Developing courage and presentation skills in the youth

  • A conversation with Dr Joyce Aryee

Courage was famously defined by the American writer and Nobel laureate, Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) as “Grace under pressure”. That definition resonated with Dr Joyce Aryee’s remarks to pupils from Crimson Dawn Junior High School (of Akosombo) when she said, “We learn because we want to get to the knowledge about something; we need to analyse the knowledge; we need to think through the knowledge; we need to apply the knowledge, so if we want to have a changed mind that focuses on what is right we need courage”.

joyce aryee
The gifted Dr Joyce Aryee

Her assertion was most articulate, echoing tones from William Shakespeare: “screw your courage to the sticking-place, / And we’ll not fail.”

Never fear to stand alone

Clearly, one of the most gifted speakers in Ghana – and speaking right off the cuff – she stressed, “Learning is not just the way we have been doing it, and I am sure that after listening to Uncle Anis you recognize now that learning needs to take a different turn, right? Yes, we learn not because we just want to go and regurgitate information, to give back to the teacher everything they gave us; no, that is not learning.”

Relating to pressures from the status quo, family – or peer pressure from friends – to stray off one’s defined course, she alluded to the biblical characters Esther and David, and said, “Never fear to stand alone if you believe you’re in the right.” She continued, “We have to be determined and focused to be in the right path of success. We sense that there is something in us that we need to develop to be able to make a meaningful impact in our generation. In fact, all of us need to recognize that we need to add value to ourselves through the way we get educated. We learn to learn. You have to learn to learn; you know that?”

pentecost convention centre, gomoa fetteh, ghana
Pentecost Convention Centre, Gomoa Fetteh, Ghana

And when better to prepare young people for a brighter future than right from their childhood. And that is why it was so appropriate for the proprietor of Corricrech / Crimson Dawn JHS, Mrs Corrine Sackey, to respond to the need through an Educamp retreat at the Pentecost Convention Centre, Gomoa Fetteh, Central Region, (2nd-5th March, 2018) for her JHS students. The Educamp topics included “Emotional Intelligence for an enhanced self-confidence” and “Adolescent reproductive health”. My two presentations included Presentation Skills as Learning Strategies and Career Planning.

dr. aryee on point
Dr Ayee on point

Presentation secrets

Presentations have become the de facto tool of communication across disciplines and boundaries: It helps when you not only tell your story but show it as well.

In any presentation the key is to adhere to the four criteria defined as follows: 1. The evidence of preparation through knowledge / mastery of subject to be delivered; 2. Body language exuding confidence through poise and proper comportment; 3. Making eye contact with audience so that both speaker and listeners feel each other; and 4. The nature of the delivery must engage the audience’s interests at all times through speaker’s enthusiasm and subtle waves of fun.

Once the criteria were established, the expectations were modeled through demonstrations or guided practices. Then, peer evaluation becomes appropriate through the scoring of group presentations along the following rubric: 4 points for very good; 3 points for good; 2 points for merely satisfactory; and 1 point for poor. It’s important that the pupils themselves own the contents, process, and judgment without undue interference by adults.

Career planning

Some young people come to school with career interests, values, or convictions already in place. And for those who don’t, they need to be apprised of such possibilities. As Richard Branson of the Virgin Atlantic fame put it, “Everyone has something valuable to bring to the table”. And one may add: if you are not at the table, you’re on the menu; that is to say, the world does not wait for people to be ready; and those that choose to stay passive do so at their own peril, to be unduly taken advantage of by others.

Two tweets by Fred Swaniker of African Leadership University come to mind to help raise awareness. He said, “Start young and get lots of practice if you want to be an entrepreneur. Don’t dismiss the ‘small’ projects you do today.” He added: “A moonshot thinking refers to a big, bold audacious goal that is beyond most people’s imagination when it is conceived; it’s what Africa needs.”

Steve Jobs

Know that the job you do for a living is one thing; the work you were born to do is another thing. And that raises the question: What do you want to live for? The question prepares every potential entrepreneur to discern a greater and wider horizon as they begin to think of careers.

