September 29, 2011
College of Wooster senior Lauren Grimanis is surrounded by young soccer players wearing donated Wooster jerseys in the village of Akaa.
WOOSTER, Ohio — In the Ghanaian village of Akaa, a group of young soccer players (ages 18-25) is finally able to compete in an organized league because they now have something they didn’t have before — uniforms, courtesy of The College of Wooster.
Lauren Grimanis, a senior self-designed global development and management major in the department of business economics at Wooster and a member of the varsity field hockey and tennis teams, spotted the uniforms in the equipment room and asked if they could be donated to the team in Ghana. “In order to compete in a formal league, you have to have uniforms,” says Grimanis. “I approached Phil (Basil) and Nate (Whitfield) from our athletic staff, and both were very helpful and supportive.”
While the jerseys may be outdated by U.S. standards, they are prized possessions in the eyes of the soccer players in Akaa. “They take meticulous care of the jerseys,” says Grimanis. “You can see how important they are to the players.”
The College also donated jerseys to a younger team (ages 7-13). These happened to be from the cross country teams, but the young athletes don’t seem to mind because they, too, wear them with pride in competition.
Grimanis became aware of the community of Akaa four years ago when she first visited the area after her junior year at Wayland High School in Massachusetts. While there, she discovered that although there was plenty of government support for tourist attractions in the area, there was no institutional support for education and healthcare in the community.
That realization led Grimanis to take action, and what she has done since is truly remarkable. She and her host mother (and now project director) Joyce Doh-efa, started to make plans to build a school in Akaa and establish “The Akaa Project.” The endeavor soon became a family affair as Grimanis’s mother (Mary), a pediatric nurse practitioner, volunteered to educate the residents about proper hygiene, health care, and nutrition, while her father (Michael), a mechanical engineer, offered to serve as treasurer.
An active member of Wooster’s Global Social Entrepreneurship program, Grimanis has used her training to enhance and develop the Akaa Project as a non-profit organization. The endeavor features educational, healthcare and financial initiatives, including provisions to enhance the literacy and health of village residents. “In the past, the community has not had the opportunity to attend school, so most adults are illiterate,” she says. “Another issue is that children are under weight and under nourished.”
Today, the school (Asiafo Amanfro Community School) is operating with about 80 students and four staff in three classrooms. This month it will add 53 new students from a neighboring community. Classes will overflow into the school yard until the Akaa Project is able to build sufficient classroom space.
Grimanis, who spent six weeks in Akaa this past summer working in the village and conducting research for her Senior Independent Study project (Wooster’s nationally acclaimed senior capstone experience) on water management in Africa’s rural communities, plans to return and continue her involvement after graduation. “This (project) will always be a part of me,” she says. “Because of the unique experiences shared, the mutual understanding discovered, and the respect gained, I’ve created a unique bond with the community over the past four years, and I will continue to work with the Akaa community.”
Fortunately, she won’t have to do it alone. In addition to her parents, Doh-efa, and a small group of volunteers in the village, Grimanis has marshaled the support of more than 20 Wooster students who are not only raising funds for initiatives and raising awareness on campus but are also managing the non-profit’s operations — all in an effort to educate and improve the future outlook for the children and families of Akaa.
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