She is a writer, a community development worker and a social entrepreneur. She became the first Ghanaian to win the prestigious golden baobab prize for picture book in 2014. She is the eldest of two children and the founder of the African Youth Writers Organization which seeks to lure children to read and write through play activities, technology and games designed from local recycled waste materials. Our guest is none other than the humble, beautiful and hard working Portia Mwinbeter-ib Dery
AMOAFOWAA: You are welcome to Amoafowaa.com
PORTIA: I am so excited to be on your platform
AMOAFOWAA: Tell us about growing up
PORTIA: I had a wonderful childhood until my father died at age 11. Death was new to me and my father had meant the world to me. As soon as my father died , everything at home broke down, and life became a terrible nightmare. If I am saner now, it is because of story books…they transported me into a fantasy world of possibilities.
AMOAFOWAA: Please tell us about Portia
PORTIA: Portia is a passionate social entrepreneur with focus on literacy issues. If there are 3 key words to describe me , they will be; Faith- I have so much faith even when things are impossible. I am the type that believes Mount Everest can move to Ghana overnight if it has to come to that. But I have a very good reason to have this strong faith, because God, my adorable father rules the world. Passion and Tenacity.
AMOAFOWAA: You are a social entrepreneur, please educate us on your work.
PORTIA: Being a social entrepreneur means I actively search for social problems and find innovative solutions to tackle them, however bearing in mind cost effective strategies. In 2013, I dared to turn my passion and love for reading and writing into a social venture called the African youth writers organization-AYWO ; which is on a mission to…(takes a deep breath in laughter) turn the whole of Africa into a reading continent by grooming the next generation into avid readers and prolific writers using innovation solutions. It looked impossible but with the help of my CEO, God and an awesome team, we have directly impacted the lives of 700 children within northern region alone.
On June 21, 2015, the African Youth Writers Organization-AYWO started the first ever innovative reading and writing clinic dubbed ‘the funky ReadWrite clinic’ for children living in deprived communities. Almost 5 months down the line, I am proud to say; about 30 children who were timid and less vocal are now confident and stimulated to face the world and fight for their future.
AMOAFOWAA: Why did you say dared to turn your passion into action?
PORTIA: Prior to starting my social entrepreneurial journey, I was very timid and had low self-esteem. A childhood of poverty and emotional setbacks slowly affected the way I saw myself…I thought everybody was better and awesome except me. However upon rediscovering me, it was like the caterpillar I was emerged into a beautiful butterfly. Finally, like I said in 2013, I decided to stop complaining and take my destiny with the help of God into my own hands. That is why I am passionate about helping children who go through trauma to rediscover themselves through reading and creative writing hence my social venture African Youth Writes Organization-AYWO.
AMOAFOWAA: What are some of the challenges you face as a social entrepreneur?
PORTIA: Oh my goodness! It’s so challenging. Without passion you will fall out, most people think social entrepreneurial work is about fame or popularity …ooh no if you get into it with that mindset, everything will go wrong. Finding a great team, resources and skills can be very challenging but when you find a team that is awesome …nothing will matter , not even money. A very good example is the GhanaThink Foundation’s Barcamps in Ghana which is largely successful due to emphasis on good teams sourced from volunteers. Another challenge is capital or resources for social activities. However, it is important to emphasize that even with less resources, a lot of social works can be done.
AMOAFOWAA: True and I agree on the great team talk. Works like magic. Let’s talk about your work at Department of Community Development and Social Welfare.
PORTIA: So I am a community development officer, basically, my work entails social activities ranging from gender advocacy, helping small women group businesses, to ending early and forced marriages to sanitation issues. Anything related to community work is my job.
AMOAFOWAA: What are some of the challenges there?
PORTIA: Working in a rural district can be very challenging. With the bad road network and lack of social activities, it gets so strenuous but I am motivated by these challenges because the work I do changes people’s lives. It is difficult to change primitive perceptions. Take for example open defecation which is a huge problem in most of the communities. People have the perception that having a toilet facility in their house is a waste of resources and time and even if it must be constructed, it should be provided by the government or an NGO. Most men are so paranoid that they say they cannot imagine their defecation mixing with female defecation. Some ladies say they cannot afford to mix their feaces with their in laws’ and others just think defecation should be left in the open as it is pure manure. Some also feel that open defecation is more enjoyable because there is fresh air, very ridiculous excuses. And flies settle on these feaces and transmit diseases. The challenges are many but there is hope.
AMOAFOWAA: Portia, are you single?
AMOAFOWAA: What are the characteristics of your ideal man?
PORTIA: Someone who has God’s favor; someone who delights God. It doesn’t matter if he’s blind or a cripple.
AMOAFOWAA: So noble and thoughtful. What are your hobbies?
PORTIA: Bird watching! I simply adore birds. I am currently lobbying with God to make me minister of the birds and children and flowers when I get to heaven.(lol). I love gardening as well; (can I tell you a secret?) My early morning ritual when I wake is to run out and to see my planted flowers and vegetables, I like to drink in their beauty. Of late I have become fascinated with my camera. Need I mention reading?
AMOAFOWAA: No. You are a beautiful and pure soul. Who can gain your respect?
PORTIA: I hate people who pretend! People who manipulate others.