As Steve Jobs put it, “You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

My concluding advice to the youth: Be a brand; be the go-to person; be a lifelong learner; select mentors who fit your interests and develop your own unadulterated values.

group picture before departure
Group picture before departure


Voice from afar

  • K.B. Asante’s book revisited

[Introduction: It gets lonely on Mondays these days with the loss of a great mentor and vocal advocate of all that is good for Ghana. I’ve been too accustomed to reading K.B. Asante’s columns on Monday mornings on the editorial page of the Daily Graphic when this column too appears. Now I have to make the emotional adjustments to the fact that the great mentor has finally been called to his village, and we’re now on our own. Today’s column is a revisit of a review (published June 9, 2004) when K.B. Asante’s book, Voice from Afar, first appeared.]

vfa kb asante

The influences

Familiar strands run through Edmund Burke, George Bernard Shaw, Aneurin Bevin, George Padmore, and Kwame Nkrumah. Certainly, this intellectual quintet belonged to a class of eloquent activists and inspired writers. They have influenced many including Mr Kwaku Baprui Asante. The snatches of spirit – in the medley of Pan-African, socialist, and democratic undertones – showed in Mr Asante’s intellectual choices.

Indeed, any of the following titles – Observations on the Present State of the Nation (Burke), Too True to be Good (Bernard Shaw), In Place of Fear (Bevin), Birth Pains of Black Nationhood (Padmore), or Class Struggle (Nkrumah) – could be fitting sub-titles for Mr Asante’s book “Voice from Afar: A Ghanaian Experience”.

The book is a 192-page anthology of 52 selected articles published between 1994 and 2002, in Ghana’s Daily Graphic. Sporting a classy cover design by Amarkine Amartefio, the book captures Mr Asante’s sense of duty: that of putting an interpretative handle on Ghana’s fate and fortune for the understanding of his fellow countrymen, and women. The core of his work resonated similar challenges that stimulated the writings of the intellectual quintet in their respective periods.

Kwame Nkrumah

Among other urges, the author shared mostly Nkrumah’s sentiments for Africa’s economic and political freedom, and belief in the African. Said Mr Asante: “I never tire of recalling the faith Kwame Nkrumah had in Ghanaian doctors to build a medical school even though they had no previous experience of teaching in a medical school”. “You can do it,” Nkrumah assured Dr Charlie Easmon.

Mr Asante knew Nkrumah in the flesh. He served as the principal secretary of the African Affairs Secretariat from 1960 – 1966 at the Flagstaff House. A chapter, “Of ‘Hosannas’ and ‘Crucify Him’ ”, contain Mr Asante’s insights to Nkrumah about the peace mission to Hanoi – which spelled Nkrumah’s doom.

Asante’s optimism

Vice is needed if virtue is to stand a chance (so observed Machiavelli in 1513). To Mr Asante’s credit, his weekly columns contain faithful attempts to make the state safe. The pockets of optimism deep in Mr Asante’s veins are strong motivators. Besides, his conscience – elevated to a pedigree status via the esteemed influences – deserved release and use, lest they withered like raisins in the sun.

As the American, Henry David Thoreau, put it, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live”. Mr Asante served as Ghana’s ambassador to Switzerland and Belgium, and high commissioner in London. He was secretary for Trade and Tourism in 1982, and for Education and Culture in 1988; and was involved in many OAU, Ecowas, Unctad, and Unido deliberations. In addition to receiving the Grand Medal (Order of the Volta), he was honoured by the University of Ghana with a doctorate in 1999.

Anis Haffar with K.B. Asante

The topics in the book are wieldy, but timely: the IMF/World Bank, the civil service, land sales, chieftaincy disputes, Ghana’s dwindling forests, population, energy, education, illiteracy, filth, environmental destruction, self-disrespect, intellectual laziness, poverty! He offers impressive illustrative details.

K.B. Asante quotes

Consider these “K. B. Asanteisms”: On work ethic: “Civil servants have learnt to do nothing unless directed because ‘if you do nothing, you do nothing wrong and you survive’ ”. On the IMF/World Bank: “The major economies ‘sin a little when it is in their interest to do so … We should not only listen to our benefactors but also observe what they do … our future lies (in) manufactures and not in more commodities’ ”.

On civic issues: “it is time for serious politics and not political promises that ‘would be bedtime infatuation or a lie’ ”. On self-knowledge: “If you compose your own obituary at 20, you have time to make sense of your life. Think about it”. On discipline: “we Ghanaians do not seem to like the discipline of working within rules, within a well-defined system”.

On scruples: “Fufu was put in the middle of sacks of rubber. Years later beer bottles were broken by some foreign companies to cripple Accra Brewery”. On sharing: “Today we tend to hide the food and wipe our mouth when a visitor approaches while we are eating, because we do not have enough”.

But often his inner self stands aghast at ugly obstacles that block progress and create horror: “We live in a world which does not look into the heart [but prefers] riotous living or yielding to desires and the base instincts … some old habits must die to make life better”.

Purposeful journalism

He has held the field of journalism, and raised the ante for professionalism by supplying fertile mines for mature study. Embodying the answers to a forward-looking society, his concerns and methods require continuity, and resolve. Such outlooks bridge distances between hope and fulfillment: “What is important is to have a purpose in life”, he counsels.

