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Grad student spends vacation helping people in Ghana

A classroom in Ghana similar to the one where Amankwatia will teach.

After spending the last four years working on her Ph.D. in educational technology, Tonya Amankwatia can finally take a few weeks off. Rather than taking a typical sunny-and-sandy vacation, she and her family will travel to Accra, the capital of Ghana, to do community service and evangelistic outreach.

From Aug. 6-20, Amankwatia, her family, and 13 others from United Methodist churches in southeast Pennsylvania will bring supplies, provide medical, teacher and pastoral training, and lead Bible studies for the Christ Apostolic Church in the West African country.

“All we’re doing is helping and loving people,” says Amankwatia, who is a representative for the Graduate Student Senate and a volunteer orientation ambassador at Lehigh.

Every member of the group will carry two suitcases: One for their personal needs and one filled with clothing, school supplies and basic health care items for the people of Ghana.

Amankwatia will pack her suitcase with hats and tee-shirts donated by Lehigh’s Clipper Project, where Amankwatia works researching the benefits of offering online university courses to high school students.

She will also carry a laptop computer donated by the Clipper Project to the people of Ghana.

Amankwatia plans to travel with her two sons, Daniel, 8, and Scott, 11, and her husband, Bobie, a chaplain and counselor for the Allentown Rescue Mission’s Alpha-Omega Recovery Program, a drug and alcohol treatment center.

Other team members include college students, professionals, nurses, dental assistants, Web consultants, teachers and ministers.

Continuing the tradition of service

Each member of this diverse group will contribute their particular skills to the cause. Bobie, a native of Ghana, will act as the group’s primary translator and guide. He and three other ministers, including one woman, will train pastors in Ghana. Later, Bobie and a few team members will work in the inland region of Kumasi, where his family lives.

Amankwatia will train teachers using hand-outs donated by the Lehigh’s Technology-based Teacher Education program.

Amankwatia’s sons will participate in the puppet shows, read to children in the daycare, and hand out school supplies. The boys will also sing for the children’s Bible club.

A market in Accra, Ghana.


Other group members will run a health fair teaching much-needed AIDS and diabetes prevention. Ghana has a high number of people infected with HIV/AIDS; three percent of the adult population carries the virus. And diabetes is even more prevalent than AIDS, affecting six percent of the population. Many Ghanaians do not understand basic nutrition, and their poor diets lead to many cases of diabetes and high blood pressure.

The health fair will also teach nutrition and provide toothbrushes, floss, toothpaste and information on dental hygiene.

In addition, the group will help build a school house, run a three-day children’s Bible club and give puppet shows. The team will teach people how to use the puppets and other material through a “show-and-tell” method. Then all of the supplies, including the elaborate puppet theater, will be left for the people of Ghana.

Bethany United Methodist Church in Wescosville is sponsoring the trip. Members of the church who cannot go to Ghana will participate by giving money and supplies. Children at the church have created friendship bracelets and wordless books for the children in Ghana, and the Ghanaian children have made friendship bracelets for the children of the U.S. churches.

“We want to help kids meet children different from themselves,” Amankwatia says. “It’s important for them to build relationships.”

When planning the trip, the team was careful not to appear as the “people from America with all the answers,” Amankwatia says. Instead, the team asked the people what their needs were and then developed their plans around those needs.

For many participants, this trip will be the first of its kind, but not for Amankwatia. She has served on similar trips while at University of South Florida in 1984. During the summer, she and other college students spent six weeks in one of Florida’s small, primarily Haitian migrant town.

“Since then,” Amankwatia says, “it’s become a tradition.”

For the past few years, Amankwatia’s work has kept her from continuing her tradition of service. Finally this summer after completing her qualifying research, she can “drop out of everything and go.”

“It feels right,” Amankwatia says. “It’s a good time to give. So many have given to me –including my professors and adviser – It’s my turn to give from the abundance I received.”

--Rebecca Straw

Posted on Friday, July 15, 2005

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