My story

I am a cultural hybrid. I was born in Spain to African parents, became an American citizen by adoption, and I have been living in New York City for the last 21 years.

The first time I traveled to Africa (Ghana) was nearly 11 years ago. Like many visitors who have had the great privilege of visiting this country, I fell in love with the people and the country itself, and I returned home with a desire to help Africa develop and grow. As with any developing country, there is a need to build infrastructures to empower people through education, healthcare, social programs, etc. I have chosen to help Africa develop by supplying something that is very close to my heart: books. I have always loved to read. Books have inspired me and introduced me to a world of new ideas and concepts, and I would like to share this gift of inspiration and new ideas with my African brothers and sisters.

Through my own experiences, I have come to understand the impact books can have on people’s lives. As an example, William Kamkwamba from Mali in West Africa has served as a case study for our organization. William’s family could not afford his tuition fee; therefore, he was unable to continue his education. Something interesting happened after he read a book on windmills, however, and learned they could become a powerful source of energy: He was inspired to build a windmill, which created enough electricity to power his own household and, eventually, his entire village. I believed there were more young men and women like William Kamkwamba in other parts of Africa, and I wanted to supply them with books to inspire them in similar ways. Therefore, I decided to start the Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project (BBALP), with the goal of building libraries around Africa. I decided that the first one would be established in the town of Kokofu, in the Region of Kumasi in Ghana.

Why Kokofu? Something magical happened during my trip to Ghana: an unplanned visit to Kokofu gave life to a new project. John Hutchinson, my tourist guide, asked if I would mind passing by Kokofu on our way to Kumasi to check the house of a former U.S. resident who was building a home in the area. I agreed to do so and ended up meeting Barima Offe Akwasi Okogyeasuo II, the Chief of Kokofu, who named me Nana Akwa Serwah and granted me the honor and title of “Queen Development Mother.” Chief Okogyeasuo II offered me a piece of land, where I decided to build the first BBALP library.

As some of you may know, I am a cultural hybrid. Born in Spain to African parents, I later became an American citizen, and I have been living in New York City for the last 21 years. I know that being born in Europe of African heritage is a privilege. Over the years, my family’s background has given me access to elementary and higher education and allowed me to grow up in an environment where books and intellectual stimulation have impacted my life in a positive way. Therefore, it is only natural for me to want to give back to the community and to help others achieve the same fortune.

Witnessing the excitement of children when they receive their books is priceless, and seeing their joyful faces when entering the library does my soul good. What is more important to our organization, however, is the fact that the library becomes a community project – a focal point for the families and communities to practice togetherness and to emphasize our common love for books.

We are very thrilled for the children who have benefitted from our library projects in Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. We have cooperated with various schools, educational institutions, and other organizations to send books to Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and South Africa. Additionally, we have recently created the BBALP Scholarship Fund to help talented kids gain access to education in countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Ghana.

The important lesson I have learnt from this experience thus far is that “It takes a little to do much.” Everyone can help in their own capacity, and at BBALP, we always concentrate on giving people nets and teaching them to fish instead of just giving them the fish. We believe that education opens doors to new opportunities.

Along the way, I have found many wonderful people who have helped support my vision, for which I am very thankful. Just this week, I had the chance to witness the power of books, and I learned that cooperation is essential. In collaboration with several universities in Spain, we shipped 28,000 books to the University of Equatorial Guinea, which has changed the landscape of education in this institution. Last September, I visited our library in Kenya, located in Maasai Mara. While there, I got the opportunity to empower the youth and women by sharing with them that education is the key to obtaining the freedom to make their own choices. Education may not be a direct passport to success, but it gives people the chance to choose among different possibilities.

Each library and country represents an adventure. Collecting books for children, finding the right partners, meeting the children in person, and having the opportunity to read to them is a beautiful experience. I would like to pursue this same experience in other countries with the simple goal of spreading the love for books.

Before the Covid pandemic, I took part in an African tour that spanned from the west to the east. Most of my trip was spent in Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. I also had the chance to travel to Equatorial Guinea and Kenya, and I was amazed by the vibrant energy that lies in the continent. Through my participation in discussion panels, I had the chance to mentor young men and women. I was truly impressed by the way these young people strove for greatness, and I learned that despite a lack of education, which leads to a lack of opportunities, the desire to excel still exists.

There are many cultural barriers preventing African youth from having a voice, but I also met young people with a vision who broke through in order to make their voices heard. After all, big problems create big opportunities.

During my trip, I had highly productive conversations with representatives from governments, international organizations, and the private sector, and many initiatives were launched in order to shape a better future for entrepreneurs living on the continent. I visited several company facilities and engaged in multiple conversations with young professionals and established businesspeople.

One thing that is clear after my journey is that Africa’s outlook and potential are often overlooked by many. The remarkable progress Africa has made in the past decade is not widely recognized or covered by the local media, but I have personally witnessed the numerous success stories across the continent.

Even though there are many problems to resolve, African citizens and the diaspora are working every day to transform the continent. The key to this transformation is to give voice to the youth and women and to achieve pan-African cooperation.

I am an Afro-optimist, and Africa’s rising is not a myth. I firmly believe that a bright future lies ahead for the African continent, and that we (the sons and daughters of the continent) will be the crafters of such a future. As stated in the African Union’s opening statement, “The time has come to build an integrated Africa, a prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”

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