When you are 24, still in school and decide to relocate to Africa after nearly 18 years in the U.S., the obvious conclusion would be that you are delusional. Well at least that is what people told me when I explained to them that I would be moving to Ghana in February. Being the stubborn person that I am, I completely disregarded all comments because I had already made up my mind and had decided on what I wanted to do. I am normally very indecisive, but on this particular issue I could not be deterred because I was walking in faith and a greater purpose.
I knew I wanted to move back to Ghana in 2011 when I visited for the first time since leaving at age 6. Now, some say it may just be because I was there on vacation, but to me it was more than that. Ghana really felt like home because it in fact was. It was awesome to be in a country where I understood the people and culture, and everyone more or less looked like me #NoRacism. It was great being around childhood friends, family members and revisiting my roots. For the first time in years, I could really absorb what was going on around me.
Living in the United States, things are so fast paced you barely have time to analyze what is going on.
I got my first job when I was 16 years old working at Popeyes after school and on the weekends, left home when I was 17 years old, and I have been going to school and working to sustain my upkeep ever since. It has not been an easy journey by all means, but in the states this is actually the norm for many people. There were times when I’ve had to take time off from school because I would be so exhausted from work or trying to “chase” money that the focus and concentration for school was just not there; it was rather on making a living today! From working in a warehouse, providing live-in care to the elderly, being a nanny for 3 young children to working at Bank of America and Sage North America: I worked my fingers down to the bone only to live paycheck to paycheck. You can be fired or let go at anytime and then what? The bill collectors do not accept excuses. It seemed as though I was working just to be able to afford working. I was paying a good bit of money for an apartment, that I spent less than 10 hours in every day. Everyone is so consumed with their own problems that people hardly relate anymore. I’d been living in the same complex for over a year and still didn’t know who my neighbors were because they were equally as busy as I was. We call it come and go, come and go.
When people tell me that they’ve bought something I often laugh. I tell them unless you’ve paid cash in full for the item, you have not “bought” anything: you are leasing. Take a house for example: miss a few mortgage payments and you will see how soon the bank will take away the house that you “bought.” Miss a few car payments and you will see how quick that car you “bought” will be repossessed. That’s America for you. We run on a credit system: you purchase things with money that you don’t have (which can easily get you into trouble). One bad mistake and you won’t even be able to purchase a toothpick on credit. I know, I just shattered all of your fantasies of living in the States. You thought it was all ice cream and red velvet cake. Sorry to disappoint you, but don’t be deceived by Instagram hashtags (including my own). These were all things I considered but, it was not what really compelled me to move to Ghana.
In 2013, I began to develop a strong passion for humanitarian work. I started volunteering frequently in my community, and It was then that I realized I was doing it all wrong. I looked around me, noticed all the “luxury” I had and realized that my own people back in Ghana didn’t have nearly half of what I had. I, Whitney Osei, was doing nothing to help with this. Everyone was so eager to get a Visa to go abroad for better educational and career opportunities, that they sucked all of the skill and knowledge right out of the country without knowing it (human capital flight). A person could pay $35,000 for Visa connection, yet could not establish something that would provide opportunities for themselves and others in their community? I didn’t understand that logic. I thought to myself: if everyone is leaving Ghana for better opportunities abroad, who is going to stay to develop the country? Who is going to create jobs and train our future leaders? Who is going to push for government reforms and policies? Who is going to be an advocate for the youth? ME that’s who: Whitney Awuraakuah Appeanimaa Osei. I had found my purpose and there was no escaping it.
Masses of Ghanaians have been taught to believe that there are no opportunities in Ghana, and that you can only become successful abroad. Negative. I know plenty of people who were born and raised in Ghana and are quite successful–and no they do not deal in cocaine. It’s all about perception and proper utilization of the resources you have available to you. Success is tangible in Ghana; you have to think global and act local.
When I look at Ghana all I can see is the opportunity for growth. Even through the Dumsor crisis, I still see opportunities to make money and establish something impactful.
Here is a country full of rich resources and has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa: Ghana is an entrepreneur’s paradise. There are still a lot of different industries that have not yet been tapped into that entrepreneurs can explore. There is a growing need for a lot of various businesses that have not yet been established. I was brought to the realization that no one is going to “fix” Ghana. Only Ghanaians can fix Ghana. If we want Ghana to be a “December to remember” every year when expats come for holidays then we need to invest back into our home (oh, the irony). If I am able to establish a non-profit in Ghana, and I have provided jobs for at least 5 people I have contributed greatly to the economy and my community. This is the mindset that we need! We need doctors, lawyers, engineers to come back home and work with industry leaders in Ghana to develop systems and strategies for growth. If we are all in Abrokyire eating Burger King and McDonalds how is that going to happen?
Ghana is currently facing a lot of challenges, and yes it does take some adjusting to. Believe me getting used to life in Ghana is very difficult. I have hit many speed bumps already, reworking my plan along the way; however, the issues that we are facing are not issues that cannot be resolved. We need to go back home and help our country. Those of us that have been fortunate enough to have access to “quality” education and expertise abroad should be inclined to go back and rebuild Ghana.
As for school, do not be deceived: there are plenty of amazing universities in Ghana that allow you to transfer credits and receive the same “quality” education. A degree in Ghana is just as good as a degree anywhere else. After all it is how the individual applies the knowledge they obtain in school that truly matters. An attorney friend of mine once gave me this bit of advice, “the kind of jobs you want don’t care where you went to school, and the ones that do care you won’t want to work there anyway. They care about what you can bring to the organization and how.”
My reason for moving back to Ghana was only because of one thing: I wanted to be a part of my country’s success story.
I wanted to take what I have learned in the United States and use it to develop my home, so that my younger sister’s generation and generations to follow can have opportunities that they never dreamed possible. I want to look beyond my own selfish needs to focus on the greater benefit of my Ghana. Sure I may not get 24 hours electricity, paved roads or state of the art health centers, but I’ve gained something much more: purpose, peace, focus and neighbors that check up on me everyday to make sure I’m not laying dead in my apartment. If we work together Ghana can have all of these things and much more in only a few years. There’s a sense of inner fulfillment when I am in Ghana that is priceless, so even in Dumsor I sleep effortlessly. If Patrick Awuah Jr. can do it, why can’t we all?
Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. I am not saying that you should not travel to the United States if the opportunity presents itself, nor am I saying that you cannot be successful in the United States. You can! What I am saying is that if we get the chance to travel abroad we should take that opportunity to absorb as much information, skill and knowledge as possible, and then return home to use these acquired skills to develop your respective countries. Africa is the next superpower whether you want to believe it or not. Africa is and always will be HOME. Never forget that!