I once heard it said that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. These words ring more true for me now than at any other stage of my life.
For years I was a receiver as, from a poor family growing up in the Central Region of Ghana, I relied on the generosity of others to get through school. But then there was a moment when the tables turned and I began a new chapter of life. That moment was when I was accepted to university as a Mastercard Foundation scholar at CAMFED. Then, I could start giving. I have never looked back.
The eldest of four siblings, our day-to-day struggles reached a peak when our father lost his job as a mechanic. In our neighborhood few parents could afford to send their children to school and so children could often be seen playing in the streets all through the day. In spite of this, and although she had never been to school herself, my mother was determined that, whatever the circumstances, I would get an education. She did everything she could to support us and we worked as a family to scrape enough money together just to stay alive. We would sell charcoal, break stones at the quarry, wash clothes for people, and fetch water for construction companies building homes for other people. All the while, me, my three siblings and parents lived in just one room with a few clothes and cooking utensils — everything we owned.
These were really difficult times as I imagined my friends learning in class while I sat at the roadside selling.
In spite of all our efforts we barely earned enough money to pay for food, let alone school. What really made me cry were the times when I had to stay at home instead of going to school because there was no money for food. I couldn’t bear the mockery of my peers. Eventually, I had to quit school for a whole term to help my mom sell kenkey, a street food in Ghana. We would wake at 3 am, before dawn, to prepare kenkey by the fireside. Then we would sit by the road all day to try to sell it.
Photo: Christopher Gunson/CAMFED
These were really difficult times as I imagined my friends learning in class while I sat at the roadside selling. Then, there came the time when mom said enough is enough and she actually went around begging people to support me. Seeing our plight, and realizing that even if I stayed home my whole life, I may not have been able to raise enough money to return to school, my Headmaster took pity and allowed me to take my junior high school exams free of charge. When an opportunity arose for me to continue to senior high school, I grasped it, and moved to live with an aunt in order to take up my place.
After graduation, reality hit me hard. I didn’t have enough money to even apply to — let alone attend — university. Again, seeing my plight, my Headmaster stepped in to contribute fifty cedis while I saved a further fifty from my job as a pupil teacher so that I could apply to the University of Education, Winneba, to read economics, education and political science. Happily, I was accepted, but I was required to pay all my tuition fees and bills up front to take up my place, and there was no way I could meet those costs.
Will they see what is in me and not what is around me, I wondered?
And then a chance encounter one morning marked the start of a new chapter. A lady told me about CAMFED and directed me to the office. I followed through, shared my story, wrote an application for support and had an interview. I was so nervous. Will they see what is in me and not what is around me, I wondered? And then it happened. The tide turned. That very day I was awarded a scholarship through The Mastercard Foundation’s partnership with CAMFED Ghana — a new beginning.
It has been almost two years now since I started my journey with CAMFED, and, with every step, I’m growing. I actually see myself as a transformed person because of all that I have gained through the CAMFED Association (CAMA). Meeting with my CAMA sisters just keeps me moving and motivated. And now I just want to give back, to empower others as I have been empowered.
When I started university we set up a group made up of all the students supported by CAMFED in partnership with The Mastercard Foundation on my campus. Every semester we draw up a program to carry out community service in the town of Winneba and throughout the district. In Winneba, we brought children together to talk to them about the importance of education. We encouraged them to the extent that we even went to their schools with them and talked with their teachers. When they have a free period on Friday we pay them visits. Today, when you walk through Winneba on a school day there are few children to be found out of school.
Photo: Joseph Mills/Camfed
We are empowered because someone out there empowered us. We are practicing what we preach.
Outside of Winneba we are joining hands with other CAMFED Association members in the district to advocate for women’s empowerment. On International Women’s Day last year we hosted a public meeting on the importance of educating girls. The response from mothers in the community was really encouraging. Some, whose daughters were not in school, asked how their girls could get an education. So from there we actually saw an improvement in the enrollment of girls in school as they, and their mothers, saw us as role models. We are empowered because someone out there empowered us. We are practicing what we preach.
On another occasion we visited a nearby village where many children were missing school. When we visited the school we found that a great many students didn’t even have any stationery. So we CAMFED Association members clubbed together to purchase pens, pencils, erasers, books and even chalk for the class. When we returned to the school some weeks later we saw big improvements just because the students now own books and stationery of their own. They feel so proud when they are going home, telling their parents that they have assignments. All these things bring us so much joy.
This experience inspired me so much that I joined forces with two other members to start a mentorship program during my vacation in the same town. This year I mentored twenty girls, seventeen of whom are enrolled in junior high school and three will soon be moving up to senior high school. I continue to visit them from time to time, providing academic and pastoral support as needed. You see, when you know how it feels to be rescued, you just want to rescue others. In my own community I’m considered a role model. Schools and churches often call on me to talk to the youth.
…When you know how it feels to be rescued, you just want to rescue others.
I share my story to motivate students to persevere in school and parents to put their children’s education first. I tell them I used to live a life of no dreams. My only thought was how to obtain enough money to eat each day. But education has made me a dreamer. I dream of living in a community where all girls are educated and all women financially independent. A community where fathers tell their daughters, like my dad says to me: “I’m so proud of you. Because of you our family has a future.”
As a member of the CAMFED Association, the powerful pan-African network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support, Ruth is deeply committed to ‘plowing back’ the benefits of her education into her community. She is proof that when you educate a girl in rural Africa you are starting a chain reaction that will send even more girls to school.
Each year, our women leaders multiply what CAMFED can do. Triple a lifetime of learning for some of the world’s most vulnerable girls by giving the gift of education today.