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  • Ilana Salmon

My First Time in Ghana

An experience worth a thousand words.

As a fairly recent staff member at Millennium 3 Management, Inc., who shares responsibility for projects related to our firm’s pro bono client, the African Bicycle Contribution Foundation(ABCF), I found it hard to put my recent trip to Accra, Ghana, for ABCF’s “500th Bicycle” event, into words. Like many others in my Millennial/GenZ age group, I typically document my life and experiences through pictures. But, my first trip to Africa was immensely life-changing, and I was inspired to reduce the experience to words. Since being home, I have also felt a pull to go back to the Continent, as soon as possible, because I feel that there is so much more for me to learn and to experience about the city of Accra.

What immediately stood out to me was the normal city hustle and bustle. I sensed that beginning with our arrival in the Kotoka International Airport, in Accra. On the cab ride to the hotel, I was impressed to see people, along the route, selling any and everything you could possibly think of. The women, and men alike, carry huge silver bowls on top of their heads, with water, drinks, peanuts, phone chargers and adapters, toilet paper, nets for washing your body, tweezers, matches, Q-tips. You name it, they had it in the those perfectly balanced bowls. On the side of the streets, there were also booths where Ghanaians do a serious food and retail trade, reminding me of 52nd Street, back at home, in West Philadelphia. I was truly inspired by their spirit.


After settling in my room, it was time to jump right into business. A. Bruce Crawley, chairman of African Bicycle Contribution Foundation (ABCF), Patricia Marshall Harris, executive director of ABCF, and I met in the restaurant area at the Kempinski Gold Coast City, and ordered a spread of several menu items, to taste, while we met with Mr. Crawley’s niece, Camina, and girlfriend Jihan. They were on their way to Morocco, but arranged their schedule to coincide with the “500th Bicycle” event. We were also joined, at that first meeting in Accra, by Bernice Dapaah, CEO of Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative (GBBI); Philip Sackey of PCS Company Ltd, and Kennedy Tetteh, Economic and Communications Consultant for GBBI. All came to discuss the details of how we might push the “500th Bicycle” event forward.


The next day, July 16, I had my first real Ghanaian cultural experience, as I got my hair braided, by two women, right in my hotel room! What would normally have taken six to seven hours, at a hair salon, back home, took just two-and-a-half hours. I was impressed with their speed, and very happy with the result.

After getting my hair braided, I rushed to get dressed to meet Ms. Patricia and Mr. Crawley to meet with the Greater Accra Region’s Honorable Deputy Minister Elizabeth Sackey. We discussed the African Bicycle Contribution Foundation (ABCF) and GBBI; the outcomes for the students, small farmers and healthcare workers; and how Ghana might take steps toward becoming more “bicycle-friendly.” While we were there, we also met the Honorable Regional Minister, Ismael Ashitey, who was impressed with the Foundation, and expressed how pleased he was that ABCF had decided to launch its bamboo bicycle contributions program, in Ghana. Sitting with those two national leaders, I felt elite!


The highlight of the trip for me was the African Bicycle Contribution Foundation’s distribution of its 500th bamboo bicycle, on July 17. When I arrived, a crew from Bernice Dapaah’s NGO, Bright Generations Community Foundation, was still setting up in preparation for the arrival of the students. They were placing ABCF’s “500th” branded banner on the stage, putting the bicycles in their rows and draping the green and yellow fabrics over the tents where the recipients would be sitting.


A DJ was setting up the microphone and playing the local Afrobeats, while Camina, Jihan and I placed ABCF logos on the bicycles and used our own, on-the-spot, ingenuity to erect the beautiful “step and repeat” banner M3M’s Art Director, Renée Sloan, had created for the event. After the set-up was done, the program speakers, attendees, and ABCF staff waited for the student-recipients to arrive.

About thirty minutes behind schedule, a large red coach bus finally pulled up at the Achimota Golf Club, and a wave of students from the rural Ningo-Pram Pram School District, all dressed in sea green uniforms, began to file onto the field. Camina, Jihan and I greeted them, and gave each student an “ABCF 500th” branded t-shirt. Once they reached their seats, and put on their t-shirts, there was an impressive sea of black and yellow-garbed students awaiting their new bamboo bicycles.


After a beautiful program, during which the bamboo bikes had been distributed, Camina suggested that we encourage the students to get up and dance, while they waited for their meals to arrive. The young people responded immediately...and energetically.



