PhD Student Starts Mask Making Project in Ghana, Saving Vocational School and Helping Thousands of People | New
When news of the COVID-19 lockdown in Ghana reached Nurudeen Musah, it was like a punch in the stomach. He was terrified that hunger would quickly become a greater danger than the virus, for children and young people who live on the streets of Ghana’s urban centers.
âIf there is no one on the streets,â he said, âthere is no way for them to earn a living.
Musah is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, based on the school’s Edmonton campus. He has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to survive on the streets in Ghana, because for many years he was one of those children.
Over the past five years as a researcher and volunteer, he has collaborated with street children and youth and the organizations that work to help them. One of the agencies he volunteers with runs the St. Vincent Vocational Center, a training school in Ghana that supports around 50 girls.
When COVID-19 hit it looked like the school should be closed, so Musah knew he had to find a way to help. He set up a GoFundMe page and also donated his own money. He suggested the agency’s board consider using the money to buy equipment and supplies so the girls can make masks – which were desperately needed in Ghana and around the world.
St. Vincent’s board of directors agreed and the small vocational school became one of the first mask production centers in Ghana. Musah’s idea took off and orders started pouring in from across the country and around the world, with Germany placing orders for the girls’ masks.
A rare win-win-win moment
âI’m very excited because it exceeded my expectations,â he said with obvious pleasure. âMy initial expectation was simply to save these 50 young women and make sure they stay in the agency. But now we are talking about thousands. Our last count was around 5,000 people that they actually got to reach, and they’re making these masks. ”
The project is one of those rare win-win-win moments in life. With the additional income they derive from external sales, they reach around 5,000 people among Ghana’s most marginalized populations (including the elderly, people with mental health issues who depend on the daily benevolence of people in Ghana). public spaces, etc.) with a variety of supports including food, toiletries, face masks, as well as income support for some children and families involved in street situations.
In addition, they have been able to produce low cost or free masks for communities across Ghana who would not be able to afford them otherwise. Musah also points out that keeping the vocational center open means the girls are not forced to return home – many of which are in the countryside – where they could take the virus to places without medical infrastructure or support.
Finally, being at the center of aid during the pandemic crisis helps boost girls’ self-esteem, which is a primary goal of Musah’s research program.
âI’ve been working directly with them (the youth) for five years now,â he says. âAnd they always tend to look down on themselves, because that’s what society does to them. So, they internalized some of these things.
There is an obvious poetry in this story. Musah grew up like many young people with whom he now collaborates in his research program and whom he supports through school. As he reflects on what he describes as the âadventurous journeyâ that took him from Ghana to Canada, New Jersey (where he did his Masters in Social Work) and back to Edmonton for his PhD, he doesn’t attribute his success to an incredible hard work ethic or brilliance.
Instead, he looks at it more philosophically, saying he was motivated, and although he worked hard, he also got lucky and took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves.
âI grew up with hundreds of other young people in my community,â he says, most of whom work as hard as I do. So if it was just hard work, they should have gone beyond me. I seized the opportunities that presented themselves to me. I have had these little supports from individuals – most of whom I have no relationship with. But by buying me, say, a workbook, or encouraging me to stay in school, they helped shape me.
“So I recognize that the very little I can do can also change the direction of someone else’s life. And that has been my motivation.”
If you would like to help develop the incredibly successful Musah initiative, you can visit the project site GoFundMe page, Where donate directly to the agency. Musah says all funds will be used to expand the program which will help even more street youth and, in turn, benefit more marginalized communities in Ghana.
UCalgary Resources on COVID-19
For the most recent information on the University of Calgary’s response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the website UCalgary COVID-19 response website.