Scholarships that change lives and communities: From Canada to Ghana

Author: Kristina Vaudry

My internship for the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee scholarship was at the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary in the Upper West Region of Ghana. One of my most important projects during my time there was to do an evaluation of the Friends of Wechiau scholarship programme, by interviewing students who had won scholarships for senior high school and university studies. I am going to share some of my findings, but first some context for the community I was placed in.

Wechiau is comprised of 20 rural communities that mainly rely on farming for income generation. Generally, families are poor, and the number of children in each family can be quite high. Because money is spread thin, paying for senior and post-secondary education can be an insurmountable challenge. Scholarship recipients are hard-working and brilliant students in financial need, which is often triggered by or exacerbated from the loss of one or both parents.  Meteu Naa, my host and one of the chiefs in Wechiau, is a very forward-thinking chief with strong views on the power and importance of education, especially for women. A highly educated, caring man, we spoke many times about how educating young people can benefit all members of the community, which also came out in the interviews I conducted.

The most important question I asked in this evaluation was: “How has the scholarship impacted you, your family, and the community?”  This question was crucial because the responses tell the story of how access to education can have a domino effect. Many of the respondents spoke about the hope and motivation that came from a relative being awarded the scholarship; if an older sibling had won the scholarship, their brothers and sisters would often aspire to do the same. This impact wasn’t just localized in families though, it was experienced throughout the community. Some schools in the Sanctuary have hosted returning scholarship recipients, providing motivational talks for younger students promoting the opportunities that have come from education and winning the scholarship.

There were many additional benefits that flowed to family groups from a young person from receiving the education scholarship. Families could redirect their income sources to better support the younger children. Scholarship recipients who later attended university and went on to well-paid careers could provide financial support to their families in Wechiau, and in turn subsidise the education of their younger brothers and sisters. Perhaps the most substantial benefit arising from the scholarship has been the development of a pool of professionals who return and contribute to the health and wellbeing of their community and family. The scholarship in Wechiau not only connects students with high school education, but also prepares them to earn a post-secondary degree. Through this investment, the community could ultimately get a doctor, a teacher, a nurse or an engineer in return. Consequently, a more resilient community develops as they welcome back returning recipients with the ability and means to  contribute back to the very people who helped lift them up.

The scholarship recipients in Wechiau are required to return to their communities upon graduation and do volunteer work. I interacted with many of these scholarship winners who were taking people out on tours. A young man named Ibrahim had just finished senior high through the scholarship and was a dedicated volunteer tour guide at the sanctuary. In between tours, he helped me considerably by translating some of my interviews and became invaluable throughout the duration of my time at the sanctuary.

Near the end of my time in Wechiau, Ibrahim was accepted to attend a university in Ghana. This promising student inspired my VIU professor through his dedication to his studies and the community sanctuary, and she was able to contribute funding to support his time at university. On the last day of my internship, I had the honour of presenting this award to Ibrahim. The parallels between our scholarship journeys are strong, and we each have the opportunity to inspire others after we graduate.

As a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship, I am now part of the global community of leaders who made the journey abroad to gain international experience in my field. With only one year left in my Bachelor of Tourism Management degree with a Major in Recreation, I can now speak to conservation and community development issues and opportunities in a way that I would not have been able to before arriving in Ghana. Through the QE Scholarship, I have acquired strategies to build a strong and resilient community.

So, in a few years’ time, if someone were to ask me how the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship has impacted me, my community and my family, I hope to tell them that it left lasting impacts in many facets of my life. The success of the Community Resource Management Area, also known as the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary, has aspects I can replicate when working in Canadian conservation. If I pursue a career overseas, I will be sharing both Ghanaian and Canadian strategies for conservation.

The QE Scholarship sent me abroad to be that motivational speaker in Ghana who talked to junior high students about senior high and post secondary opportunities. 

I hope that sharing stories of my QE internship at VIU will motivate other promising students to apply for scholarships, do internships abroad and become international professionals. When studying or working abroad, students are immersed in different cultures, and what I hope to bring back with me is the collectivist culture that I thrived in while living with the people in Ghana. If I can influence the VIU community to interact and care for each other in the same way that Ghanaians do, I believe this internship can positively shape the university and its students for a lifetime.

- Kristina Vaudry, VIU Recreation Management Student & QE Scholar

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