Savannah View: Mandela's Autopsy, Miranda's Passion
5/14/2012 11:21:53 PM -
Today I want to tell you the story of a young lady called Miranda Agnes Quainoo. Never mind if you've never heard about her. That's why I'm about to tell you.
It is a story that should inspire and challenge you to leave your footprints in the sands of time long after you've exhausted your limited days on this turbulent planet of ours. It is an initiative that gives true meaning to Nelson Mandela's autopsy painting, which I vehemently condemned even before I took time understand the concept of that great piece of art.
But that only shows how truly Ghanaian I am, doesn't it? If you want to know how Ghanaian that attitude really is, ask Dr Arthur Kobina Kennedy. Don't know him, too? Here's a short profile:
Arthur K. is a lecturer at the University of Cape Coast. He was one of the 17 Presidential hopefuls who wanted to hoist the flag of the then ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the 2008 elections. Unfortunately, wishes did not become horses and unlike a Liverpool FC fan, he walked alone.
I'm told he obtained only one vote at that gargantuan congress held at Legon. A single vote after all assurances from party delegates can be mind-boggling, but presents a great lesson for us all. The human mind, our wise elders say, is like a bag. It is only the holder who can tell its exact content at a particular point in time.
Dr Arthur Kennedy later became the Communications Director of Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo's campaign. But Nana Akuffo-Addo lost 2008 elections. And Arthur K. would later lose again in his bid to represent the people of Asebu-Abura-Kwamankese Constituency in parliament. He lost the party primaries, not parliamentary elections itself. But Arthur K is not a failure, if you asked me.
In his own party, he does not enjoy much support because he has a fundamental flaw he must discard if he wants to become a 'successful' politician in Nkrumahland.
We are living in a country where frankness and speaking the truth amount to a slip of tongue, and not a deliberate effort. It is worst on the political landscape and the soft-spoken Arthur K has not learnt to conform to the norm, leading to his rejection, which has been extended to his thought-provoking literary works.
Dr Arthur Kennedy has authored two 'controversial' books. The first, which was published in the wake of the 2008 NPP election defeat, is titled 'Chasing the Elephant into the Bush: The Politics of Complacency'. The recent one is also titled: 'The Drug Invasion of West Africa.' These two books are planets apart in their contents and themes, but they have one thing in common - outright condemnation by a large section of Arthur K's followers, NPP supporters.
On the day his first book was about to be launched, callers into discussion on Adom Fm condemned the book, saying he had given a loaded AK47 riffle of a slogan to the NDC to shoot the NPP. If they had known that JJ Rawlings would write a whole manifesto for the NPP and that 'Naana' Konadu would demand her umbrella, they would have left Arthur K alone.
But they spoke as if they knew every word of the book until the host asked one caller whether he had read the book.
'To be frank, I haven't read it,' he confessed.
'And have you seen it?' the host asked again. And the caller said he had not set eyes on the book. But on what basis was he condemning the book?
'Everybody knows the book is bad so I don't need to read it. Am I the only one saying it is not a good book?' he argued revealing his Ghanaian colours.
Well, if you thought those who behave this way are only people who cannot recite beyond the first four alphabets of the English Language, then you're wrong. We all have our prejudices, passing judgement with our hearts and not with our heads.
When I first saw headline of Yiull Damaso's painting that portrays Nelson Mandela as a corpse undergoing an autopsy, I went mad and cursed the painter in my heart before reluctantly reading the article.
The painting shows the former South African president lying naked on a table while Nkosi Johnson, an AIDS activist who died at the age of 12, performs an autopsy. The table is surrounded by famous onlookers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former presidents FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki, and politicians Helen Zille and Trevor Manuel.
It sparked outrage in South Africa and beyond. Members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) condemned the work as "witchcraft," and argued that the painting "strips Mandela of his dignity."
I have read somewhere that if you want to understand a poet, go his hometown. The dons of creative arts sometimes think above the heads of us mortals. For this reason they are sometimes compelled to tell the world what they mean. Indeed, I felt ashamed when I heard the painter's side of the story, the message he wanted send to the world.
