Unfortunate events led Ghana’s Felix Lanyo, who also goes by the name Felix Goodman, to live at a drug rehabilitation center even though he hadn’t used drugs. He has since been working to use his experiences of homelessness, interactions with addicts, and political stagnation to help the youth in his country.
In the most recent YALI Voices podcast, Lanyo discussed growing up with a father who was a drug addict and whose habit and constant absence forced him to drop out of school. When Lanyo’s mother remarried, his stepfather refused to help pay for his schooling unless he followed him and became an electrician. Refusing to do so, he was ultimately not allowed to live with them.
Searching for a place to live, he heard about a drug rehabilitation center run by a Christian organization and they agreed to let him stay if he entered their program.
“After I went to the discipleship program and I lived with the addicts, I realized most of them got onto drugs not by their own will. It’s certain truths, certain refrains, and, sometimes, curiosity,” he said. The experience led him to launch an NGO that helps young people overcome their drug addictions.
“One thing I’ve realized is much of the youth gets hooked on drugs, sometimes, through curiosity and ignorance. And then once they have their first try, the second time the guys realize they cannot get out of it,” he said. His organization helps explain the negative impacts of drug use and offers alternative methods to help people overcome their personal struggles.
Lanyo’s experience of hunger has also led him to start an agriculture project to help provide food for people on the street. The difficulty he faced in getting an education has motivated him to help female child laborers get the schooling they need to improve their lives.
He also realized that many young Ghanaians are exercising their votes based on party allegiance or personality, rather than the policies and programs the politicians are advocating. Lanyo created the Ghana Youth Parliament House as a neutral space for people to meet, share ideas and present their solutions to the government.
In the podcast, which was recorded before Ghana’s November 2016 general elections, he said: “My aim … is to bring every youth. It doesn’t matter your political party you are coming from or whether you support — just come. Sit down. Let’s solve our problem. What’s our problems? Why are these things not going on right? Why is this thing like this?” So far, his initiative has spread to four regions in Ghana.
With all that he does, Lanyo said many are surprised to hear about his difficult background. “One thing I tell people is you don’t put blames on people. You — you lead yourself. You learn to lead yourself first, before you can lead someone else. Because if you don’t lead yourself, why — how can you really lead another person?”
Listen to the full podcast to learn more about Lanyo’s extraordinary experiences.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.
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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BUREAU OF INTERNATIONAL INFORMATION PROGRAMS (IIP)
“YALI Voices Podcast:
Felix Lanyo (AKA Goodman)”
[SINGING] Yes, we can. Sure, we can change the world.
MR. MACON PHILLIPS: Greetings, young African leaders. This is the YALI Voices podcast — your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. I’m Macon Phillips and I’m so glad you’ve joined us today. Before we get started, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play. And visit yali.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI. If you like what we’re doing here, please, take a moment to recommend us to a friend.
My conversation today is with Felix Goodman. Felix is a rising young leader and the founder of the Ghana Youth Parliament House, an organization dedicated to providing detailed information on candidates seeking public office. Felix also works in helping others combat their addictions to drugs, hoping to steer them on a successful, drug-free path. Now, without further ado, here is my conversation with Felix Goodman.
Felix, thanks for joining us today.
MR. FELIX GOODMAN: Thank you.
MR. PHILLIPS: And when you run into people and they say, “What do you do,” how do you answer that question?
MR. GOODMAN: What do I do? Basically, I’ll tell them how much I’ve been a blessing unto myself, how much I’ve coached myself, and then how much I’m helping and impacting hope and life into other people.
MR. PHILLIPS: Great. And so what does that mean on a day-to-day basis? What are some of the things that you’re working on these days?
MR. GOODMAN: I’ve taken the YALI course. It’s been a great thing. And it’s built my leadership skills. And I run an NGO, actually. And many of the activities I do is with the anti-drug campaign. One thing I’ve realized is much of the youth gets hooked on drugs, sometimes, through curiosity and ignorance. And then once they have their first try, the second time the guys realize they cannot get out of it. And then they just build up like that.
