When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, teaching high school math at a poor village day school, I didn't have a lot of exceptional students (exceptional in the academic sense...of course they were all exceptional people!). One day one of the teachers (my next door neighbor and the social studies teacher) asked me if I knew a certain student. Of course I knew him; he was the smartest kid in class. He was also about to be kicked out of school because he hadn't paid his fees. Seems his father was a drunk and his mother had abandoned them years before. My neighbor asked if I knew of any donors (they had this belief that we were all somehow in touch with an endless supply of rich people wanting to donate money) who could offer him a scholarship. I said I'd see what I could do.
I did try to find scholarships but actual scholarships (as opposed to fake scholarships I made up to disguise donations sent to me by friends and family) were very difficult to come by. So I talked to the student and told him that I was looking for a scholarship but in the mean time I would pay his fees so long as he didn't tell anyone lest I have everyone in town knocking on my door asking for money. He agreed and he held true to his promise. I never did manage to get him a scholarship but I did make sure his fees were paid even after my time there was over.
The school where I taught was not a school that prepared students for higher learning. Every student in the country takes what is known as the WAEC (West African Exam Council) at the end of secondary school (equivalent to grade 12). They take tests in subjects whether their school had a teacher for those subjects or not. How any student from the school where I taught (which did not have teachers for all subjects) passes that exam I will never understand (but clearly they are smarter than I am!). So this student managed to pass the WAEC and gain acceptance into one of the best universities in the country. He wrote to me (on paper through the mail!) asking if I could help with the tuition. How could I say no? Tuition there isn't free but it's insanely cheap compared to American universities. A small sacrifice on my part for a huge return on his.
After graduating with a degree in sustainable agriculture he began his 2 years of national service. Then he went to work for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) working on reforestation projects. When I went back to Ghana in 2013 he told me he was applying to graduate school programs. I asked him why he had waited so long and he said he felt that he needed to stand on his own feet (his words), work and save money in order to be able to pay for the exams and application fees himself since he had been so fortunate to have had someone help him get as far as he did. Not sure where he got that attitude since he certainly didn't learn it at home. But needless to say, I was proud.
He emailed me (how times have changed!) last year to say he was in Wales on a one-year masters scholarship (he's also doing a lot of volunteer work with a beach clean-up project there so clearly he got something from me :D). I wish I could have been there when he got on the plane...got off the plane...saw a supermarket for the first time...tasted cheese...so many new experiences! I'm going to see him next month and I'm so excited. He's an amazing kid (I suppose I should call him an adult now but he'll always be my kid) and I can't wait to help him have more new experiences (including taking him to my old stomping grounds in the Netherlands)!
Here he is when I saw him in 2008 (in yellow, he was an undergraduate student then) and in 2013 (we didn't have digital cameras when I lived there so I know I have pictures of him from way back then but I don't have them digitally).
My boy is definitely now a very mature, passionate, determined man and I can't wait to see what he makes of himself and how he betters his country. When you do something like the Peace Corps it isn't always easy to see if what you're doing is making any difference and sometimes it seems as if beating your head against a wall would be more productive. My kid tells people that if I hadn't helped him he'd be the hardest working farmer in the village. I like to think that he would have found a way to make it to better things on his own but I'm definitely very proud of what he has done and so happy to have played a small part in his success. And I'm so looking forward to seeing him soon!