Joanna grew up in a family of eight in the Upper East Region of Ghana. She is the third born child of six siblings, and has three sisters and two brothers. When Joanna was still in primary school, her father lost his job, and her mother, who has never had formal employment, tried to sell various goods, including food and charcoal, to support the family. With no regular income, Joanna feared that she and her siblings would not be able to get a secondary education.
Aside from financial difficulties, Joanna’s childhood was made all the more challenging by her disability. At the age of five she had fallen ill, and a medical error during her treatment at an under-equipped local clinic caused permanent nerve damage in her leg. Initially her father could afford to pay for a leg support, but soon Joanna had to make do without. Contending with teasing at school about both her physical impairment and her poverty, Joanna almost gave up on her dream of one day becoming a doctor.
“I want to be strength to people, I want to be hope to people. Being here is a blessing in itself.”
With perseverance and support from her family, Joanna progressed to Senior High School. Despite missing long periods when unable to cover the costs, Joanna worked hard and won a place to study Medicine at the University of Development Studies in Tamale. Setting off for her first term, Joanna had earned enough money to get her started by working in an electrical shop and as an assistant to a National Health Insurance representative. However, she remained anxious about how she would continue to fund her long degree course.
At university one of Joanna’s lecturers, a nurse, told her about scholarships offered by CAMFED and the Mastercard Foundation. Joanna applied and was selected for support. She was ecstatic and celebrated with her family that finally her future was secure.
Joanna remembers the moment she found out she had got a scholarship for medical school.
Joanna joined the CAMFED alumnae association, CAMA, a network of young women across Africa who work together to remove barriers to girls’ education. With her CAMA sisters she is active in community outreach, and has become a role model for younger girls who would like to follow her example of attaining a high level of education.
“Being a woman and being in 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.”
Joanna’s own inspiration comes from her older sister, Esther. She is also a medical student, and won a scholarship to study in Cuba. Together they are the first in their family to attend university, and will have the ability to support their parents, siblings and others around them. In future, the sisters hope to found their own hospital.
“Personally I think I’m making a difference in society because I’ve never really seen a doctor who has a disability, and if there isn’t I want to be the first.”
Though faced with the “double disadvantage” of her gender and disability, Joanna draws strength from the support network around her - family, friends and her CAMA sisters. Shrugging off the doubts and fears she felt as a girl, now, as a confident young woman, she says: “Never be afraid to show the world who you are and what you are made of.”
Watch Joanna’s CAMFED Instagram takeover