Mr Asante’s ear for the entertaining story and eye for the telltale detail score points. A number of committed readers welcome the no-nonsense, born-again kind of kinship with him. His ideals and ardent analysis are testimonies and give the assurance of a man who knows his own mind, with apologies to none. He stood a tall silhouette against the zone of professional journalism in Ghana.


Is the older generation failing Africa’s youth?

  • A BBC Africa Debate & The Komla Dumor Award 2018

I was pleased to receive the invitation by Kai Wang, a broadcast journalist of the BBC World Series in London, to attend the Komla Dumor Awards and participate in the debate: “Is the older generation failing Africa’s youth?” Quite a bit of prominence was attached to the occasion considering the esteemed presence of Ghana’s former president John A. Kuffour for both the debate and the launching of the Komla Dumor Award 2018 (at the Alisa Hotel, 23rd February, 2018).

Komla Dumor Award 2018

The BBC sought “a rising star of African journalism” for the BBC World News Komla Dumor Award. Now in its fourth year, the award invited journalists from across the continent to apply. Aimed “to uncover and promote fresh talent from Africa”, it was established to honour Komla Dumor, the exceptional Ghanaian broadcaster and presenter for BBC World News, who died suddenly at age 41 in 2014.

Komla Dumor

With the applications closing on 23rd March, 2018, the winner would spend three months at the BBC headquarters in London, gaining skills and experience. The award will be made to an outstanding individual living and working in Africa, who combines strong journalism skills, on-air flair, and an exceptional talent in telling African stories with the ambition and potential to become a star of the future.

The winner will receive a once-in-a-lifetime training with the BBC in London, starting in early September 2018 and running for three months.  Working with teams from across BBC News, the winner will produce an African story for the BBC to be shared across the world.  They will be supported by a BBC mentor and attend courses run by the BBC Academy.

The BBC will pay for the winner’s flights to and from the UK and for their visa, and will also arrange and pay for the winner’s accommodation in London during their placement.  The winner will receive £2,000 per month for the three month placement to cover their living expenses and a one-off payment of £5,000 as a contribution towards loss of salary in their home country.

The Debate

The BBC’s Africa debate came on each month where “distinguished international panels, along with a hundred live audiences” were invited for the debate to discuss issues that matter to Africa and also help inform global perceptions of the continent.

In response to the question from the buoyant presenter, Akwasi Sarpong, my response was clear, explicit, and unambiguous: Yes, the older generation has failed and continue to fail Africa’s youth. Nowhere in my travels far and near do I encounter the depravity of the youth more so than in Africa.

Why on earth do the African youth desert the continent in droves on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean, and even to be sold in slavery?

It is no secret that until such time that Africa has conscientious leaders across board, committed and skilled government officials, concerned parents, the plight of the African youth may remain in the same deplorable condition.

In a 2017 column titled, “The plight of the Ghanaian child: A plea to the better angels in the nation’s leaders, chiefs, officials and parents”, I noted that “the amount of money, the time and energies wasted on expensive funeral rituals and billboards, with tears showered on the dead but not on the well-being of the nation’s children” is a puzzle indeed. Such cultural practices makes no sense whatsoever. And I pose the question: Is the African child any less important than children in other parts of the world?

The begging older generation

This response sent by a reader needs to be shared: “If I were an African president or minister, I’d be ashamed to go to the Chinese government to ask for aid. The Chinese have more people to feed than the whole African continent. It’s the Chinese who should be coming to ask our help. I’m ashamed to see how little pride we have left in our culture.”

“The same for India. India has more people to feed than the whole African continent. Still our Presidents go there to ask for aid from India to feed their people. Aren’t they ashamed? Don’t they see that they are the laughing stock? India has a population much bigger than the entire African continent, but the country is managed by one Prime Minister and 23 Ministers. Africa, with less population than India, is managed by 54 Presidents, and over 1,080 [One thousand and eighty] ministers who collectively still achieve less than a single Prime Minister in India.

“Africa, with less population then China, has 13,320 [Thirteen thousand three hundred and twenty] members of parliament who are full time employees on the payroll of states with skinny budgets. Are Africans inferior to everyone else, to be reduced to international beggars running here and there asking for help? Am ashamed to see my people being the object of pity to everyone.”

The cow metaphor

Another reader sent the following:You have two cows, you eat them both the same day and you dream that donors or the international community will give you more cows to eat. You go to church and hope for the miracle cattle. You fast 40 days and 40 nights without eating or drinking so that the cows will fall from heaven. At last you die in extreme poverty.”