It’s been a long time since I smiled so hard, or experienced so much vibrancy and joy. I may have, but it felt the most genuine and fulfilling, there, at that time, in Greater Accra. The students taught me all of their dances and spontaneously pushed me to the front of the dance line, and to my surprise, they followed me around the field, as the music continued to play. Being able to look back and see all of the smiling faces behind me made me smile even more. My cheeks were sore! Although the sun was beaming and sweat was rolling for us all, the heat wasn’t even a factor.

I was even told, later, that Mr. Crawley had mentioned to the other presenters that, when I am in the M3M office, I can go all day without speaking, and to see me out there dancing and leading the children was surprising. It may have been surprising to him but it was all very natural to me, and being there with the students, in Ghana, brought that out.


I have trained in dance for about 17 of my 25 years of life. So, to share that love with the students felt destined, almost spiritual. After we all closed out the official distribution event with the student dances, and after the students were fed, it was finally time for the event organizers to eat, ourselves.


At that point, we waved our good-byes to the students, and that’s when it all settled in for me. The students’ smiles and radiance could have stemmed from receiving bamboo bicycles. With their new bikes, they knew that they would begin to have the improved access that they deserved to arrive at their classes in a timely fashion, to reduce their rate of absences, and to improve their academic performances.

I observed that day that those students’ appreciation for what life has given them is deeply rooted, and extends beyond material goods, including the beautiful bamboo bicycles they had just received. What I learned from them, that day, made me realize that I need to be a bit more introspective about how I was living my own life. Seeing them demonstrate so much joy, mutual respect and fellowship, despite having so much less in the way of material goods than I have become accustomed to, back home, is a feeling I now strive for.


To our great surprise, the ABCF team was invited to ride with the Honorable Deputy Minister Elizabeth Sackey to our post-event lunch at Azmera, an authentic Ghanaian cuisine buffet. While riding with her, we quickly learned that the siren and horn we had been hearing was actually coming from the Deputy Minister’s own SUV. In Ghana, the Honorable Elizabeth Sackey does not have to wait in traffic and the siren is used to alert those on the roads that her vehicle is approaching an intersection. If only we could drive like we did, in Ghana, every day! Although Mr. Crawley and I had lunched at Azmera, the day before, we didn’t let on, and enjoyed it like it was our first visit to that wonderful restaurant.


I had tilapia fish head, spinach, jollof rice, and also tried a variety of other authentic foods. I ate until I realized I was stuffed, and I did not want to fall asleep at the table. Being able to share dinner with the Honorable Deputy Minister was a treat because she is truly down to earth and she also loves selfies, so, we took a ton of photos.

After a successful distribution event, there was a lot of work that needed to be done. After the 500th event, we gathered all of the contacts we could, to host, what Mr. Crawley called the “ABCF Leadership Reception,” at the Kempinski Gold Coast City hotel. At a meeting, the day before, with Mr. Crawley and Ms. Harris, the hotel‘s general manager, Manish Nambiar, had kindly agreed to sponsor the ABCF event at his hotel’s Pearl Room. The next day, I worked with Ms. Patricia, and the Deputy Minister’s son Philip Sackey to develop a list of proposed invitees to the event. I then designed the digital invitation and emailed it out to all of the Ghanaian contacts, including media representatives, business people and elected officials.

The reception took place July 18, at 6 pm, and even with late notice, we had an amazing turnout, with Honorable Elizabeth Sackey in attendance, along with GBBI’s CEO Bernice Dapaah, GBBI’s economic and communications consultant Kennedy Tetteh, and Lillipearl Baaba Otoo, of the Ghana Business Financial Times, who wanted to do an interview with ABCF leaders. Given our hectic schedule, she wound up sending the questions to us, and the article was posted on August 2, 2019. A good number of conversations that needed to be had about African Bicycle Contribution Foundation and Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative were taking place that night.


As the trip wound down, we still were working adamantly to ensure we got the event press release out, and to gather the photos from our Ghanaian photographer, Samuel Moore. As we came to the end of our events, I actually had a nice conversation with Samuel, out by the pool, while eating pizza, salad, and other snacks.


In sum, I am filled with gratitude and extremely blessed to have been able to experience the lovely Ghanaian people, their yummy, but most-times-spicy, food, and their way of life. It was extremely humbling, all while I was able to experience, first hand, how it feels to give back, in Mother Africa.


Don't forget to donate: www.africanbike.org/donate

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Locations:

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