Dispatches from Home - Amma Aboagye
If you have spent your adult life away from home, the idea of returning to a place that might feel like only a distant memory is a hard thing to fathom. Whether home is New York, Ghana or London, returning after a long absence is a move that requires strength, faith and a good amount of travel miles. As part of our Dispatches from Home series, WomenWerk spoke with women who have moved back to live and work in their home country after a long absence. They shared with us everything from what pushed them to return, what other returnees can expect and what the most surprising thing about moving home is.
Amma Aboagye is a policy coordinator at Innovations for Poverty Action, an organization that discovers and promotes effective solutions to global poverty problems.
WomenWerk: Tell us about yourself?
I was born in Washington DC, grew up in PG County and was raised Pentecostal Ghanaian. I was supposed to be a lawyer and make my parents' exodus from Ghana worthwhile. I've since deviated from that plan and I'm still trying to make it all make sense. I grew up in a strong Ghanaian community and went to school mostly with Black Americans. As such I consider myself well versed in the dynamics of blackness across the diaspora and on the continent. I studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. Upon graduating, I joined Teach for America in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I taught middle school math. I loved teaching and formed a program called "Talented Tenth" to inspire my kids to be excellent for the betterment of their communities. I realized, however, that many of the decisions affecting my children were made outside of the classroom by disconnected people with little invested in the overall well being of my students. I went on to get my masters in public administration at Columbia SIPA and LSE. Following this, I moved to Ghana where I currently work as an Implementation and Policy Coordinator for our education portfolio in Ghana. Aside my job, I co-host a radio show called the MPwr show which seeks to connect entrepreneurial youth with tools needed to become better creators.
WomenWerk: Why did you make the leap?
While at SIPA, I realized that many of the issues I faced in Louisiana were also quite prevalent in the Continent. I was eager to find ways to use what I knew from my experience in the US to tackle some education issues on Africa, and vice versa. I knew better than to think I could simply copy and paste, but the exploitative nature of charters in LA so mirrored the piecemeal donor agenda on education in Africa, that I felt the parallels deserved to be explored and interrogated. Prior to grad school I never thought of moving to Ghana so soon, but while there my coursework and networks guided me in that direction.
"People who work in various pockets of society- it can be easy to stick with your crop of expat well to do crew, but if you don't mix and mingle, you'll miss out on connections that go a long way."
WomenWerk: Tell us three WomenWerk Moving Back Musts to make the experience the best it can be?
Must Pack: Shoes. It can be difficult to find shoes in your size here. You'll find nice things but they may not fit you or they may look worn from the dirt. I do a lot of walking so my shoes get old quickly and tend to wear. Having a number of shoe options will ensure longer wear for all the others
Must Know: People who work in various pockets of society- it can be easy to stick with your crop of expat well to do crew, but if you don't mix and mingle, you'll miss out on connections that go a long way. Especially in a society where getting things done efficiently requires an insider job. Next time the security guard at the passport office is hitting on you, maybe think twice about throwing dirty looks. You never know when he could be handy.
Must Do: Visit all of the various cities in the country. Venturing outside of Accra is the best. Better beaches. Better local food. More traditional fare. Less noise and confusion. In Ghana, I think traveling to Takoradi is the best because there are great beaches and reports. And it's not so far that you're completely drained upon arrival.
"I realized that many of the issues I faced in Louisiana were also quite prevalent in the Continent. I was eager to find ways to use what I knew from my experience in the US to tackle some education issues on Africa, and vice versa."
WomenWerk:What unique challenges have you faced as a woman ?
I think people find it strange that I'm here alone. I wouldn't say it's a challenge, but I will say i have gotten all kinds of interesting feedback about being young, single and female living outside of my father’s house. I have been admonished by everyone from taxi drivers to aunts, to 'look after myself well'--- essentially code for being chaste and not staying out too late. It's comforting on one hand, because I've had concerned people checking in on me and looking after my well being, but it can be annoying since I've been on my own now for over ten years.
WomenWerk: How did you prepare to relocate? Were there obstacles as you prepared?
Once I made up my mind to be in Ghana, I just honed in my career searches by location. I focused a lot of prayer and job search energy into being in Ghana. I spoke to classmates and colleagues who had lived here in order to get a fair idea of what it would be like. I also think I was blessed to come at a time where a number of people were making the transition. My parents were a bit concerned as they didn't understand what I was really trying to do. But they were supportive and having family here that I had known growing up, definitely helped. Finding housing initially wasn't a problem because my job took care of it. But subsequently, when I started my current job, it was difficult to find housing because you have to pay so much upfront. Furthermore, not having a car can be taxing and quite expensive, it also creates many inefficiencies with how time is spent. I think considering your own vehicle before you come is definitely important.
WomenWerk: How have you been able to build a network?
Luckily, my first job here in Ghana was a start up that included some young, trendy people. They connected me to a listserv, Ahaspora Young Professionals, that has allowed me to meet some really forward thinking folks. I also have my church family, made up of cousins and friends I've gained through attending and volunteering in church. It can definitely be difficult but school networks and religious organizations definitely make it easier.