A Lifeline to the Future
I am deeply grateful for all United Methodist Women has done for me over the years and humbled to finally get the opportunity to address many of the people who have made it possible for me to pursue higher education. When I spoke before United Methodist Women leaders at their board of directors meeting earlier this year, it was like finally greeting family members who had loved me from afar.
I am from Ghana, and I have not been back to my country in seven years mostly because of my studies. My childhood in Ghana was a happy one. In a household that included six biological siblings and eight adopted by my parents, there were plenty of children to play with, and our days out of school were spent running around, climbing fruit trees and inventing new games when we got bored.
I was fortunate to have a happy childhood, but I knew that that was not the case for many in my community and in my country.
Stories that relatives and community members whispered behind closed doors told of realities from which my parents tried to shield me and my siblings.
For example, my adopted siblings from Liberia shared horror stories of fleeing civil war and of family members lost in the flight. There were also stories of the times when my mother’s fabric shop — our family’s main source of income — was looted by soldiers during a military coup in Ghana. My mother was detained for challenging the soldiers’ right to pillage her goods. All money in her bank account was seized and never returned.
Women in my community also talked about the domestic abuse they or other women had endured, matters that the police in Ghana hardly investigated or prosecuted during those times.
I was only 8 years old, but these stories impacted me, and I desperately wanted to do something about them. Seventeen years later, such stories remain the reality in many parts of Africa, and I still desperately want to do something about them.
Although neither of my parents attended college, they strongly believed in education, and they invested all they had in ensuring their children attended the best schools in Ghana. My mother is a high school graduate. My father attended a technical school and worked as a taxi driver for many years, eventually starting a small marketing business.
Still, there were many times when my parents could not pay the tuition on time, and my siblings and I were escorted out of the classroom by school officials for nonpayment of fees. As children, we were terribly embarrassed and sometimes furious at our parents for not having the money. Little did we know the sacrifices they made to keep us in school and to keep food on the table.
Like most of my older siblings, I had no hope of attending college after high school since my parents could not afford it. Thankfully, a family friend introduced me to the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT college entrance exam, and United Methodist-related Claflin University in South Carolina offered me a full four-year scholarship to study English as a major.
During a summer break, I worked on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota. On the reservation, there were high rates of sexual violence against women, alcoholism, unemployment and poverty. I was appalled by these problems and by the inadequacy of the U.S. government’s response to the problems.
Federal and state police sometimes did not respond to sexual assault victims on the grounds that the case was within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs or did not prosecute perpetrators of these crimes. Some of the hospitals near the reservation did not have trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) on staff to attend to victims and sometimes did not collect evidence of abuse for prosecution. Some of the hospitals near the reservation did not have morning-after pills for rape victims or required rape victims to pay for these services.
Also, I was fortunate to intern with the American Indian Law Alliance, an Indigenous rights organization in New York City, and later, through a series of divinely orchestrated events, to intern at United Methodist Women’s Church Center for the United Nations. These internships allowed me to observe Indigenous leaders from all over the world as they lobbied governments to pass the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which calls for U.N. member states to affirm and respect the human rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I learned that on international issues, lawyers can sometimes challenge domestic law by rallying for support from U.N. member countries. I also learned that oftentimes it is the faith, will and extraordinary determination of the people that pushes both national and international governments to institute lasting change.
All of these experiences inspired me to go to law school. Finding the money for law school was very challenging, and there were times when I thought I would have no option but to return home without completing my law degree. Words can’t adequately describe how vital the United Methodist Women International Ministries Committee Scholarship was to me.
I remain deeply and eternally grateful to you, United Methodist Women members, for your generous, consistent and enthusiastic support, without which I certainly could not have made it this far. Your support was more than just funds helping to cover tuition; it was the lifeline that enabled me to remain enrolled at Duke University Law School.
You gave me hope and a future, which has also ignited hope in the hearts of many of my friends and family members.
As the saying goes, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” My goal remains to become a human rights lawyer on behalf of women and children, and I especially hope to help develop Ghana’s domestic violence laws and improve social service programs for victims of domestic violence in my country. In the Akan language, which is my native tongue, we say, “Medaase papaapa,” which means, “Thank you very much.” So to United Methodist Women everywhere, “Medaase papaapa!” God bless you all.
Donna Akuamoah graduated from North Carolina’s Duke University Law School in 2011 and is currently an intern with United Methodist Women’s international ministries office. Her career goal is to work as an international human rights lawyer in Africa on behalf of women and children.