by Shannon Cottongame LAKELANDER STAFF Source: http://lakelander.com/hill-college-basketball-player-helps-africa-p3712-1.htm
HILLSBORO – When Ibrahim Salih came to America from a poverty-stricken village in Ghana, he was determined to make a difference in his own life and in the lives of others. In his three short years on American soil, he has proven time and again that youth and disadvantage do not have to be obstacles to success.
The 19-year-old Hill College basketball player left his home in the Aboabo District of Kumasi, Ghana three years ago after his basketball coach recommended him to the One Dream Foundation, a charity that helps disadvantaged youth improve their lives through education. He spent two years attending high school in Maryland before making his way to Hillsboro, where he began his journey to a four-year degree.
While most college students hope to use their degrees toward a profitable career, Salih can only think of one thing—changing the lives of those he left behind in Africa. It is this goal that is leading him to establish The Salih Self-Development Center, a charity that will assist the poor at home and provide them with a much-needed education.
“Most of the time when people get the advantage to come to the U.S. and have a good education and a good life, they seem to forget to go back home and help others,” said Salih. Despite the pleasures he has discovered as a U.S. resident—McDonalds, spaghetti and meatballs, and country music, to name a few—Salih is determined to go back and change his village.
Salih has collected food, mosquito netting, clothing, recreational equipment and medical supplies to send to Ghana while in the U.S., and after expressing his desire to help his native people to a teacher in Maryland, he received enough assistance to secure the land for his Self-Development Center back home.
When the center is built, Salih hopes to teach the people of his village ho
w to keep their environment clean and safe, how to safely prepare food and proper waste management techniques. He also wants to provide them with vocational skills and a path to a better life. At the same time, he will work to combat hunger, diabetes and malaria—all significant problems in his village.
Salih wants to clean his village, which sits next to a trash-filled river that is often used for bathing, and help the residents live healthy lives. “The environment is messy. It’s lack of education,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to build this center, to start with the little kids and teach them the right thing to do.”
With sadness in his eyes, Salih recalls young people approaching him on the streets of Aboabo asking for food. “If I don’t have it, it’s a problem for me, because I know I didn’t help them,” he said. “It’s really difficult for people in Africa, and that’s what’s killing me. We’re just humans, and I don’t understand why people are suffering just because of food.”
With all he has seen, it would be easy for Salih to spend time pondering the reasons for such suffering, but he chooses instead to focus on the solution. “I think it is our responsibility. If someone is suffering, the person who has it has to help that person,” he said. “But there aren’t a lot of people who know how to do that, and that’s what makes me, I don’t know, sad.”
Despite the hardships in Ghana, Salih remembers certain aspects of life there with fondness. “It is a really free country. The people are nice, and most of them are very honest and respectable people. We don’t have a lot of crime,” he said.
He has also found a lot to like about America, and he says his favorite thing about the U.S. is that people live together despite differences such as race and religion. “I really like the American way,” he said.
Coming to the U.S. from Africa is not always easy, and Salih was nervous when he went to his interview at the consulate. “I just ‘put my fingers crossed,’ as you say in the United States,” he said. Fortunately, it worked, and he is free to stay in the U.S. until he finishes his education.
While he plans to return home to Ghana and work directly with his native people, Salih also hopes to become an American citizen. “I’ve been here and met a lot of people, and these people grow so large in my heart that I just can’t forget them. So I just want to make sure I can go to Ghana and the United States, because I have two families now.”
Salih’s basketball coach at Hill College, Swede Trenkle, is one of those he has grown close to while in the U.S. “He’s a tremendous student and a tremendous person. It really has nothing to do with the sport now. Obviously, that’s what got him here, but now that he’s been here I don’t want him to leave,” said Coach Trenkle.
“More adults need to sit back and realize—here’s somebody who came from nothing and wants everything that he can get to give it back,” Trenkle said. “I think we lose sight of that, all of us.”
Salih achieved over a 3.25 GPA in his first semester at Hill College last fall, and even if basketball is secondary to all of the other things Salih is accomplishing, Coach Trenkle has high hopes for him. “I think by the time he leaves here he’ll have a good chance to be the face of the athletic department here at Hill College; that’s pretty impressive.”
“Coach Trenkle doesn’t know me, but he just brought me here and he’s helping me,” said Salih. “I think that’s something I have to think of and try to help other people.”