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Opinions of Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Columnist: Akpah Prince

Journey So Far With Emmanuel Quarmyne

Prince: Thank you very much sir for giving us this opportunity to have
an interaction with you on ‘’the Journey So Far’’. We know you as
Emmanuel Quarmyne; can you share with us when and where you were born?
Emmanuel: I was born in Ghana at KorleBu Hospital, grew up in this
country spending most of my time in Labone and Darkuman where I have
being living all this time. I am the middle born out of three
siblings. My dad is an Auto Engineer and my mum a nurse.
Prince: What are the schools you have attended?
Emmanuel: I did attend St. Anthony Primary School to JHS,preceded to
Ada SHS after which I continued University of Ghana for a Bachelor of
Arts Degree in Sociology with English.
Prince: Judging your achievements, I am convinced, it relates to what
you accomplished whiles in school. Can you share with us those
academic records?
Emmanuel: Since leaving school I have being involved in charity work
that I co-founded whiles in the University of Ghana. I took a course
in MANAGEMENT OF NGO at the University of Ghana Business School and
one of the course requirement was to come up with a mock NGO and
present in class. That was how the idea for my charity was born and I
co-founded with two American ladies I met in the University of Ghana.
Coincidentally I was reading Sociology which was my major from the
University of Ghana. My sociology major and NGO class experience is
what I am using today with my charity work. My charity is called A Ban
Against Neglect (ABAN). And what we do is to provide opportunities to
the marginalised to learn a trade and get some income for themselves.
This we did by getting them to recycle waste materials that we find on
the streets into products that we sell and the proceeds goes towards
their upkeep.
Prince: What was your inspiration to become a social entrepreneur?
Emmanuel: I would say it is a bit of faith and dedication. These are
basic principles and I know you’ve heard about them about thousand
times and how they work. In school when I started the charity, I was
stunted a lot because I was dealing with recyclable materials and
picking sachet bags on the streets, which made many, brand me as
Zoomlion. Today the very people who teased me back in school call me
and ask me for employment. So it is really a lot of dedication, once
you know you are on the right lane and get to speak to the agenda; in
no time you will bear fruit. I’ve being doing this for five years now,
and we compare very well to established NGOs that have being around
for about 20 years, so if you ask me what inspires me or propels me,
it is just the basic principles, doing the hard work and sticking to
the agenda.
Prince: When you discovered those basic principles, can you share with
us how you’ve being able to implement them to get to this stage?
Emmanuel: I just by initial happen to do small things very well;
sometimes that’s all you need to do, master the little things. You
don’t have to be a professor in rocket science to be a successful
person. Once I decided that was the opportunity I had, I didn’t let
go, I just stuck to it and did it very well. This is why I keep doing
That’s the same advice I will give to anybody.
Prince: How has the journey being so far?
Emmanuel: The journey has being exciting, challenging and very
thoughtful. Traditionally young professionals will go into mainstream
banking, technology and the white colour jobs work for several years
and in their late 40s and 50s, after they’ve had experience in the
industry they then decide to give back to the society, and start an
NGO. I have gone the other way round; I finished school and started
charity. I am sort of learning what I should be learning in my 40s
dealing with destitute people, and it’s being very exciting for me,
I’ve come a long way.
Prince: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?
Emmanuel: Challenges I faced in my line of working dealing with
marginalized people is that you are helping somebody who does not have
anything and expect they would be very grateful to you and you are one
of the happiest people on earth because everyone is excited because of
the help you are giving to people, but that’s not always the case.
Sometimes we get a lot of **flack** from same people we are supposed
to be helping and empowering. And in the country where illiteracy is
very high, dealing with uneducated persons can be difficult, because
when you look into that, they misinterpret everything as you know
there is spiritual quotations to every thing, there is mistrust, we
get a lot of **flack** coming from this very same people that we
helping. You should not always look for the gratitude from the people
or the work that you doing, it is just like a teacher, who teaches a
primary kid and the kid doesn’t realise how essential the teacher is
till when they grow to become adults and remember Mr. Mensa from class
three and now recognise the works they did for their lives. That’s the
nature of our work, it teaches you not to be give up, it’s toughens
you up. In my young age, I thought of experience what people in the
40s and 50s experience. In my leadership role as well, I sort of
understand the psyche of the people a lot better than I would have
just work in a regular bank or someplace. Don’t look for the reward
immediately all the time and even in terms of finance, beyond dealing
with people, money is not an instant reward. When I started this in
school, people mocked me because there were opportunities to go work
with government institutions right up after school, do national
service and hope you will get permanent employment at the place after
the national service and everyone was struggling to make it big right
after school. But I started to do “Zoomlion” job and today, I am not a
financially secured person but I am not a beggar as well and I am able
to do the things I want to do and afford with this same “Zoomlion”
job; so the reward was not instant but its opened me up, I’ve met
tonnes of people around the globe, my network is huge. So just keep
doing the things you do, do them very well and the opportunities will
come, don’t look for instant reward.
