By: Chrissa Percival
I had been working in the rural village of Adaklu, Ghana, West Africa for a few months before I met Verone. She is a woman in her mid-20s with a bright smile and a kind heart. As a mother of two daughters and one son, guardian to her niece, and receiving little help from a husband struggling with alcohol abuse, Verone works tirelessly to maintain their one room dwelling, provide enough food to eat and be able to send the children to school.
At a young age, her family pulled her from school to work on their subsistence farm and help her mother at market. Without an education, Verone is unable to get a job with decent pay or properly manage a small business of her own. The consequence is that her family often goes without and her daughters and niece are frequently out of school for entire terms when they fall short of finding the money to cover expenses. If nothing is done, the cycle will continue when her girls’ lack of education leads to early marriage, frequent pregnancies and a life lived in poverty.
Through my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I found that the greatest challenge we face today is bringing about female empowerment in impoverished areas. Women in the rural areas of developing countries often have little or no education that leads to having no other option for survival beyond marrying young, which makes them more susceptible to becoming child brides, having more pregnancies leading to a lower quality of health for the woman and her children, having too many mouths to feed with too little income and falling victim to domestic violence with no way out.
The most effective way to empower females is to educate young girls and break the cycle. In order to do this, providing a means of income for mothers, arguably the person most invested in a girl’s future, will give them the ability to fund their daughters’ educations. With an education, a girl will marry later, have fewer, healthier children, make more money, have greater standing in the community and be able to more easily fund her daughter’s education.
My service in the Peace Corps changed the trajectory of my life. After coming home, I could not ignore the urge to continue my work to improve the lives of the women of Adaklu. The Paramount Queen Mother of Adaklu has already begun that work and I am eager to continue working with them. Being accepted into CSU’s Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program is only the first step in working towards making their efforts more effective and sustainable.
My vision is to create a vocational school, specifically for wives and young mothers, that teaches local handicrafts and integrates them items into modern, fresh designs for sale to tourists in the capital, as well as export opportunities. The profit will support a living wage for the women, providing them the means to take care of their families and send their girls to school, and fund various community improvement projects. Integrated into being a member of this artisan collective are classes on small business management, health information sessions including HIV/AIDS prevention with family planning emphasis, infant care lessons, free daycare for preschool age children and commitments to keeping all girls in school full time.
Adaklu is also an ideal location for cultural tourism and has recently completed its tourism center. Visitors can learn handicrafts at the vocational school, teach at the preschool, experience Ghanaian life in homestays and visit neighboring tourist attractions such as the monkey sanctuary and waterfalls. Adaklu’s remote location provides for a true, rural Ghana experience in a safe village with enthusiastic support from the community and its elders.
When I met Verone in Adaklu, I could not help but think of my mother, my inspiration for wanting to serve in the Peace Corps. She grew up in poverty in Singapore when it was still a developing country where she dropped out of school at age 16 in order to get a job to be able to feed herself and her younger sister. When she came to the United States and had two daughters, she raised them to be independent, self-sufficient and above all else, to value education. She was determined to ensure her daughters would avoid the many trials an impoverished woman must endure by giving them an education that would provide freedoms others have to live without. I am blessed to have the means to gain an education with which to support myself and here is nothing I want to do more than help provide these same opportunities to other women in the world.