Imagine that you have to walk 14 miles one way to school. Or that your school is not held in a building, but under a tree, in all kinds of weather.
This is the reality that Eastern men’s soccer player Manan Abdul wanted to address when he brought 400 bicycles to several villages in Ghana this past summer.
“I just could not imagine how they were going to [walk 8-14 miles to school],” Manan said.
The project, which Manan undertook with the help of David Broida of the Upper Merion Township parks and recreation board, started last year, when Manan began collecting bicycles out of the trash in King of Prussia.
After collecting around 60 bicycles this way, Manan realized he needed a bigger strategy. Together, he and Broida got publicity for the project through outlets such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and NBC.
They received a nationwide response, which included the donation of 40 brand-new bicycles from a dealer in Denver, Colorado.
Two students from Upper Merion High School, Andrew Ryan and Chris Laucella, as well as another Eastern student, Caitlin Whitesel, were also involved in the project.
In addition to 400 bicycles, they succeeded in fundraising over $9,500 in shipping expenses with the support of area churches and organizations.
“I think we all know that helping people for one reason will be exciting, and for another, it’s something God will cherish,” Manan said.
As a member of the Dagoamba tribe in Ghana, Manan felt a close kinship with the children there and their poverty, especially in Yendi, his father’s native village.
“I was in Yendi seven years ago when the first [ethnic] conflict started, and I witnessed people being killed, and I was just lucky that God saved me and brought me out of it,” he said.
He explained that over the years, ethnic conflicts in Ghana have resulted in the destruction of many school buildings, which has made getting an education very difficult for children in Yendi and other villages.
The six-week trip Manan took to Ghana this past summer to deliver the bicycles made that connection even stronger.
“I had a very good rapport with the kids in the village of Yendi and its surroundings,” he said. “When you look at the pictures [from the trip], it really says a lot about the poverty of Africa.”
Manan’s visit gave him a new resolve and a new goal: to build a centralized school for the children.
According to Manan, the village chiefs have already set aside land for the school. All that remains is to raise the money to build it.
“I’m appealing to everybody in the Eastern community, to anyone who thinks they can help out or has a way to help these kids, anything that would make their educational lives better,” he said.
Manan plans to speak with campus organizations such as Habitat for Humanity over the coming weeks as he works out a strategy to build a school.
“I feel very privileged to be in America and to get an education I can use to help people from my native village,” he said.
Manan also sees the project as an opportunity for people in Ghana and America to learn more about each other.
“They see America as a country that exports war and munitions; I want them to have a different perspective – that America stands for freedom. At the same time, people here get to learn about a different continent,” he said.
Anyone interested in helping Manan with his current project should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.