On Friday night, MTN Ghana celebrated ten outstanding heroes of our republic. It was a moment of pride when the men and women responded to mentions of their honourable names and stepped forward a thunderous applause from the audience. The tunes of patriotic songs, Ghana Anyigba and Uncle Ato’s Wonsom, played in the background as the MC, Kwami Sefa-Kayi, called them up the stage. Some walked majestically. Others lumbered with the help of clutches or a walking stick. Some looked young and healthy. Others looked old and frail. But they had two things in common. They are ordinary Ghanaians. And they have hearts of gold.
They are heroes the nation might never celebrate when state honours are given to outstanding Ghanaians. I can bet the two balls that house the seeds of my future children on this fact. If the Speaker of Parliament, Edward Doe Adzaho, and many of those who were decorated last year with the highest awards of our land had sat through the programme at the Accra International Conference Centre last Friday, they would have considered returning their awards with a one-line note: “I don’t think I deserve this.”
The highest national awards are often given to politicians and public servants who receive so much from the nation and retire on fat pensions. Politicians often dominate such awards, and in some cases, a sprinkle of public servants, business and sports personalities.
When citations of recipients of national awards are read, the greatest achievements are usually long service or pioneers in particular fields. There is often nothing outstanding or sacrificial about some of the awardees besides their loyalty to certain political parties. President J.A. Kufuor took the awards to a ridiculous level when he decided to decorate himself, after a rather reckless expenditure on medals for state honours that year. Anyway, made international headlines that year.
Last Friday, however, true heroes of our land were rewarded. They are men and women who have received virtually nothing from the state. But they are giving their all to make the nation a better place. They work to change lives, lives of the most vulnerable in the society – the visually impaired, the mentally retarded, children described as “spirit children” because societies found no explanation to their deplorable condition, street children, orphans and virtual outcast. Some of the beneficiaries of their kind hearts broke down in tears when they gave testimonies about the heroes.
In the areas of education, healthcare and economic empowerment, these men and women with hearts of gold are giving their all to the advancement of humanity. They do so without fanfare. They do so without seeking for fame or attention. The nation may not have seen them and no media house may have featured them in the personality profile segments of their programmes. But that is not their motivation.
There were short videos of how the nominees were impacting society. I shut my eyes from time to time because some of the images were very disturbing. They are pictures that may make you throw up. But the ten finalists of the second edition of MTN’s Heroes of Change have worked and continue to work with them in order to bring change to society. Their society. Your society. My society. Ghana!
The night was ushered into its proper theme when Abena of MTN’s Hit-Maker fame gave a flawless rendition of Michael Jackson’s Heal the World. The audience sang the chorus with her:
Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me
The men and women who were celebrated are making the World a better place, not for themselves and their families alone, but for the tens, hundreds andthe thousands who encounter them. They are ordinary men and women doing extra-ordinary and heroic acts.
The ultimate prize of GHc100,000 and a trophy went to Madam Paulina Opei, the founder of Save Our Lives Orphanage in Anwia Nkwanta in the Ashanti Region. Madam Paulina is a trained nurse. She was touched when a woman delivered and died in the process. She adopted the baby because there was no one to take care of it. After 22 years, more than 300 of such children have been fed with her breast milk of compassion. Some have been educated up to the tertiary level. She had to endure victimization and stigmatization from people who either misunderstood her or were wrongly envious of her.
When Nakpanduri is mentioned, what comes to mind is conflict. That troubled town in the Northern Region is a land many professionals have fled or have resisted job postings to that part of the country. But Dr. Emmanuel Bidzakin and his wife relocated there when they realised healthcare was a luxury for residents in that part of the country. They set up the Faith Community Hospital. It is the only hospital in Nakpanduri. If money had been the motivation for setting up a hospital, Dr. Bidzakin and his wife, who is also a medical doctor, might have looked for somewhere more lucrative. Poverty is a co-tenant of most residents there and the hospital has to absorb medical bills of patients who cannot pay for healthcare. Dr. Emmanuel Bidzakin was adjudged MTN Hero for Health. He received a plaque and an amount of GHc20,000.
“There are doctors and there are doctors, but I can say Dr. Emmanuel is a doctor,” a beneficiary of Dr. Emmanuel Bidzakin’s hospital said.
Mr. Nayina Karim is a Social Entrepreneur who established rehabilitation centre and school for malnourished children in Karaga community in the Northern region. Prior to his intervention, some of the malnourished children were mistaken for spirit children. A gripping video of how a malnourished child with a terrible skin condition transformed in the course of his intervention left the audience paralysed with emotions. He was adjudged the MTN Hero of Change for Economic Empowerment. His prize was also a trophy and an amount o of GHc20,000.
Rev. Jehu Appiah, who set up a centre dedicated to the care of disabled children in Apam, in the Central region of Ghana was awarded MTN Hero of Change for Education. His prize was also a trophy and an amount o of GHc20,000.
Six other heroes who made it to the grand finale received ¢5,000 each. They are:
Yvonne Boaduaa from the Eastern region of Ghana. She has set up a training and housing facility dedicated to giving physically challenged persons the skills they need to enable them work for themselves. She is disabled.
Mrs. Salome Francois established the New Horizon School 40 years ago to support children with disabilities. Through her hundreds of children with learning disabilities have acquired creative skills.
Isaac Adjaottor is a community health worker from Ada Foah in the Greater Accra Region. He has distributed over 6,000 bed nets in his village and surrounding villages to help reduce malaria in the community. He has set up “Farm for School” (a farm he cultivated himself) and uses proceeds from the sale of the products,” to pay the school fees of deprived children.
Emmanuel Quartey established the Jaynii Streetwise Foundation that helps street children acquire skills in music, dance, drumming and the development of artifact. He currently has 52 children benefiting from his charity.
Nicholas Kumah established a child advocacy group which ensures that the children in his catchment area re registered on NHIS. His group also takes care of street children and undertakes activities aimed at protecting the child in his community.
Paul Semeh has an NGO called Street Children Empowerment Fund, which seeks to rescue children from the street and put them into school. He assists by paying for their education and he also provides them with school uniforms and textbooks. Very often he has to give them stipends to help them take of their basic needs.
These were not the only heroes. More than 1000 change makers were nominated by people who had seen their works. The judges had a tough time settling on these 10. After watching the finalists and what they had done, it was difficult to say who deserved to be crowned ultimate winner. Each of them could have won.
One important lesson I learnt that night was captured by one of the judges, Sydney Casely Hayford: “Everybody can be a hero.” They became heroes by serving humanity. Making a reference to Jesus Christ’s teaching, Martin Luther King Jnr. in his Drum Major Instinct sermon put it profoundly:
“And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”
This means I can be a hero. And you can be a hero, too. If you cannot help an entire community, you can turn the gloomy night of despair in one hopeless soul into a bright future of indescribable hope and greatness. Remember you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior Broadcast Journalist at Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org