So I’ve taken it upon myself that I’ll make — I’ll create awareness of drugs, so young folks and high school — especially like per se — should get a fair idea of what drugs is, and the kind of impact it brings us onto their lives, and the effects of how much it will drain them down. Some — I speak to some and they go, because I have break ups from some relationships, I have some family problems, and so I have just taken some drugs to feel OK.
Some say, because I’m depressed, I’m taking drugs to feel OK. But I ask them, are you going to be depressed forever? Won’t the problem come back after you’ve taken the drugs? I said, after you’re off, the problem is still there. So I’m trying to tell them that it’s not the right way to get off your problems, but then there’s another alternative which is better than that.
Because if you — for me, the main reason why I’m running this anti-drug program is my father was on drugs. Yeah. And he was never responsible. Yeah. So it has affected me in the long run because I fell out of high school. I couldn’t complete high school because my father wasn’t there for me. He left me when I had been 180 days. That was six months. He was never there for me again until I’m sitting here right now. And then he died of HIV and AIDS. So I know how it has to be on drugs. Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: And so you — he wasn’t around growing up?
MR. GOODMAN: No, he wasn’t at all.
MR. PHILLIPS: And that affected you a lot. You dropped out of high school.
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: How did you correct it? What was the — what was the turning point for you, where you sort of realized, for yourself, that you wanted to take it a different direction?
MR. GOODMAN: And then when I — sorry. When I dropped out of high school, I was actually a good student. I was actually a very bright student in school. And then I can probably say I was the best student in the class. I went in the school, after my registration, I never paid any fees anymore. Even though I wasn’t on scholarship, the head teacher allowed me to be in school — through from Form I through to Form II, second term. He encouraged me to come to school.
But my bills were accumulating. It became too much that I fell out of school. When I came home, I saw it. I told myself, so does that mean it’s end of me going back to school? Because I just realized I was best among my colleagues in class. So would I end up somewhere else that they would even become a better person than I would be tomorrow? No, no. That’s not me. I don’t want to be that. I need to go back to school.
So I started pulling things together. I was trying and making some little gardening farms to get us some monies and go back to school. Some worked out, some — actually, it didn’t go. I didn’t get the funds to go back. I was trying scholarship opportunities. And my mom — my mom actually married to a different man, who was an electrician and he was into poetry, actually. So he never supported my idea of going to school.
He said I should become an electrician as he was. I haven’t said an electrician is a bad job — it’s a good job. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to be in the classroom, go to school, and become someone. So he said, if I can’t follow him up, then that’s it. He can’t pay my school fees. He can’t take care of me.
And besides, I can’t eat from the house because it’s that electrician job that brings the money to the house. If I’m not following him, then I’m going to look for scholarships, and stuff, and have venues to go back to school, to the classroom. Then he was sorry. I thought he was.
MR. PHILLIPS: So you had a choice between either studying what he wanted you to study and having your education covered, or studying what you wanted to study and having to go figure it out on your own?
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah. Sure. So I took the — I took the challenge upon myself that, you know, for me, I would go to school. Whatever it means I pass to go to school, I’ll go to school.
MR. PHILLIPS: OK.
MR. GOODMAN: So I was trying reaching some radio stations and putting my profile that people could help me get back to school. But, unfortunately, it never happened. Nobody was able to help me. And I’ve always been struggling to go back to school. And I can say, right now, I just started, on Monday, to Ghana Institute of Languages in French and Spanish. Yeah. And it’s great. And I’m taking it from there.
And through all this time — that was around 2005 until now that I have always been dreaming to go back to the classroom. And that’s encouraged me. I’ve done so many things. Because when I actually left home, my stepfather had a different apartment somewhere. And they were supposed to move. Because where we residing, at first, the rent died. So we were supposed to move. And he said, he can’t — he actually told my mom to tell me that I’m not welcome in his new apartment.
So I — and I thought he was kidding, but — and my mom kept on repeating the same thing to him, you know, he says, yeah, he says this and that. OK. So two days until the day they move, I heard on the radio, once I was — I like — I love listening to a radio a lot. So I heard on the radio there was this rehab center. I didn’t even hear it from the advert it was a rehab center. They were saying — talking about a discipleship program.