Prince: As ABAN, what do you do as an organisation?
Emmanuel: ABAN started as an NGO that recruits street girls’ mostly
teenage girls and we get them to recycle waste products from the
streets, mostly pure water sachet bags that litter the streets of
Accra. So we would wash and sanitise pure bags and make gift items.
And then we sell, mostly in the US, cofounders of the organisation are
Americans, and the proceeds goes towards the girls education and
vocational skills. After a while we realised that not every street
girl wanted the help, some girls we bring into the compound where we
house them for two years with shelter and some being the first time,
they’ve had a roof over their head would decide they want to go back
to the streets and live their free lives. So we had to revamp the
programs and now we are offering help to marginalised young people
still concentrating on girls. We now look for the x-factor in people
when we are recruiting them, we want people who are not necessarily on
the street but people who want to change their lives. So a girl can be
in a poor rural community, but she is gotten pregnant and cannot
continue school but just wanting an opportunity to just do better with
herself then we recruit such a girl and be able to help them achieve
those goals. Our age limit is 17 to 22 years old but we do have
exceptions if the girl has the qualities we looking for. And today
we’ve gone beyond getting the girls to make the products that we sell
for their education; we have now setup an offshoot of ABAN that we
call ABAN community employment. So now we’ve recruited 10
professionals from the Aburi town where we operate and we get them sew
all our products for us. The girls still play a role in making the
products by washing and sanitizing but we leave the headache of making
the products to the professional so that the girls can have time for
their rehabilitation programs.
Prince: What have being the achievements that you’ve chalked as an organisation?
Emmanuel: Since 2008, we've helped about 51 girls so far, who have
come in contact with us through our programs. All of them are now
ambassadors of ABAN in their communities, some of them after their
completion we got them employment, and some of these are girls we took
from the streets are now able to take their own kids to school
themselves. They get regular employment plus when you affect the
persons mind and after two years which we have tackled their attitude
which we feel is mostly the problem our hope is that we are not only
ending up the cycle of poverty with the girls but also ending the
cycle of poverty with their kids who would otherwise have continue on
the street and become the second generation street kids. In terms of
physical achievements, now ABAN is a fully fledged registered NGO in
Ghana and the US, we have acquired about six acres of land which we
intend to build an ABAN village on; we are looking at a multi-purpose
facility that would have dormitories, sports complex, and clinic for
the girls. We are doing well and gathering more momentum.
Prince: What are some of the feedbacks you get from beneficiaries and
the communities?
Emmanuel: It takes me to the point when I was talking about dealing
with uneducated persons so we've got mystery actions. The thoughts are
that as an NGO, you have a lot of money so we are just expected to
freely give the money to people who are poor and needy. They have a
possessive mentality, people do not feel they need to do something to
earn money; they think and feel that you owe it to help them so it’s
being difficult. On a positive note, we still have a lot of support
from community leaders; the Aburihene is one of our very good patrons
in the community. We've met with the DCE and others in political
authority, so the community response is good. The girls parents
themselves are sometimes supportive and the girls themselves obviously
will be the best ambassadors of what help they’ve got from us. It’s
being mixed, it is an NGO work, you helping people, and you expect
that it is excellent but I will be lying if I tell you the reaction we
get is excellent. We do give the help, it will take time for people to
realise the impact we've had on them.
Prince: What has being the biggest failure that ABAN has encountered?
Emmanuel: That’s a good question. I think for every girl that leaves
the program back to the street is a big failure for us. Because the
idea now is of going to recruit people even not from the street but
from homes. If a girl comes to us and after two years she goes back to
square one. That's a big failure for us, there is a lot of money that
goes into their rehabilitations and you finish putting all these
monies into the girls and committing time and effort to try and help
people and they go back to square one, that’s a big failure and we've
had a couple of cases like that. Sometimes the people just decide they
prefer to go back to the street where they are from.
