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Joanna

CAMFED Association member & Medical Doctor, Ghana

I grew up in a family of eight in the Upper East Region of Ghana. I have three sisters and two brothers. While I was still in primary school, my dad lost his job. My mom did her best to support our family by selling various goods, including food and charcoal. Without a stable income, we were all worried about what the future would hold.

Aside from financial difficulties, my childhood was made all the more challenging by a medical error that left me unable to walk. It happened when I was four years old and I was given an injection at the wrong site. It was only after some time on physiotherapy, and the love and care from my family, that I started walking again — but it had to be limping. I faced teasing throughout the rest of my time at school, but held on to my dream of one day becoming a Medical Doctor so I could stop another child from going through what I did.

“I want to be strength to people, I want to be hope to people. Being here is a blessing in itself.”

Things still weren’t easy when I reached Senior High School. I used to be sent home from time to time — or have to stay home for a month after school resumed — because we didn’t have the fees. Regardless of how much school I missed, I worked hard to catch up because I knew where I wanted to get to in life. It was purely perseverance and the dream I had to become a Medical Doctor, to rise up and challenge the status quo, that kept me going. Eventually I won my place to study Medicine at the University of Development Studies in Tamale.

Setting off for my first semester, I had some of my earnings from working in an electrical shop and as an assistant to a National Health Insurance representative to get started. There was literally no money to take me further. I was wondering how I would manage through all my time at university.

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The moment I got a scholarship to Medical School

Then I met Doctor Vida. She spoke to me about applying to the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program through CAMFED. Even though I met the criteria, I never imagined when I was filling out the application that I would be selected for support. The day I found out I had been accepted was one of the happiest days of my life!

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Watch me relive the moment

At this time I joined the CAMFED Association, which is the network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. I have been actively involved in community outreach with my sisters in the network and am proud to serve as a role model for younger girls who would also like to attain a high level of education.

“Being a woman and going to school is an inspiration to people. Whenever we go out there to talk to girls, [we] let them know there are higher things they can reach for.”

My own inspiration comes from my older sister, Esther, who also studied medicine at university. She is everything I could have asked for in a sister. I talk to her about everything. She always told me that I am no different than somebody who has two legs and is walking on them, so I should never see myself as different.

“Personally I think I’m making a difference in society because I had never really seen a doctor who has a disability, and I decided to be the first.”

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My documentary with the Mastercard Foundation

In 2019 I founded an organization called SOFA Foundation, which means Same Opportunities For All. There is no bias anywhere when it comes to SOFA. So long as someone needs our help, we would always go straight to that person’s aid.

I partnered with another woman who lives with a disability and we decided to start out with education and advocacy in our home community.

We have since embarked on outreach work and are supporting a boy who lives with cerebral palsy through school. As we grow we will keep reaching out to the next generation of leaders living with disabilities, especially those who are from rural districts, encouraging them to have a dream and to cultivate it.

Watch the film

“To be able to impact somebody’s life, to see the smile on someone’s face, I think that is fulfillment enough.”

In 2020, I completed my degree and now work as a Medical Doctor at the University of Ghana Hospital in the Greater Accra Region. Though I work in the city, I am also determined to improve healthcare in marginalized, rural communities where there are a lot of challenges. For example, where I come from the only vitals that can be checked in patients are weight and temperature, because there is no other equipment available. Records are kept on paper, while elsewhere things are being digitized. So we need people who are very passionate about what they do.

The Chief heard about me from my dad and he’s proud that a girl from this community has been able to go far in life and is coming back to give something valuable.

When I am in my home community, I go to the Chief’s palace to brief him on the things that we set out to do. Through SOFA, our main objective is to lift up persons living with a disability, and equip them with skills that will help them in society.

I hope my story will be a huge encouragement to many – showing a person living with a disability who has accomplished much in life. I like to say: “Never be afraid to show the world who you are and what you are made of.”


Header photo by Pluto Photography

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