In 1996, when electricity was scarce in northern Ghana and only two years old in my hometown (Bole), lanterns were the major source of lighting and kerosene was the source of energy for the lanterns. Those days, a school kid was relevant and got many friends either by excelling in classwork or by providing extra food for classmates who did not have anything to eat. If you fit in any of the above descriptions, you were the leader among your friends and you were listened to.
When I was eight years old I wanted to be this leader, not for the commanding part of it, but for the friends network I would make and for the constant engagement with people. The only way to become this person was to find an additional income because the value of my chop money (money my parents gave me for food) was reduced to a point where it could not even feed me alone. This may be the first major challenge I encountered in my young life—how to feed myself and my friends in primary school. I started visiting a local business woman who sold food supplies in Bole market on market days. I became her main errand boy on market days. I enjoyed being with her plus she paid me 5 pesewas (20 cents USD) after each market, from which I would get my lunch for 2 pesewas (8 cents USD). The rest was saved with my mother. (She was my first bank.)
My aim was to save enough money to start a kerosene business which needed 90 pesewas ($3.60 USD) at that time. I had a difficult time with my mother because I was always bothering her about the amount and would ask almost every day how much I have saved, it was almost as if I saved daily; because I really was eager to enter the kerosene business and sometimes it felt I was waiting too long for my money to accumulate. Seeing how determined I was, my father finally added some money to my savings and I bought my first gallon of kerosene.
In few months, I had two of my school mates helping and so for the first time in my life at age eight, I became a businessman and a leader. It was interesting because I finally arrived at my dream land. My first goal was accomplished. I became relevant. And my enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment made the challenges less relevant. But it is even more interesting now, looking back at those days. Things I saw as problems were indeed the very pillars on which my successes thrived, For example, feeling insecure when I realized friends I brought into my business were selling more than I was. I was young and inexperienced and things I did not understand now make sense to me.
When electricity became widespread and the kerosene business slowly died, I was 10 and was idling, so I joined a motor mechanic shop as an apprentice. My master and boss was a violent and mischievous person and his apprentices always ran away shortly after their admission into the shop. But I endured for two years as the chief apprentice and was the longest serving apprentice he ever had; fixing what I could and washing motors for money to provide lunch for my other apprentices.
But this time, unlike the days of the kerosene business and in primary school, providing lunch was a duty and, as I saw it, not voluntary. It was a response to advice a wise customer gave me. He said, being a leader is not only about reporting to your master, it is also about taking responsible initiatives, earning respect from followers without demanding it, and recognizing the individual strengths and using them for a collective goal. This was my first leadership coaching.
The hardest part of being an apprentice—the challenge of being an apprentice—was that my master derived his control of us in our individual weaknesses and there I was trying to use our individual strengths to build a better working environment completely opposite to what gave my master his control. But I learned that he lost the control whenever we were together because our individual weaknesses vanished. With that knowledge and the advice I received, I was able to overcome that challenge and our working environment improved.
Knowing that I was the reason no one gives him information about the others, he wanted to get rid of me. Maybe that was the reason he later accused me wrongly of stealing a part of a motor bike to repair my friend’s motor. It hurt me so much because I liked him against all his violence and mischief and yet he accused me of something I have never and would never do, so I left the shop.
Once again my concentration was on schooling but again life became distressing as I was seeing hungry students dependent on cashew and shea fruits as food during break time. I was always thinking of other people and how to be helpful to them. I again became an apprentice joining a mason for about one year, and then an electrician for some months, and then a motor transporter for another year when I would ride motors from Ghana to Cote d’Ivoire for sale.
While doing those things, I did not once think of their benefits in my future, now current, life. I did not know that all that I learnt would impact my current work, but here I am in the Humanist Action: Ghana (HA: Ghana), faced with a challenge of helping vulnerable women become economically independent by using every available resource to earn money and provide basic needs for themselves, just like I did for myself. Besides being a member of the HA: Ghana team, another way I benefit from my past life is initiative taking because it lead me to the establishment of HARL FARMS.
All I wanted was to keep helping my friends, make some money, and also eat what I wanted as a school boy but everything I did in the past helped me. The little things I use to do when I was little grew with me. I now realize how I could have made and helped more friends and strived harder but no regrets. Whatever I did or whatever happened made me who I am today. I feel like I was preparing myself the whole time to work for HA: Ghana and our partner Songtaba. I am not saying there are no more challenges, but I know every challenge is just like any other that I have overcome before. Sometimes people ask me, “How did you become so creative?” “How did you learn how to take initiatives so comfortably?” Well, I guess my social and professional personality is a twenty-year experience of both unconscious and conscious efforts to better myself and people around me.
Photo descriptions (top to bottom): Photo 1- Training alleged women on agronomic practices and value addition in Henna farming. Photo 2- Henna powder. The end product of my henna livelihood project with HA: Ghana working with women accused of witchcraft. Photo 3- Dry harvesting henna. One step of my henna livelihood project with HA: Ghana working with women accused of witchcraft.