Editor’s Note: Since the recording of this podcast, interviewee Emmanuel Osei changed his name to Manasseh Gowk. He is referred to as Emmanuel Osei during the podcast and Manasseh Gowk in the blog.
He was born in war-torn Liberia and had to flee with his mother and siblings to Ghana, where they struggled to make ends meet. Yet YALI Network member Manasseh Gowk, formerly Emmanuel Osei, counts himself lucky. He was able to earn the scholarship he needed to go to school. Now, mindful of others who can’t afford an education, Osei is giving back.
“I think there are some people who are just like me,” he told the State Department’s Macon Phillips in a YALI Voices podcast. “I’ve seen people that I grew up with, you know, who weren’t able to further their education because some of their parents couldn’t afford education.”
Using his network of connections, Gowk has been raising funds for students facing financial constraints and helping them apply for scholarships.
“I look at their self-development, what they’ve done to develop themselves beyond classroom tuition. I also look out for students who are ready to help others given the chance,” he said.
But helping others get an education isn’t his only passion. Listen to the whole podcast to find out how he is leading by example when it comes to helping Ghana’s environment.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BUREAU OF INTERNATIONAL INFORMATION PROGRAMS (IIP)
“YALI Voices Podcast: Emmanuel Osei”
♪ Yes we can ♪
♪ Sure we can ♪
♪ Change the world ♪
MACON PHILLIPS: Welcome Young African Leaders! This is the YALI Voices podcast – a place to share some of the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network.
My name is Macon Phillips, and I’m really glad you joined us today. Don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast. Just visit YALI.state.gov to stay up-to-date on all things YALI.
I had the opportunity recently to sit down and have a conversation with Emmanuel Osei, a young African leader who was born in Liberia during the civil war and ultimately moved to Ghana with his family.
Emmanuel has been doing work in the education field, assisting students and finding ways to fund their education and giving them the opportunity to study abroad. On top of helping students reach their full potential, Emmanuel also has an interest in Ghana’s environment; in particular, its sanitation issues. So let’s jump right into my interview with Emmanuel Osei.
It’s great to have you here, Emmanuel. Thanks for joining us.
EMMANUEL OSEI: Thank you.
MR. PHILLIPS: Now, Emmanuel, you’re based here in Ghana – you’re from Liberia originally – you were born there?
MR. OSEI: I was born there.
MR. PHILLIPS: Because your father was a U.N. peacekeeper?
MR. OSEI: Yeah. That’s –
MR. PHILLIPS: Is that right?
MR. OSEI: Yeah –
MR. PHILLIPS: OK, and now you’re here in Ghana and doing a lot of work in the education space.
MR. OSEI: Definitely.
MR. PHILLIPS: So let’s – let’s start just by talking about your background. I know there is some – a lot of challenges involved in where you’re coming from, but I also wanna hear about some of the things that helped inform you as a leader in what you’re doing now. So paint us a picture of what life was like in Liberia when you were coming, coming up.
MR. OSEI: Well, I’ve been in Ghana since 1990. I was actually born in September – on September 26, 1990. And exactly one week time my mother had to come all the way down here to Ghana because of the Liberian war. So I’ve never returned back to Liberia ever since, and I’ve had my education here in Ghana, and so devoting myself to education here in Ghana means a lot to me. I went to primary school, to junior high school under scholarship. My mother couldn’t afford and because I was very brilliant I managed to earn a scholarship. So I know what it means to, you know, have the need – the educational need and not have the money to fund yourself. So growing up I’ve seen people that I grew up with, you know, who weren’t able to further their education because some of their parents couldn’t afford education. And at high school level my uncle took care of me. He actually took care of my high school education, and when I did very well I enrolled into the University of Ghana where he continued to fund me until I graduated from college and I’m now working. So I would say that I’m a Ghanaian and my mom and dad – my mom and dad are Ghanaians, and since 1990 I’ve not been back to Liberia, though my dad have stayed there until two years ago when he returned and, unfortunately, passed away.
MR. PHILLIPS: OK. So when you think about where you’re coming from, it’s all Ghana.
MR. OSEI: Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: And that experience it sounds like was not always easy, but you seemed to excel in school. And, I wonder, a lot of people who are good in school maybe take on a job in the private sector and start a business; some maybe go into art and other things, but it sounds like you have really focused on this nonprofit education space. Why is that? Do you know what – when did the light bulb go off that this is an area you wanted to focus on?
MR. OSEI: I think it came as me identifying with somebody’s predicaments, somebody I just met and I felt I could be of help to her because she couldn’t enroll into the university because the mom didn’t have money. The following year that when she got a chance to be in school, she actually enrolled as a fee-paying student which was, you know, outrageously expensive. And at some point she had to defer – she had to drop out of school. And I know this girl is a very brilliant girl and so I had to go meet people that I knew and people that I knew could be of help to her and eventually raised funds for her, put her back in school. So when I realized that I could capitalize on my links and connections to help people, I decided to stay in that particular field.
MR. PHILLIPS: So where did you take that? You started with one – one person you knew –
MR. OSEI: One person I knew –
MR. PHILLIPS: – and decided to try to grow. So what did you do from there?
MR. OSEI: After that – so what I do is my sister is a teacher in Takoradi, so I arranged with her and asked her to, you know, recommend students that are very good students – potentials who are financially constrained and then I would arrange with people here in Accra, we raise money, and then we send it to cater for those people. So as it stands now I’ve been able to raise money for two additional people, in addition to the lady I provided support to. She’s reading pharmacy in the University of Ghana. She’s in the fourth year.
MR. PHILLIPS: That’s great.
