghana, but understood the vital need to keep raising the capital funds to cover the construction of the planned engineering expansion.

"We claim a higher mission for Swarthmore College than that of fitting men and women for business. It should fit them for life, with all its possibilities.- Edward Parrish

Later in the evening, Matt delivered a heart-felt impromptu message, admitting that the twelve years at Ashesi had made him the man he is today. He met his wife, had two children, and was able to invest his work in an idea that he was passionate about. He encouraged all hearers that he wished for them the joy of finding passion in their work, and pledged to continue to support Ashesi in the future.

Patrick surprised Nana Apt by unveiling a plaque naming the lecture hall 218, the one near the canteen, in her honor. In her address, Nana was clearly touched, saying "usually, you don't live to see this sort of honor!"

Mary Kay has been reading a book called The Idea Factory:  Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner.  She and I spent the evening talking of the "lore" of places like Bell Labs and MIT, and we realized that these stories are a huge part of the legacy founders make to those places. I certainly will not soon forget the image of the $400 that seemed to be the insurmountable barrier to Patrick's dreams.

Thank you Nana, Matt and Astrid for your parts in the Ashesi story!  You will always be a part of our legend.

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently,lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen,
and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.  Make them known to your children and your children's children.
Deuteronomy 4:9 (ESV)