The University of PennsylvaniaPresident’s Engagement Prize gave Penn graduate Shadrack Frimpong the opportunity to fulfill a dream he had been imagining for years: opening a clinic and school for girls in his hometown of Tarkwa Breman, Ghana. But he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So his first step after being named a 2015 PEP winner was recruiting a team.
“The award provides critical seed funding and shows that you have an idea that people believe in,” says Frimpong, “But I need my team to get the work done.”
The President's Engagement Prize was started by President Amy Gutmann to empower Penn seniors to design and undertake local, national or global engagement projects during the year after they graduate. Now Frimpong's team, officially the Tarkwa Breman Community Alliance, or TBCA, which includes three other recent Penn graduates, is well on its way to realizing the vision that won him the prize. They’ve tapped expertise from village leaders, teachers and doctors as well as from Penn faculty and students to ensure the school and clinic will be welcomed, effective and sustainable for the long term.
Frimpong didn’t have to look far to recruit people to help him. His roommates while at Penn, 2015 graduates William Mould and Maxwell Sencherey-Taylor, as well as 2013 graduate Julian Addo and Swarthmore College 2014 graduate Isaac Opoku, all are originally from Ghana and share his interest in returning to their home country to make a difference in health care, in agribusiness and in education. When news of Frimpong’s prize arrived, it seemed like fate.
“We're all Ghanaians, and we've all been yearning to do something back home for a while, so this was a perfect opportunity for us to just jump in and go,” Frimpong says.
They’ve wasted no time fleshing out the details of their venture, as their goal is to finish construction of the facility by the end of this year. Addo manages finances while Mould and Sencherey-Taylor are developing partnerships. Opoku, who had been working in graphic design when he joined the TBCA, handles the creative side.
In the middle of last summer, the team set off for Ghana. Based in Accra, in office space donated by Meridian Logistics, the TBCA has also spent considerable time in the village itself, where they’ve already made an impact on the ground.
They’ve secured 50 acres of land, which they’ve surveyed and begun clearing to prepare for construction. After coming to the realization that the village’s river, the Ankroba, had been severely polluted by illegal gold mining, the TBCA worked with the nonprofit Clean Water for Everyone to have two boreholes drilled to provide clean drinking water for the village and the facility. Frimpong has also met with representatives of the Ghanaian ministries of health and education to work out an arrangement for trained teachers and medical professionals to work at the school and clinic once they are running.
To make sure everything runs smoothly in Tarkwa Breman even while the rest of the team is in Accra, an eight-hour car ride away, they added a key member to their staff: Adwoa Ayensuah, a woman who was born in the village and later left to obtain a university degree.
“She’s working for us full-time, liaising with the villagers,” says Frimpong. “She’s our daily eyes and ears on the ground.”
Frimpong and his colleagues have made the most of the PEP by partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations to stretch the impact of their prize. The organization played host to three Google employees, who, as part of the company’s Global Reach Program, worked with Frimpong’s team for three weeks, helping them to draw up their operations plan and to practice pitches to potential donors. The TBCA has also received pro bono legal advice through an arrangement with Thomson Reuters’ TrustLaw program.
And they’ve looked to their Penn roots for support as well. During the summer, Scott Aker, an architect and lecturer in the Penn School of Design’s Department of Architecture, visited Tarkwa Breman to assess the land, talk with locals and begin to envision a building that meets the needs of the community. Students in a class co-taught by Aker and Richard Wesley, an adjunct professor of architecture, later drew up renderings of proposed structures for the school and clinic and will visit the village in the spring to elaborate on their plans and join the community in building the actual structure.
Though early in their careers, Frimpong and his team members have already assimilated many of the hard-won lessons of international development work, including the importance of incorporating local knowledge and buy-in and providing for the sustainability of their mission.
Each step they’ve taken has been garnered with approval from village leaders, who have also created a community board, made up of representatives from Tarkwa Breman and neighboring villages, to be involved in plans for developing and running the clinic and school.
Because part of the facility’s operating costs will be defrayed by crops farmed on the surrounding land, Frimpong and his team are working to establish a local value chain to ensure the goods from the school’s farm win competitive prices at market. On a visit back to the United States, they’ve also been meeting with their mentors at Penn and with potential donors and supporters of their efforts, notably Chelsea Clinton.
With all of the excitement of a new venture, the team hasn’t lost sight of the reason why they’re doing it.
“The first night that we visited the village, a young girl had actually died on her way to the nearest hospital, which is a few hours' travel away,” says Mould. “That really made it real and spurred us on.”
“Our slogan is ‘transforming Ghana one village at a time,’” says Frimpong. “We’re very aware that this won’t be easy, but we’re ever ready for the challenges ahead.”