MR. OSEI: Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: And so now when you’re working day-to-day here in Ghana, tell us some of the things you’re working on other than just that type of program to help students.
MR. OSEI: OK. So I’m working now as a senior recruitment officer for universities in the U.K. So I go to international schools, I go to universities – private universities and public universities – and I interact with students and I talk to them about study-abroad opportunities for these students and scholarship opportunities. Those who are from very rich backgrounds gets to pay full and then they go to study, but those that need support we provide, you know, scholarships, skills that are available. We help them write their essays – scholarship essays – and then they get some of the scholarships that are available.
MR. PHILLIPS: What do you look for in students when you’re talking to them?
MR. OSEI: When I’m talking to students I look for students not – I’m a very, you know, brilliant student, but I believe that there are some people who are the wrong place and so, you know, I went to university, I wanted to do linguistics and English, but I did very well in high school. My uncle said, “No,” he’s funding me, so I had to do banking and finance. So I think there are some people who are just like me. When I was in my second year, I proved to my uncle that I wanted to do something communication – something English, something linguistics – so I won my first international poetry award in Italy and so I felt so proud of myself that even though I didn’t get to do it, I’m still excelling in that aspect of my life.
So when I see people I don’t want to jump to the conclusion that once you’re not, you know, we are not doing well academically you don’t deserve the chance to do other things that you have special interests in. So when I’m looking – when I’m talking to students, I look at their self-development, what they’ve done to develop themselves beyond classroom tuition. I also look out for students who are ready to help others given the chance. So these are one of the – these are the two main things that I look out for apart from academic excellence.
MR. PHILLIPS: So here in Ghana, as you’re doing this work, what are some of the other issues that you’re starting to pay attention to as we look forward into the future for both Ghana, but also just the region? What are some of the issues that you think are most interesting?
MR. OSEI: One of the issues has to do with the environment – sanitation. It’s one of the things that I really have on my heart. You know, the waste management system here is very very poor – very appalling. The reason I’m saying this is that none of us, we are not ready to change our mindsets on how we pay attention to our environment. And, personally, I take my time to do proper, you know, disposal of refuse. So when I eat I don’t just put the – drop the banana peel in a bin; I keep it in my bag, when I go home – I live in a very green area – I live on the University of Ghana campus – we have a very – a lot of green areas – and then I dump in there, and then dump the rubbish inside a bin because I think that if I’m doing this and 10 more people gets to do that, another 10 more people gets to do that, doubling up 100 more people. When we continue to do that the problem that we have – here in Accra when it rains just a day people are crying because we are going to have serious flood – flooding. And last year, June 3rd, we had a very big disaster here in Ghana and it was all over the world. It’s because we don’t pay attention to our environment. Even those who are educated, even the elites have a problem with this, you know, this refuse disposal, and it’s very, very painful. Each time I walk around, even on University of Ghana campus, I want to try to correct people. They think that, you know, you know it all, and they either insult you or they don’t even give you any response and they walk away. So one of the key things that I would wish that things would turn around has to do with waste management and the way we treat our environment is very, very poor over here in Ghana.
MR. PHILLIPS: So this is an issue you’re gonna be focusing on –
MR. OSEI: Definitely.
MR. PHILLIPS: I know that there’s a lot of people in the YALI Network and in general who are already doing a lot of work in this area. So if you’re looking for Emmanuel, look for Emmanuel Osei here in Ghana, and he’s working on a number of things. His background is in education, but he’s starting to think a lot about waste management and its impact on the environment.
MR. OSEI: Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: I wanna end by asking you just a few questions that we’ve been asking everyone that we interview. The first would be something that surprises people about you. You’re a pretty low-key guy. You’re pretty – pretty focused it seems like, so what’s something about you we may not realize?
MR. OSEI: I’m very compassionate.
MR. PHILLIPS: You’re very compassionate. What does that mean?
MR. OSEI: I’m ready to share with people not based on the fact that they don’t have, but based on the fact that they need it.
MR. PHILLIPS: Right. OK.
Next question: Are you – would you consider yourself a morning person or someone who’s more of a night owl – late night person?
MR. OSEI: What I will say – if I go to you, if I’m nocturnal? Do you mean –
MR. PHILLIPS: Do you like to wake up early or do you stay up late?
MR. OSEI: I wake up very early, like this morning. I do that a lot. I sleep late and wake up early.
MR. PHILLIPS: You sleep late and wake up early?
MR. OSEI: Yeah.
MR. PHILLIPS: How do you do that?
MR. OSEI: [LAUGHING]
MR. PHILLIPS: Do you mean you stay up late and you wake up early?
MR. OSEI: I don’t plan to do that, but I end up doing that. So it has become a part of me.
MR. PHILLIPS: [LAUGHING]
Well, Emmanuel Osei, I really appreciate the time. Thanks everyone from the YALI Network for tuning in. We’ll have another interview for you soon, but until then have a great day. And, Emmanuel, best of luck to you here in Ghana on your important work.
MR. OSEI: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It’s a pleasure.
MR. PHILLIPS: You bet.
Thank you everyone for tuning in to another YALI Voices podcast, and huge thanks to Emmanuel Osei for taking the time to talk with me.
The way he uses his own connections to broaden the education of others is why we’re truly happy to have people like him in the YALI Network.
If you’d like to reach out to him, you can find him on Facebook or Twitter under Emmanuel Osei.
All right, I’m gonna spell that for you: E-M-M-A-N-U-E-L-O-S-E-I. Emmanuel Osei. Look him up on Facebook or Twitter.
Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on YALI Voices podcast and 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 is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, which is funded by the U.S. government.
This is Macon Phillips signing off. Thank you everyone.