That they teach about the word of God and you become — and you continue to preach the word of God and teach other people. Of course, you get to a point. I was frustrated. I didn’t know what to do. So I was like, OK, I — because I wasn’t so strong in reading the Bible. I don’t know if I was even believing it. And I — I don’t know. I was disturbed. So I wanted to do something. I was like, OK, why don’t I go? Since I claim I’m a Christian, why I don’t go, and study the bible, and then become a pastor or something?
That is even better than something. So I went. I think four days to they are moving, I went to check. And when I got there, I realized it was a rehab center/discipleship program. So I spoke to my mother. You know, seriously, I want to join. Because it was un-intensive.
So if there was something, you could home and come back. And I told my dad — my step dad told me I would have to move from the house. So I thought that would be an opportunity for me to even get a place to stay or to live. The main apostle said, OK, I’m welcome, if I can join the program. I said, OK.
MR. PHILLIPS: And that’s what got you focused on the anti-drug area?
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah. That got for me. Because when my dad was on drugs, I didn’t spend time with him. I actually saw my dad twice my whole life. And, you know, I didn’t know how much the effect was until I went to the rehab. And so that’s why I went, too, because I kind of had this bitterness in me against him. Like, yeah, he didn’t take care of me. And I had that in me.
But after I went to the discipleship program and I lived with the addicts, I realized most of them got onto drugs not by their own will. It’s certain truths, certain refrains, and, sometimes, curiosity. And the thing can just happen. And it just gets you. So I understood him and I was able to let go. And I forgive him. Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: And so it’s been personally rewarding, in that sense?
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah. Sure. There was this guy in the program who actually also had a problem with his father. And I could — I felt that, no, this guy, you know, he doesn’t even want to hear his daddy’s name. So I called him to the side. And I never — I hadn’t told him my story. So I called him to the side. You know, you haven’t heard my story. You have to forgive people. I mean, you become free. And I told him my story. And from there, he was able to forgive him. And he became free and he’s my friend now.
MR. PHILLIPS: Wow.
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah. So from — from that, it’s been great. So I went to Chosen, I think — no, a day before I go to Chosen, I actually got a job. And that was a cleaning job at Commonwealth Hall. It’s the west of the Ghana campus. So I went for the first day. And I booked in Chosen rehab that I would be coming. That was four days until my stepfather’s moving. I will be coming. So the apostle allowed it. So I said, OK, I should come.
But I — and then, within that time — I applied to the job earlier, before I even went to Chosen, but they never called. But the moment I went to make enquiries that day at Chosen, they had called me to come to the job. So I went. And then the job, I started. I did the first day, the second day. I realized, no, I have to go to Chosen. So I went for the rehab and I went for the discipleship program. And I went through the program.
So when I came home, I realized that, you know, our community — a lot of young people, you know, in our communities, mainly, they start using their drugs through high schools. They go to school and people are trying it. Some — some will take — like a friend takes it. And he’s so smart. He’s so brilliant. He can study hard. And all these things, it’s not true. It’s false. They’re all lies. It doesn’t happen.
And so you see a friend, he’s so calm. And you say, OK, because I always want to become — I want to be like my friend. And you get to know that your friend is on drugs. And he will tell you, OK, come on, give it a first try. Just one try. That’s all. And it’s not only one try. And it’s going to be continuous. It’s going to be forever. And it becomes part of you. So that’s it. And I — actually, I am the president and the CEO of Ghana Youth Parliament House.
This is because I realized the youth in Ghana, they — there’s a problem with the youth because some of them will go to vote for a president or a candidate because they say he’s so fine. He’s a tall man, so I voted for him. Because my family, they always voted for this particular party, so I’m going to vote for that. And I realized, no, it’s not supposed to be so, like — before you vote for someone, you should even assess the person.
Like where he is coming from? What has he done? What contributions has he done? I mean, before you even want to become the president or get the position, you should — they should ask certain questions. You know, the youth of Ghana, we have to — we have to learn and question authorities. Like, why is this thing done like this? Why is this too? OK. Why shouldn’t it be done this way? Why can’t it be done this way instead of always going through one root end?