AMOAFOWAA: Wow! Hate is strong but understandable. So your Funky Read Write Clinic, CEO right? Tell us more about how that dream came to be
PORTIA: I am something like the director. It started like a kind of Disney fantasy. The African Youth Writers Organization-AYWO since 2013 has carried out spin off outreach programs like reading, writing and mentoring clinics but there was nothing like a permanent reading and writing program/project that will monitor the impact of targeted children and celebrate their success. And so as part of our innovativeness, we designed a ‘Ghana made’ reading and writing clinic tailored to specifically address reading and writing challenges of the youth. The whole idea is with the premises that if children are exposed to quality, exciting reading and writing methods; they will fall in love with reading and writing in no time and further maintain literacy skills throughout their adult lives. Well, the above was just a theory when we started but I am excited to tell the world that it WORKED! The funky ReadWrite clinic is hard core evidence when it comes to education, quality should never be compromised. At the clinic we use paly activities, technology and games locally designed from recycled waste materials. On June 21, 2015 we promised the world by 5 months’ time that we will improve the literacy skills of children at our clinic , we have exceeded that by 150%….and in addition we are producing children with confidence to stand out and think wide outside the box and whose imaginations are well stimulated to explore the world with vim.
AMOAFOWAA: What are your long term goals?
PORTIA: In 5 years, I want to directly reach 10 million children across Africa with our innovative literacy solutions and products. I want 10 million children to improve and maintain their literacy skills. I want 10 million children regardless of where they are born, where they live or their challenges to have a good shot at quality education.
AMOAFOWAA: Pushing for a reading continent, what are some of your challenges?
PORTIA: Reading is considered as an academic activity; something merely for exams sakes. The mind set in such a way that reading is deemed wrong. When I was a teenager, people called me a bookworm (as if it was a bad thing) simply because my 3 best friends and I carried books everywhere we went. Even at the university, people shake their heads and say to me“ aarh why should I read such fat books…is it exams time?”
Teachers! Our teacher training schools do not train teachers with innovative skills to help children read in schools, in fact reading for leisure is not the priority of the Ghana educational system; library books are provided as an aid to academic work, merely to improve the English of students. But shouldn’t reading be more than just that?
Parents should read to their babies even when pregnant, they should tell their children stories even in their mother tongue and should fill the home with books.
When you have a whole continent like Africa with poor reading habits…what you get in the long run is a continent with leaders who cannot think beyond what they see, they cannot imagine anything…their imagination is dead!
PORTIA: Told a horrible lie.
AMOAFOWAA: Won’t even ask for more. Sounds like you are still beating yourself about it. If you had a day more to live (God forbid) what will you do in the 24 hours?
PORTIA: Cry…and praise God.
AMOAFOWAA: So realistic. Ghana and politics, what can you say about it?
PORTIA: Hoping for the better. That all I can say.
AMOAFOWAA: Thanks for saying something. I know you are a so not interested in politics material. Who is your favourite musician and why?
PORTIA: I don’t have a favorite , I simply listen to music that connects with me.
AMOAFOWAA: Who did you grow up reading from?
PORTIA: Lady bird books , Enid Blyton and later the African writers series. But let me give shouts out to Meshack Asare, my adorable role model. He is a fantastic writer , One of Africa’s most influential children’s authors and has won numerous awards across the world. His book “Kwajo and the brass man’s secret” has impact on me. His book was the first book I read as a child written by An African writer .
AMOAFOWAA: I believe that those who read a lot were programmed by inspiration, what inspired you to be the reader that you are today?
PORTIA: My home was filled with lots of books by my father. I was inspired by the beautiful words and pictures…the magic, the opportunity to travel all around the world with just a book in my hands.
AMOAFOWAA: Forgive me, what you said sounds so nice. Travelling with the flow of a book. What in this whole wide world do you find most unfortunate?
PORTIA: When people turn their backs on the needy, yet are prepared to spend so much on funeral arrangements.
AMOAFOWAA: That really is unfortunate and I have a huge story to tell one day on that. Colours fuel labeling. Portia what is your take on this?
PORTIA: Ahaaa. It may seem so. But sometimes, just sometimes, you may get the color description wrong which will affect the labeling and get the shock your of life.
AMOAFOWAA: Given the chance, what will you change in your community?
PORTIA: I want to see more community engagements and volunteering.
AMOAFOWAA: What is your best line in Ghana’s National Anthem?
PORTIA: God bless our homeland Ghana.
AMOAFOWAA: Indeed we can never go wrong with blessings. Your final words of advice to followers of amoafowaa.com
PORTIA: Follow your passion! Let money be second to any considerations. And please kindly support the funky ReadWrite clinic. Do hang out with us on our lovely blog https://africanywo.wordpress.com/ and check out our website http://www.aywo.org
AMOAFOWAA: We sure will. Thank you for passing through.
PORTIA: It was a pleasure.
WHEN AN EAGLE IS BORN (PORTIA DERY)
When an eagle is born
It doesn’t matter where it is bred
It doesn’t matter what it does
One day it will fly so high above
With wings stronger than all in its generation
Portia Dery is an eagle in character
With beauty and passion
To fly reading to all doorsteps
And impact the world of the poor for the better
Apt in goodness
Prayers are for the one who dreams
To end the screams so man made
And so I bless her
Amoafowaa Sefa Cecilia © 2015