While graduation day was special for each member of the class of 2018, for Teni Agana '18, it was a day of breakthrough; a day she had long dreamed of, since finding a photo of a college graduate while still in high school, and telling herself she would be like that someday.
“I can no longer remember how I found that picture, but I kept it,” said Teni. “And even when I learned that my family could not afford to pay for my education, I told myself it would not stop me. I had to find a way to fund my education myself.”
Teni’s strong drive propelled her to take on difficult work in Kumasi, a city in Ghana's Ashanti Region. While in high school, she moved from her family's home in Bolgatanga, in Ghana's Upper-East Region, and chose to live and work at the Bantama market in Kumasi, as a kayayo (head porter), to save up for her fees. It was a rough period, as she had no permanent shelter, and often had to brave difficult conditions living in the market.
Tragedy struck, when her mother was involved in an accident and all her savings went into paying hospital bills; but it was at the hospital that she met a woman who introduced her to someone at CAMFED Ghana, an organisation working to help girls gain better education outcomes. With Ashesi being a CAMFED partner in Ghana, Teni was encouraged to apply, and was accepted into the Class of 2018 as a MasterCard Foundation scholar. It was an exciting time, and despite initial challenges adjusting to Ashesi's curriculum, Teni would eventually become one of the strongest students in her class.
“During my first semester, I failed a couple of courses, including Programming, as I had never used a computer and could barely type, let alone write code,” she explained. “Fortunately, the staff and faculty at Ashesi, especially my academic advisor, were really supportive. At Ashesi, I was guided to resources on campus to bring me up to speed with my coursework. By my second semester, I had improved my grade point average from a 1.25 to a 3.0 (out of 4) and in subsequent semesters, made it onto the Dean’s list - for students who made GPAs of 3.5 or more.”
Having known the power of scholarships first-hand, Teni spent a lot of her time at Ashesi thinking through how to unlock similar opportunities for others; she also spent time helping others navigate academic challenges on campus and beyond. During her time at Ashesi, she was instrumental in raising funds to see four girls through their senior secondary school education. She also led fundraising efforts to sponsor the education of 15 brilliant students from the Berekuso township. Beyond this work, she served as a Mathematics tutor with the Berekuso Maths Project - aimed at improving math skills in Ashesi's surrounding township; she also worked as a tutor for Kayacare, an initiative started by an Ashesi alumna, that looks to provide safe spaces for children of head porters in Accra’s market places.
In her final year, Teni's chose to focus her final year research paper on creating awareness of the motivation and circumstances of kayayei in Ghana. She intends to use the report to develop stronger intervention programmes for girls in her home region who may be forced to become head porters like she was.
"When you have worked so hard to earn some money for a living, investing in school might sometimes seem like a huge sacrifice because the benefits are not evident in the short term," says Teni. "And for many, higher education becomes an unrealistic goal and too much of a sacrifice. So for those without a strong support system, skipping school may seem a better option. However, with the education I received at Ashesi, I look forward to helping correct this challenge for others to pursue their dreams in the face of obstacles.”
Source: Ashesi External Relations