To change your life, or to change someone else’s life, sometimes it takes just one chance, one opportunity. In my case, that opportunity came when I was 16 years old. I left my neighborhood, Aboabo, in my hometown of Kumasi, Ghana to come to United States of America. The objective was clear – receive an education and play basketball. However, it didn’t take long for my 16-year-old self to have an epiphany. Our quality of life in Ghana is not complex. We are a happy people and find that happiness and fulfillment in simple things. I was proud of my heritage and where I came from, but the differences in the lifestyles were stark. In the United States we have access to so many things, so many opportunities and resources, previously unimaginable to me. My mission here in the States became more and more clear. My goal was to use my education and tools provided to me to enhance the lives of those I left behind. So nine years ago (2009) I founded The Salih Self-Development Center, a non-profit 501c3, which was incorporated in 2011. Last week I had the opportunity to return to Ghana for the first time.
I began in Ghana as I ended my days in Ghana as a 16-year-old. The first phase of my 9-day mission was a basketball clinic. I met with my former basketball team to help the new players enhance their basketball skills and share my experience as a former student-athlete. I answered questions about using basketball as a means to an end, and how, for me, getting a quality education was always a top priority. We talked about what it takes to become a good teammate and the importance of sportsmanship. I stressed that determination and a solid work ethic were key components to my success in the US, both on and off the court. Thanks to the Hood College Men’s Basketball Coach, Chard Dickman, who provided us with jerseys to give out to the players, the team is now able to look like the cohesive, organized unit they strive to be.
The second phase of my mission was a Community Health Clinic where about 120 patients came to receive medical treatment. The patients were examined for symptoms of hypertension and diabetes, and also were provided with health education. Dr. Tayo Awatunde of Columbia, Maryland spoke about risks factors, creating healthy lifestyles, how food choice is critical in maintaining good health; broke down what high blood pressure and diabetes are, what they mean for the body, and how to combat them. We distributed multivitamins, ibuprofen and prescription medicine for high blood pressure and blood glucose. Because of the continued support of donors, in addition to health screenings and educational literature, we were able to provide reading glasses to those in need. Community members were asked to bring any prescribed medication they were already taking, and they were advised if the new medications could be taken in conjunction with the old (in many cases the old medication was replaced).
Before concluding our trip, I felt it necessary to document one of the foundation’s longest operating projects. The center run by The Salih Self Development Center vocational training program currently serves 12 students who are learning sewing skills. During our visit the students spoke about the importance of learning a trade or vocation, and in their particular case, sewing clothing. Some students related how positive their experiences have been in the environment created by the SSDC Sewing Center. We saw the culmination of these experiences in the beautiful designs of clothing made by the students. In 2016, through community contributions and corporate sponsorship, we shipped about 40 sewing machines to support the efforts of the center. Currently, we are looking to form a partnership with a university or fashion institute to further enhance the scope and impact of this program. We are pleased to share that construction of the new sewing center is underway which will allow us to accommodate more disadvantaged children who are interested in learning sewing skills.
The question of what qualifies as a life changing opportunity – or even how to identify something as more than expected – is dependent on a person’s view on life. The fact of the matter is that I’m a young man who lives a simple life. I graduated college, got married, and am working to provide for my family. These things may have be the same had I stayed in Ghana, however, the opportunity to come to the United States empowered me to not only provide for my family but also to plant seeds of hope and opportunities for others. I give you the example of Kingdon Gould, the founder of the Glenelg Country School in Columbia, Maryland and my mentor. When I was injured in college and lost my basketball scholarship, he stepped in and paid my tuition, allowing me to continue my studies. He told me not to thank him for this huge, incredible gift, but to use what he had provided me to go on and serve others.
I believe that as people the greatest show of gratitude for the opportunities and tools with which we have been provided is to use these resources to pay it forward – to create opportunities, provide resources, and open avenues for others to go forth in this world. From the single act of being chosen to come to the United States, to a family nurturing me and providing a home, to the many who aided in my educational achievements, for the numerous acts of kindness shown to me, and to those who helped me establish and continue to support my foundation I am in great debt. I have been able to capitalize on the initial opportunity I received from the One Dream Foundation, and it has allowed me to shape and change the lives of others. Each act has in fact been a seed that has grown into a tree which continues to bear fruit and serve, even in the smallest way, in the collective effort to sustain a people and entire community.
The projects and programs offered by The Salih Self-Development Center are indicative of this fruit bearing tree that came from a single opportunity. I did not have the chance to return home for almost 10 years, but with the support from the amazing SSDC Board of Directors and through contributions to and support of this organization from benefactors and volunteers the mission I began continues to move forward. I look forward to returning to Ghana more frequently in the future and expand our efforts to provide resources to my hometown. I know that the work that we are doing has an impact on both an individual and societal level in this community. I sincerely appreciate all that has been done for me and with me and I encourage all of you to be thankful for all that is good in your lives and to pay it forward.
Thank you so much and look for more information on our upcoming projects.