Prince: Do you believe Africa can be rebuilt?
Emmanuel: I definitely think so. We've gotten enough human resource
here to turn things around. What we are doing is a miniature level
development but we just need a replica of stuff that we do all across
the continent. Not only in charity but developmental work and
attacking the real issues that affect the continent. But our future
depends on us citizens and attitudes for the most part. I think we
have it all, everyone knows Africa is the richest continent and we
have all the stuffs that will make us develop, its all about our
attitude. Once we start affecting the people attitudes and adapting
the correct strategies, I think there is hope for the continent.
Prince: In the near future what are some of the contributions we are
going to see ABAN add to the rebuilding of Africa?
Emmanuel: In Ghana where we are located, we will start with Aburi, a
small town where we are located, and what we are doing is to try and
scale our programs and have the capacity of recruiting more girls at a
time and not only are we going to tackle our direct beneficiaries but
now we are going to try and affect indirect beneficiaries as well.
Example is opening help centres that would provide support for poor
persons living in the community at subsidized rates, opening schools:
we cant have too much of education, there cannot be enough schools in
Africa and definitely in Ghana where about 20% of the population is
said to be uneducated. So more schools, more health facilities,
building of roads and etc, we leave that to government but in our own
small way we feel if we sort of help with this amenities then we would
be moving forward in the right direction.
Prince: Personally, what other things are we seeing you do?
Emmanuel: I mentioned that young people leaves school and go into
mainstream work and then do the NGOs afterwards and I have taken the
other route, so haven’t done charity for sometime now what lies in my
future, I would look into upgrading myself a bit, I am talking about
educating other people but you have to educate yourself too, upgrading
my educational qualification, I have a bachelors degree, I am looking
forward for my Masters, try our For-Profit work. These days,
For-Profit work can actually help in doing Not-For-Profit work. A lot
of companies now have Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) and they
intend to help pressing issues in society, so I am looking to if
possible try my hands on For-Profit works as well and in so doing
raise enough money to continue to help people who need some form of
support and are now able to fully appreciate what people need, because
I’ve had experience dealing with them directly
Prince: Who are the people who mentor and inspire you?
Emmanuel: My role models are my parents, they are very hardworking
people from very little means they gave us a very good life: my dad
was a Taxi driver growing, my mum a nurse but we went to the best
schools in any place we found ourselves and they gave us the basic
comfort of life. They realise the essence of education and all their
hard earnings, they pumped into our education forfeiting the norm
which is to own a house and own a car, our education was their
priority, made sure we went to the universities and so I cherish that
gift that they gave me. My dad is a very humble man, a very good
friend and my mentor at the same time. If you take it beyond my
parents, as a Ghanaian, the one person that I feel had a lot going for
Ghana was Dr. Kwame Nkrumah , the man was a visionary and if you take
a look at the stuffs he was doing back then even in today’s context,
you will appreciate what a gem we let go. Of course I didn’t get to
meet him but history books brought me closer to him but he definitely
got my attention.
Prince: What do you see the world recognising for?
Emmanuel: They would recognise me for my dedication and commitment to
working even in not so favourable conditions. Forbes and co, I think
they recognise people in terms of riches, so I don’t think I make that
line at all.
Prince: Do you have acknowledgements for some special people that have
pushed you to this stage?
Emmanuel: For the work that we do, we have Vodafone Ghana and most of
our supports come from the US but we say thanks to everybody who helps
us. Personally I want to say thank you to the professor in whose class
the NGO started, Dr. Justice Bawule of the University of Ghana
Business School, to friends and families who have being supportive and
anybody who has helped Aban or Me in any special way, I say thank you.
Prince: What are your final words to young people to who are also
aspiring to do what you are doing today?
Emmanuel: Don’t despair, don’t be anxious. At some point at the
university of Ghana, in my third year, I was getting anxious, few
friends were beginning to fare well, they were travelling abroad,
getting good jobs, and there was no prospect for me, so I was getting
anxious, I was wondering, what’s gonna happen now, I am graduating,
parents have poured money into my education and the anxiety was
turning into panic attack and I know what it feels like for people to
be jobless, not being bale to do something for yourself and feel like
a waste. Its not a good feeling, so for anybody in that situation, I
will say to that person, do not despair, it’s just about time and
pressure, do the right things and in any moment you can do something
positive for yourself so look for that positive and wait for that
moment and when that moment comes make sure you take it.
Thank You
Akpah Prince