And so I got an idea. I brought some people together — young folks together. They bought into the idea of like, oh, this is a great thing. And so I went to Parliament House. I met them and I spoke to them. And this is my idea. I think it’s great. I think it’s a good thing if we, the youth, can come up with our own parliament where you can come together and discuss issues concerning we. I mean, it’s — they can — because, probably, they wouldn’t even know what our problem is.
Because they are the highest, at the apex, they wouldn’t know what is actually happening down there. So they need to hear from it as well. OK.
MR. PHILLIPS: So is the Youth Parliament — does it draw from young people around the country?
MR. GOODMAN: So what we are doing now is — they advised me — they gave me a letter to register it as a company, as an entity, so that we could — because, right now, the government doesn’t have funds for that. So if we want to take on a program, we can search for funds to support. So because it’s something that is going to be for the whole youth in Ghana, they thought it wise we should have it in every region. So we have 10 regions in Ghana.
So when, actually, I started there with the Accra one. And there’s one on the Upper West, and there’s one in the Ashanti region, and then the Central region. So we have four regions now that it’s running in. Yeah. So that’s really very effective. So yeah. And aside that, I mean, it’s agriculture. Because when I was with my stepdad, he — aside this electrician thing, he loved agriculture. And I farmed a lot. And I realized some of the benefits of, you know, farming.
And I’ve slept so much with hunger when I came out of — yeah. So I know how it feels to be hungry. So I started this agriculture project. I just started it. Our youth and, let’s say, 50 percent of charity give for people. I mean, to create food security for people. Because there are a lot of people on the street. And they go to — they go to bed on empty stomachs. And it can make someone to go and steal. Because someone is hungry, he’s not able to even think straight.
So if we could come together, and actually do something, and invest into agriculture, it would even decrease unemployment in Ghana. Because the unemployment rate in Ghana is bad. The youth unemployment is very high. So if I can even convince people — if I start and the youth see that this is flourishing, people will actually buy into the idea.
MR. PHILLIPS: That’s great.
MR. GOODMAN: Man, it’s going to help.
MR. PHILLIPS: That’s great. So you’re doing work in the anti-drug area.
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: You’re doing work with the Ghana Youth Parliament.
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: What does the future hold for you? What do you — what do you want to do with those things, moving forward? Or are there other issues, too, that you’re starting to pay more attention to? And then, I guess, how does this all fit into the election that’s coming up in November? Do you think that’s going to be something that really increases the energy, in terms of people’s interest in these issues?
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. You know, I’ve — we were supposed to have a meeting, like a general meeting. I mean, let’s say a regional meeting. And that was in the coming August. But the elections is coming on and there was this public relations officer in Ghana — the Parliament House. He called me. And he told me, no, he doesn’t want to see — they don’t want a situation whereby political parties will be taken advantage of this.
Because it’s not a party-affiliated organization, or something, or a platform whereby we say we belong to one particular party and they will have support — we will be supporting them. No, it’s not that. We — we are neutral. Everybody comes, shares ideas, problems, and we find a way to get it solved. So we find a way to voice this out to the main authorities, so that we can get this solved.
And so he actually told me to put a halt on it. And so we canceled the meeting, which would be coming up, because the elections will be coming in November. And then Zita Okaikoi, which, actually, is in my constituency — she actually came for one of our meetings. And she was like, oh, yeah, that’s good. So can she be coming more? And I could realize the — this thing — how they want to put it as in political And that is just not my dream for me this whole thing.
And that is not my aim. It is to bring every youth — it doesn’t matter your political party you are coming from or whether you support — just come. Sit down. Let’s solve our problem. What’s our problems? Why are these things not going on right? Why is this thing like this? Yeah. It shouldn’t be. Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: That’s great. OK. So we’re trying to wrap up each of these interviews with the same three questions, so I wanted to shoot them at you. And let’s hear what you have to say. The first is, tell us something about you that surprises people.
MR. GOODMAN: One thing about me that surprises people is when I tell people where, exactly, I come from — my background. And people are like, wow. People don’t believe me. Yeah. People would think, because I became homeless.
