One of Ghana’s best-known Catholic priests, Msgr. Roger Aboteyuure, has asked Ghanaians searching for examples of “useless graduates” to look no further than successful degree holders who have turned their backs on their deprived hometowns.

The widely travelled preacher, quite upset over the pitiable conditions in which some communities in the Upper East region have been caged for ages, is of a strong conviction the prevailing circumstances would have been less distressing if accomplished natives had made good use of their schooling to wipe at least a tear in their individual communities.

“University is to prepare you to render services to your people. The moment you don’t do that, you are a useless graduate and you are a frustrated graduate,” he said with a passionate tone, stressing the last syllable of the word ‘useless’.

Dr. Vida Nyagre Yakong, authoress of the storybooks, delivering an address at the book launch at Kongo.

He registered the blunt remarks in the Nabdam District during the launching of two storybooks written by Dr. Vida Nyagre Yakong, a native of the area and senior lecturer at the Tamale Campus of the University for Development Studies (UDS). She composed and published the stories in consultation with some natives of Nabdam for basic schools in the district. It is the latest intervention the lecturer, who is also a politician, has initiated among several charities she had secured particularly for helpless individuals and groups in the area.

“Who cares whether you have PhD? I don’t care. I care [about] the one who gives water to the people, the one who builds a clinic for the people [and] the one who wants to help the people to go ahead. Your [education] is not to make you selfish but to empower you to render effective service to your people and to humanity.

“Education doesn’t make you different; it only empowers you. You are still a member of your birthplace. I’m not saying you should go home. But wherever you are, you can always help your people from there in many ways,” Msgr. Aboteyuure pointed out.

My early encounter with hardship inspired me to give back – Dr. Yakong

Dr. Yakong, before the book launch, already was well-known for the support she had given to the vulnerable natives of that district through her charitable organisation called the Ghana Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) backed by development partners at her alma mater, the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.

She had provided bicycles for close to half a million of schoolgirls and farmers, scholarships for hundreds of students, goats and donkey-carts for women and a mechanised borehole and a standby generator for a clinic at Nyobork (a community in the district) among other notable interventions aimed at making the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality in that deprived area.

Every sentence in the newly launched storybooks comes in both English and Nabit (the language spoken in the district). The overall aim of the invention is to use simple storytelling to boost reading and writing in the two languages, to preserve and promote the Nabdam culture among the young generation and to inspire young writers in the area. Another book containing alphabets in Nabit, compiled by Dr. Yakong and some educators in the district, was launched alongside the two storybooks.

Traditional authorities, civil servants, religious leaders, schoolchildren, a delegation from the Ghana Education Service (GES), politicians as well as a team of lecturers and students from the University of British Columbia, led by Professor Susan Crichton and Cindy Bourne, gathered at Kongo, a busy town in the district, not only to unveil the innovation but also to celebrate it.

“Growing up in my early years in the village and in school, I had the opportunity to experience real life challenges- challenges of our mothers trying to raise their families with little resources, those confronting girls’ access to education and what that means for families, communities and national development.

“I decided to turn these challenges into a dream and a vision, aimed at doing something to contribute back to my community that made me who I am today. Some of these contributions may lead to making a difference in the lives of others so that they, too, can lead dignified lives,” Dr. Yakong told an admiring crowd at the event.

The newly launched books on display

Tides of teenage pregnancies keep rocking the boat of basic education every year in the district, with girls showing signs of pregnancy before the time to cross the transition bridge of the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) to the Senior High School (SHS) level is due.

There have been reports also about boys dumping their books and descending into mining pits of staggering depths in search of gold around the district. Some have asked if the new storybooks can help reduce the number of schoolgirls preparing every year to enter a labour room instead of a hostel and help win back the hearts of the boys who have abandoned class for cash.

The Nabdam District Director of Education, Joseph Amesimeku, is of a strong viewpoint the newly launched books have the potency to make a difference.

“The idea of the production of these books will help the children. Getting the children to go to school here is difficult because of a number of factors. Even at the JHS (Junior High School) level, some of them go into mining and so on. I was driving to work the other day and I saw some children by the roadside, looking for gold. I stopped, went to them and advised them. They were pupils. I took their pictures, sacked them from the place and went to their school to advise the students there to rather pursue a certificate, which would sustain them for life, and not gold, which could be depleted.

Scores of schoolchildren took part in the launching ceremony

“With the introduction of these books, based on storytelling, I believe strongly it will help rejuvenate the interest in education right from KG (kindergarten). Stories generally attract people, especially children. And they are good books. As time goes on, we will get the circuit supervisors to get such children back in school so they can have a feel of this new phase of learning. Parents are also not helping matters. They engage the children on their farms when they ought to be in school. That’s a challenge. But we are working on it,” the director told journalists shortly after the books had been launched.

The storybooks, entitled “All the Animals in the Nangodi Forest” and “The Poor Farmer and the Egg”, are to be distributed for free among the basic schools in the district.