Lauren Grimanis was 17 when she made her first trip to Ghana. Traveling alone, she spent two weeks with a host family in the capital, Accra. During her stay, Joyce Doh-Efa, her host mother, brought her to a remote, rural region of eastern Ghana where she had grown up.
One of the first people Lauren met there, in a community called Akaa, was a 16-year-old mother of two. There were many other children in the area, but no school. Nor was there access to health care: parasites, typhoid fever, and malaria were common. The villagers used one small stream for drinking, bathing, and washing.
For most people, an encounter like this would just be a story to tell the folks back home. But Lauren is not most people.
When she returned to Wayland, Massachusetts, and senior year of high school, Lauren stayed in touch with Joyce. They began hatching a plan to start a school in the village of Asiafo Amanfro in Akaa. Lauren started a fund-raising effort at her high school to build a simple, open-sided structure with a tin roof. Joyce identified three local residents who had completed middle school and could serve as teachers for the village’s 128 children.
By the time Lauren arrived at Wooster in 2008 — after applying “to humor my mom,” visiting campus, and falling in love with the college — the Akaa Project had been incorporated and was in the process of being registered as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization (a status it achieved in May 2009) with Lauren and Joyce as co-presidents, Lauren’s dad as treasurer, her mom, a nurse practitioner, as healthcare coordinator, her sister, and five team members in Ghana.
In her first year at Wooster, Lauren obtained a grant from the college’s Center for Entrepreneurship for a microfinance project that has enabled the women in the village to begin making jewelry and batik items for sale in Ghana and the U.S. Working through the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, the Akaa Project arranged for the people of the village to receive tetanus, malaria, and yellow fever vaccinations. That summer, Lauren returned to Asiafo Amanfro with another Wooster student, Katrina Wojciechowski, a pre-med dubbed “Doctor Katrina” by the village children.
Last year, students in Angela Bos’ First-Year Seminar class, “Adventures in Citizenship,” were so inspired by Lauren’s presentation on the project, that they raised more than $500 to purchase materials to construct tables and benches for the school. The athletic department donated old soccer jerseys to outfit the village’s team. And Lauren landed the Akaa Project’s first major grant: $5,000 from the IPA Foundation for a well to provide the village with clean drinking water. She also decided to design her own major in global development and management.
“I fully expect Lauren to be a true ‘change agent’ in global development when she graduates,” says Bos, an assistant professor of political science. “She’s bright, responsible, committed to working on community and global issues, and has the communication, leadership, and teamwork skills.”
As she begins her junior year, fresh from her third trip to Ghana last summer, Lauren has a check list of next steps for the Akaa Project: a school lunch program, a fully-enclosed school structure, adult education classes, scholarships so the village children can go on to middle school and high school.
She also continues to deepen the college community’s involvement: this year, one of Wooster’s community service program houses is dedicated to the Akaa Project. Lauren and the other students who live there — including several of her fellow field hockey players — will work on fund-raisers and grant writing, as well as development of a new video and brochures about the project.
“I’m not sure what the future holds for me,” Lauren says, “but social enterprise really interests me.”
Given what she has accomplished so far, it’s a safe bet she’s going to have an impact.
To learn more, email Lauren.
1189 Beall Avenue, Wooster, Ohio 44691. (330) 263-2000
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