No, that — that isn’t me and that wasn’t me. I don’t know. There’s this — and one thing I tell people is you don’t put blames on people. You — you lead yourself. You learn to lead yourself first, before you can lead someone else. Because if you don’t lead yourself, why — how can you really lead another person?
MR. PHILLIPS: Yeah. That’s right.
MR. GOODMAN: So you have to be strong in your mind and be your own leader first.
MR. PHILLIPS: So my second question is, do you consider yourself more of a morning person, early riser? Or are you a late-night person?
MR. GOODMAN: I sleep late at night. I sleep very late. I’m a —
MR. PHILLIPS: You stay up late at night and sleep very late into the morning?
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah. My nights — normally, if I go to bed early, it’s, let’s say, around 1 a.m. Yeah. That’s early. Sometimes 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4.
MR. PHILLIPS: And are there things you do every day or every week that you feel like are routines that help you be more organized and be more effective, in terms of achieving your goals? Are there tips or advice you would give to people?
MR. GOODMAN: Yeah. Sure. I actually — I speak to young folks, young people enough, especially in my community, where I live. I’ve led so many people. I have four girls — four strong girls now — that I’m helping out. Yeah. And some were actually under child labor, which I’ve comforted them. I spoke to them. I’m like, why are you working for? I mean, they are very young. Some are very young. They are working and telling their stories.
And I said, I know it’s not supposed to be so. And they said, I’ve been harassed, sexually, and stuff. No, no. That’s not — so they should pursue education. So I got them, I coached them. Yeah. I take them through. There’s this one young lady who has been harassed sexually. Even though she’s in child labor. I spoke to her. Because I don’t have the money to, you know, carry her out and say, OK, I’m establishing you here, I told her, OK, you have to play your cards well.
I opened a bank account for her, so when she gets her money — she used to send the money back to the family — like the mother and the senior brothers are draining the money from her. And I thought, you know, you have to go school. Education is important. You have to get educated because that’s one thing I realized — that if our women, you know, get educated, if they get enlightened, I don’t — I think they — I will say it would change. Yeah.
Because there are so many kids lurching around. I mean, too much. Some are fatherless. And look, all these problems will reduce if you’re enlightened, if you go to school, if you’re educated, if you know your rights. I mean, you can even, like, question. Actually, a man — when a man comes into our life, you know what you’re about. Yeah. And it will solve our problems. So if our women are tutored well, they are taught, if they are well educated, if they go to school, and they know their rights —
MR. PHILLIPS: Yeah.
MR. GOODMAN: It will have impact on us because it’s on them.
MR. PHILLIPS: That’s great. So my last question, and this is really because we’ve been asking you so many questions, if you could ask a question to President Obama, what would your question be?
MR. GOODMAN: My question to President Obama would be, what would the future of YALI be when he leaves office? Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: Yeah. That’s a good question. And, you know, we’ve talked about that some. And I think the future of YALI lies, in large part, with people like you, who are going to take initiative and make YALI something that works for them, in their own country. We’ll continue to have these fellowship programs, we’ll continue to have these leadership centers, but I think the real exciting part about YALI, the next thing, is going to be what young leaders come up with themselves that we can support.
And the other really exciting part is what President Obama’s going to do after he’s president, because you know he’s still going to be involved, somehow, in Young Leaders in Africa because it’s just an inspiring — an inspiring time. So Felix, thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks, everyone at the YALI Network, for tuning in. We’ll have more interviews coming up soon.
All right. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Felix. His story about how he took his father’s addiction to drugs and turned it around into making sure others didn’t follow that same path is remarkable. Thank you, Felix, for sharing your story with us. And thank you, everyone, for tuning in. If you want to connect with Felix Goodman, you can find him on Facebook. Spell his name F-E-L-I-X G-O-O-D-M-A-N. Felix Goodman.
Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices podcast. Join the YALI Network at yali.state.gov and be part of something bigger.
Our theme music is “E Go Happen” by Grace Jerry and produced by her friends, the Presidential Precinct. The YALI Voices podcast is brought to you by the U.S. Department of State and as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, which is funded by the U.S. government. Thanks, everyone.