Dr. Anna Adjei-Barrett was raised in Nima, the poorest slum in Accra, Ghana. Raised by her maternal grandparents who came from nothing, she was one of 11 children who experienced first-hand the challenges of not having enough food to eat every day, walking miles to fetch semi-clean water for her family, and experiencing sporadic educational attention due to unaffordability. While growing up, however, her grandmother modeled what it looked like to share the little they had with the community. Having 10 kids herself, it was not uncommon for my grandmother to assure there was enough food to feed the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless and support for the marginalized. These selfless practices left an indelible mark on my heart and will later become an inspiration; giving to others who are in need (meeting the needs of others) These actions were often demonstrated on the playground where I can be spotted sharing a meal with tens of amigos. It was there that I learned how to communicate with children of all cultures and backgrounds.
Responsibility came at a very young age. I was responsible for many of the household chores as early as 5 years old. These included but were not limited to washing dishes, walking miles to fetch water, washing clothes, sweeping and cleaning the compound. By the time I was 8 years old, I had to help support the family economically by selling bread early in the morning prior to attending school if at all. My late arrival resulting from this responsibility was painfully consequential. I will later become an entrepreneur, selling expired baby formula, ice water, beads and costume jewelry. I was known to be a fierce barterer when negotiating for fair market value (price). Most of the proceeds was forwarded to my grandmother who would allocate to the areas of need, first and
foremost for food and if we had resources left over for other necessities.
My grandmother actually managed to save enough $$ to pay the school fees. There were 3 terms in a year. Experiencing uninterrupted education in Germany as a teenager was a welcomed process I came to appreciate. Motivated by a sense of urgency, I persevered by dedicating most of my adolescent years in an all girls boarding school because my parents believed that environment to be conducive for focus and learning. I had to
work double and triple as hard as my classmates because I had to catch up on literacy and numeracy I missed during my formative educational experience. I had been super ashamed of my humble beginnings. With imagined humiliation and fear of inaccess, I concealed and masked my identity and affiliation with Ghana. My fast assimilation was evident with my linguistic aptitude and cultural …..
The epiphany didn’t happen until in my process through adulthood. I now wear my experiences with a badge of pride…
We were having a roundtable discussion about educational strategies and brought my Djembe Drum. I wanted to introduce myself and I felt that everybody was talking about different strategies that were instilled in them since they were little. Strategic traditions that were imparted to them. That was the assignment and that was what the conversation was supposed to be centered around. And I decided to introduce myself before I even said anything. It was a call and response and my colleagues at the time participated and I remember specifically a warm surge of empowerment and I was picking up on people’s energy and emotion in my audience. And it was very powerful and everyone was totally fascinated.
They proceeded to ask me about my strategy and I recall being catapulted back to when I was a little girl sitting on the dirt floor with my grandmother who was the Griot for my community (storyteller) used imagery, process of elimination. My grandmother was literally illiterate. She had never been to school and could neither read nor write. And all of a sudden I felt the surge and introduced my learned educational strategies into my drumming. So then my life had come full circle. I was able to understand the strategies that grandmother used but didn’t even realize.
OMG all of these empowered strategies and traditions were just leading up to this moment in time and I was able to make the connections. It was almost like a tapestry that was being put together in different layers and it suddenly all made sense.
That night I went back to look at the educational foundation book that I was reading at the time and connected each and every one to my grandmother’s storytelling. For me, that was the beginning of everything. It motivated me to use my background and experiences in Ghana and marry them to the knowledge that I had gained since then in order empower the next generation in Africa and The West. Connecting our experiences of youth of Lockport with those of the youth of Ghana incredible outcomes can be achieved.
Marry together so that we can give back and learn at the same time. Boomerang!