Edem Frank Avakame lived in six different villages in the bush of the Lake Volta region in Ghana. He lived with his parents and his three brothers and four sisters in a two-bedroom home with no running water, no toilet, no electricity and no bed of his own.
Yet learning came naturally for Edem. After he zipped through the lower grades at school in his village, he hurried off to boarding school in the city, where he got his first taste of modern amenities—running water, electricity, washing machines, dryers, modern buildings and paved roads. Plus, his own bed! He loved it. It was a life of convenience, and to him it was the good life. As his mind expanded, his dreams also expanded to include a good life of more comfort, ease, prestige and helping others. He knew education would be the vehicle that would lead to fulfilling his dreams, but he never imagined it would lead him to America as a professor at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J.
His mother and father were teachers and were often called away from home to teach at schools in other villages. While his mom and dad were away working, he and his siblings busied themselves with reading, writing and arithmetic. “We learned to read and write before we even entered school,” says Edem. “We were more advanced than many other children in the village, and we were able to help them learn to read and write. It was fun!”
It was not unusual for children in Edem’s village to work on the farm instead of attending school. However, in the Avakame household, education was the driving force. Early on, Edem sensed that education would take him further in life than toiling as a laborer on a farm.
Ghana’s universities offered free tuition in exchange for two years of service in the Ghanaian National Guard. But entrance into them was fiercely competitive. Private colleges were not as limited; however, his parents could not afford to send him to a private college. Edem knew he would have to pass the grueling public college entrance exam to make his dreams come true. It was his only option.
At boarding school he had barrels of fun with his new friends, but he also studied for long, draining hours. Like a biscuit in gravy, he sopped up every drop of knowledge. He was determined to pass the college entrance exam. And he did. He got accepted into the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. He was fixed on attaining his dreams, but the university was shut down in his second year of college because Edem and his classmates marched in opposition to a new government that took control of the country. Edem was sent home to his village.
A year later the university reopened, and Edem returned to his studies. He earned a bachelor’s degree, majoring in economics and sociology. Next in his relentless pursuit of higher education, he gained acceptance to graduate school at the University of Alberta in Canada. His uncle bought his ticket to Edmonton, Canada, and Edem was off for graduate school with only $80 in his pocket and a few articles of clothing. Nonetheless, he was grateful to go abroad. Taking him thousands of miles away from his rural village, this journey would carry him closer to the good life he dreamed about. But during his second year in the arctic chill of western Canada, Edem received a call from home saying that his fathered had suffered a deadly stroke.
At the funeral Edem thought back over the wisdom, love and encouragement his father used to instill him with confidence and courage. These memories made him more determined than ever to reach his goals so that he could help support his now-widowed mother and fatherless younger siblings.
Again, all of his hard work paid off. After earning a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Alberta in 1993, he accepted an offer to teach at Temple University in Philadelphia. When he got to America, he experienced major culture shock. He exclaims: “Oh, my God! People in America are massive—they are huge! They are taller and bigger compared to people I’ve seen in Canada and Ghana. Everyone here is so big. Everything is big. The portions of food are big. The cars are bigger and newer. The houses are bigger.”
In the United States, Edem’s dreams of comfort, convenience and prestige finally came true. He is still helping others learn just as he did as a child. After five years at Temple University, he accepted his current position as an associate professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University.
He and his wife, Florence, a CPA, reside in Philadelphia and have two sons, Elorm, 17, and Seyram, 13. His siblings have all earned postgraduate degrees.
Kim S. Jones is a Rutgers student. Posted September 2008.