Catalyst for Good

When Amy Brinkley joined the Ghanaian community, she realized her calling for higher education. Now, she tries to help Ghanaians realize theirs.

When Brinkley is in St. Louis, she uses her Ghanaian mindset to prepare the next generation of higher education administrators to steer institutions with vision and integrity.

When Dr. Amy Brinkley, MBU assistant professor of higher education leadership, is not focused on equipping the next generation of university leaders, she’s likely thinking of Essibu and Desmond.

The two children, who live in a remote village in east Ghana, consume a lot of Brinkley’s thoughts these days. The impact they have made on her life is indelible. So much so, that she feels called to help make a lasting difference in theirs, in part, through higher education.

During the summer of 2010, Brinkley first became acquainted with the coastal country during a service learning trip for her master’s degree. As the summer teacher for the local middle school in the coastal town of Winneba, Brinkley quickly developed a strong bond with the locals. Leaving Ghana that first time was one of the hardest things she has ever had to do.

“They became so much of my heart, so leaving was traumatic,” reflected Brinkley. “I never thought I would see them again. It took a year to get over the pain of being separated from Ghana.”

Desmond considers Brinkley to be his mother and motivated her to research disability education. Desmond was abandoned by his mother at a young age because her new husband didn’t want to care for a child with a disability.

In 2011, Brinkley discovered that her beloved country wrestled with the trafficking of children under the guise of the fishing industry. She connected with a local organization, Challenging Heights, and returned to Ghana to teach children who have been rescued from slavery and prostitution. As she taught the children, she grew close to families in Winneba and Senya, a small fishing village and focal point for trafficking. Among the locals was a sweet child, Essibu, with an endearing bond to Brinkley. When Essibu called her “Mama” for the first time, Brinkley realized her relationship with Ghana had changed. No longer was she a teacher, volunteer or Westerner. She was a mother.

Months later, she returned yet again to Ghana with a somewhat different mission: to be a mother returning to her children. She moved to the little village and purchased a shell of a house to become her own Ghanaian home.

While Brinkley jokingly refers to her abode as a beachside home in Ghana, she lives like the locals when she’s there. She washes her clothes by hand among the women. Running water and electricity are never steadily available. While this lifestyle may appall many Westerners, Brinkley chooses to live with these conditions so she can be an authentic member of the community.

“If you are going to serve people, you need to live among them,” said Brinkley. “If you live among them, how dare you live above them?”

With each trip she becomes more integrated with the community and culture of Ghana. It’s her familiarity within the culture that allows her to truly understand what is needed to help the Ghanaians she loves.

It also served as the motivating factor for her career in higher education.

“I think higher education is important because if higher education can be a part of public good will, then it means that people within the community will be educated about the needs of community members,” said Brinkley. “Ghanaians can be taught and coached in a way that will motivate and equip them to be the change agents.”

Ghana has equipped and motivated Brinkley to be a change agent within the United States.

Joyce, Brinkley’s dear friend, helps her learn how to wash heavily soiled white shirts by hand. Washing her clothes by hand–a laborious task–is a symbol that Brinkley is a true local and villager.

“When I was in Ghana, I realized that higher education could be a force for good,” said Brinkley. “I was on track to be an English professor, but I believed that if I got involved in the policy level of higher education I could help the marginalized and redirect resources so the forgotten can succeed.”

Not only did her passion in higher education stem from Ghana, so did her focus on disabilities. Brinkley met Desmond in the orphanage of Senya. Because of a disability, he was abandoned by his parents and wasn’t given the attention he needed. Brinkley now considers Desmond as her own and loves him with a mother’s unconditional love.

“Desmond called me to look at disability in Ghana,” said Brinkley. “I’m looking at systemic changes to improve the life of not only Desmond, but children like him.”

During her time as a doctoral student, Brinkley focused on disability education within higher education at the same time as she was working with Desmond. Brinkley’s motivation in Ghana and the U.S. is to focus on the needs of people, not a cause. As a Christian, Brinkley believes each person should feel seen and valued.

“God does see our need globally, but He also sees our needs individually,” said Brinkley. “I think that as an extension of Christ, people need to see that too. We need not just systemic change but to come beside people and just be a friend regardless.”

Hand-in-hand with her work in higher education, Brinkley dreams of opening a home for pregnant women and young mothers. In Ghana, many young women become pregnant and drop out of school. This home would provide resources and home skills, but also education so the women can resume their classes within two years alongside their classmates.

In 2012, Brinkley decided to live in Senya, a source village for trafficked children under the guise of the fishing industry.

“It all stems back to my children in Ghana — I want them to have the chance to succeed and attend university — their dream,” said Brinkley. “Without someone there to promote that, it’s not going to happen for them because they don’t have the money to go. I want to be in the position to really help them. I want them to be able to carry out their dreams. They deserve the opportunity to have an opportunity.”

It is here that once again her work within higher education and Ghana collide — it is one thing to try to change someone’s world, but even more powerful to be the catalyst so someone else will better the world.

Published in Summer 2016 edition of MBU Magazine

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