Queen's University

Meet 2010 Alumni Humanitarian Award winner Amma Bonsu

The Alumni Humanitarian Award, is presented annually to a Queen's alumna/alumnus in recognition of distinguished community or voluntary service, at home or abroad, which has made a difference to the well-being of others. Meet this year's winner . . .

The 2010 recipient of the QUAA's Alumni Humanitarian Award award is Toronto resident Amma Bonsu, Artsci'02, Artsci'03.

Amma began volunteering as a teenager in Ghana. Every Friday afternoon, she worked at an underfunded public school, teaching children to read and write English.

Amma Bonsu Amma Bonsu

At Queen’s, where she studied Economics and French, she continued her community service and volunteerism. Amma became Social Issues Commissioner with the AMS. She set up “Operation Read,” and organized volunteers to send books to schools in developing countries.

Today, as a Senior Account Manager at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Amma also co-runs Foundation for Growth, a non-profit organization that uses education to alleviate poverty. The organization raises money and awareness to provide school supplies and renovate schools in Ghana, where Amma grew up. Through Foundation for Growth, Amma has raised funds for building repairs, and donated school supplies to children at La-Nkwantanang Primary school in Ghana.

You can read about Amma’s experiences in her own words. Reprinted below from Issue #2-2007 of the Review is Amma's article . . . 

A Priceless Joy

When Amma Bonsu, Artsci’03, and a friend set out to raise some money to renovate a school in the West African nation of Ghana, they had no idea of the difficulties they'd face. Or the incredible sense of accomplishment they'd feel when finally their dreams came true. Here’s the story in Amma’s own words. . . .

A mental storm had been brewing inside me. For years I'd been wrestling with various ideas on how to change news reports from Africa about warlords, and starving children. Each image I saw was a rap on my conscience, awakening my desire to turn things around. So, I teamed up with Akua Awa-Asamoah, my childhood friend from Ghana, and we started an ambitious project that began in Canada and ended in Accra, the Ghanaian capital.

The genesis of this project can be traced to the1990s when, as teenagers living in Ghana, Akua and I were introduced to something that would make an indelible impression on us: the value of community service. Each Friday afternoon, we volunteered in an underfunded public school teaching children to read and write English.

Amma Bonsu with school children in GhanaAmma Bonsu (at back, on left) at the Peace and Love Orphanage and Academy in a suburb of Accra.

This experience sparked in us a commitment to give back to society. At Queen's, I partnered with the AMS to set up Operation Read, while Akua in Minnesota collaborated with Books for Africa to send books to developing countries. By June 2006, we'd shipped more than 60,000 books to Ghana, Pakistan, and Namibia. However, our efforts seemed anemic when stark images of poverty continued to dominate the headlines. We returned to the drawing board and started Foundation For Growth, a not-for-profit organization that uses education as a means to alleviate poverty.

The goal for our pilot project was to raise $10,000 to renovate a rundown school in Accra. Our project manager e-mailed us pictures of La-Nkwantanang, a primary school built in 1989. Each morning by 8 am, about 300 students in their well-pressed uniforms streamed into their classrooms with pride and enthusiasm that the neither the leaky roof nor the potholed floors, could diminish. In the afternoon, the day's second "shift" of 300 students arrived. for classes.

Akua and I felt if we forged ahead with fundraising people would jump at the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these deserving children.

But our spirits sagged when our proposal did not draw the kind of support we’d hoped for. One problem was that although our organization had non-profit tax status in Ghana, donations weren't deductible in North America. After months of struggling, we received some good news from the Rotary Club of Cataraqui in Kingston. They'd reviewed our proposal and agreed to support it with a $1,500 donation. As excited as we were, we also faced a blunt ultimatum: raise $7,500 more, or erase the project!

Then one day last November, television star Oprah Winfrey gave each member of her studio audience $1,000 to make a difference in someone's life. As she encouraged her viewers to join the "Pay-It-Forward Challenge," I knew she couldn't be talking to me. I'd barely recovered from the financial bruises of paying for my university education. But, charged with a surge of Oprah-induced adrenaline, I borrowed $1,000 from my credit line and donated it to Foundation For Growth.

I believed so strongly in how education’s power to will change the lives of these children that I was prepared to go into debt rather than see our project fail.

We scaled down the renovations to fit our budget, but before we could celebrate, we faced a new dilemma. We learned the majority of the school children at La-Nkwantanang didn't even have basic school supplies such as pens, pencils or school bags. Knowing that, I approached colleagues where I now work at the Royal Bank in Toronto with a desperate plea. I vowed if each of them would donate $10 to buy school bags and stationary, I'd personally deliver these items to the school children in Ghana. Within days, we'd raised enough money to buy 100 school bags. A stationary supplier, Stanford, donated seven boxes of pens, pencils, markers, and colored pencils.

If I were to give a cost analysis of this project, it would read: Cost of renovating school and buying school supplies--$4,000; Excess luggage fee--$500; the joy of giving back--priceless.

Once again our elation was short-lived. I wondered how we'd ever fit 100 school bags and seven boxes of stationary supplies into our luggage when Delta Airlines has a two-bag per passenger policy. For the sake of sanity, I won't trouble you with the story of our grueling 12-hour bus ride from Toronto to New York, or of the three-hour delay at the border. To maintain my dignity I'll also spare you the details of how I groveled my way out of paying the full excess luggage fees at JFK Aairport.

I'd much rather tell you about the excitement on January 11, 2007, when the children first saw their school newly painted, its walls plastered, the roof fixed, and the floors cemented. The children clamored for their pens and whooped with joy at having new school bags. Drum beats, and rhythmic claps filled the air as children and their parents sang, "God is so good!"

If I were to give a cost analysis of this project, it would read: Cost of renovating school and buying school supplies--$4,000; Excess luggage fee--$500; the joy of giving back--priceless.

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2010-11-30
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