'Mandela is just a man, the same as those viewing him, the same as you and I' the painter explained. 'Mr Mandela made decisions in his life that enabled people to see him as they do.'
Mandela is arguably the world's most respected statesman alive. Having spent almost three decades in prison to gain freedom for his nation, he stepped down after serving only one term in office as president, a gesture his counterparts in the continent are yet to learn.
So those gathered around his naked corpse actually wanted to know what was inside him that made him so unique. But, as the painter explains, Mandela is an ordinary mortal like you and me. The difference is that he took a noble decision very early in life, a decision to improve humanity, to leave the world a better place than he met it. It is one of such decisions taken by the young lady I've promised to tell you about.
Miranda, a 22-year old graduate of the Ghana Institute of Journalism once witnessed the donation of second-hand clothes to the needy in Obrakyere community in the Central Region. While there, she took time to interact with some children. At their age and educational levels, the children should have been rattling the Queens Language like singing birds that have eaten too much pepper. But to Miranda's dismay, they appeared dumb when it came to literacy.
'They could not even read,' says Miranda. Miranda realised that story books were alien to those communities. 'I asked myself: if people can donate used clothes, why can't they donate used books?' she said.
That was how Pass a Book On, an initiative to collect used books and donate them to remote schools, was born in May 2011. Miranda started the campaign on Facebook, the most popular social network, and in one week she gathered about 100 children's books. Other volunteers, mostly friends and fellow graduates from GIJ joined. Pass a Book on now has about 10 committed volunteers.
'I decided to join the group because I felt so inspired and touched by the initiative,' explains Veronica Commey, one of Ghana's most renowned female sports journalists. 'It is a way to give back to society, irrespective of how little you have.'
Pass a Book On donated more than 300 books to the Busia community in the Western Region in June last year. The group has also donated books and other education materials to the Ajumako Kromain community in the Central Region and started a library for the children of Ehuren in Asante Bekwai in the Ashanti Region.
'The community gave us a container and we stocked it with 200 books,' says Miranda. 'We are planning to add some more.'
Pass a Book On has also donated more than 200 pieces of educational materials and a computer to Dromo R/C Primary School in Sunyani in the Bono Ahafo (not Brong Ahafo) Region.
Recently, the group donated about 600 books and other educational materials to Abnaa Ul Fala, a deprived Islamic School near Abose Okai Ayigbe Town in the Greater Accra Region, where Miranda is currently doing her National Service.
The donation was made alongside a career fair, which brought together students of Medicine, Law, Nursing and other professionals to coach the children. Prizes were also awarded some children.
Pass a Book On has added another initiative called Share Your Lunch, which aims at sharing lunch with children in sprawling communities while helping them by way of motivation and advice. What started as initiative of passing on used books now attracts the attention of benevolent individuals and organisations, that donate new books and other educational materials.
Miranda admits she and her fellow volunteers make a lot of sacrifices to keep the project going. They contribute to run the group's activities. But says it is the source of her fulfilment in life.
'In the school I teach, there are times a child will not come to school because he or she doesn't have a pencil. As a citizen of this world, I think it is my duty to help others. I will never be satisfied in my career without helping society,' she says.
One thing stands out in Miranda's story: everybody can impact on their society. And that's the only way to reach the immortal status of people like Nelson Mandela. Mahatma Gandhi teaches us that 'the only way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of humanity.'
Instead of pointing accusing fingers at the politician and telling the whole world that he has no genuine interest in the welfare of the people, role up your sleeves. You can do it. If you don't have time to do it yourself, you can support Miranda's cause.
'People don't need to bring the books to us. Anywhere they call us, we'll go and receive them,' says Miranda, a product of Dansoman Baptist Academy and Aburi Girls' Senior High School.
She's waiting for your call. Now!
Savannah View is a weekly column published in the Tuesday edition of The Finder newspaper/Ghana. Writer's email: firstname.lastname@example.org