From streets to leadership - A school prefect who overcame adversity

Gabriel Awuah's journey is an inspiring tale of resilience, a relentless pursuit of education against all odds. From the bustling streets of Accra to the pinnacle of academic success, his story stands as a testament to the transformative power of compassion.

Gabriel Kwesi Awuah's life story unfolds like a powerful journey, weaving through the threads of survival, resilience, and the transformative force of compassion. Born in the heart of Accra, specifically in Agbogbloshie, Gabriel faced an early challenge—his mother's sudden departure when he was only two. Raised by his father, a skilled carpenter in Kasoa, Gabriel's early years were marked by the mystery of his mother's absence, a puzzle that would shape his path.

Growing up with his father and two elder step-siblings, Gabriel's world shifted at 11 when his father remarried. Suddenly, attention veered away from him to his stepmother and the new additions to the family. As the only child born to both his mother and father, Gabriel often felt a sense of solitude.

Even at a young age, education held a special place in Gabriel's heart. It became his sanctuary, offering refuge from the lingering questions of his childhood. He attended school diligently until the fifth grade when a group of boys lured him away with the promise of making money on the streets. This marked the first time Gabriel ran away from home in search of belongingness, a journey that began at the age of 13. Each day, he and his friends would shoulder the loads of passengers from the Kasoa market, all in pursuit of a bit of loose change.

In a twist from the structured classroom routine, Gabriel found himself immersed in the unpredictable beat of the streets for several months. Some days were slow, with few buses on the highway, while others were a rush as Gabriel and his friends hustled to find those in need of their help. Nights brought makeshift shelters—an unfinished building without a roof or the sidewalk of an open road.

A brief respite came when a neighbor intervened, reuniting Gabriel with his family. Yet, the pull of the streets, with its harsh realities, proved relentless. Despite the struggles—scraping for one meal, lacking a place to bathe, and enduring the elements—Gabriel yearned for the freedom of street life. Witnessing his friends' earnings and the allure of the hustle led him to run away again, this time to Kaneshie, a place promising economic opportunities through odd jobs.

In the hustle, Gabriel could make as much as 100 cedis ($8) on good days, but the unforgiving nature of street life was a stark reminder on days when he earned nothing. After months, recognition in the market led to a reunion with his family, prompting Gabriel's return to school to complete his junior high school education. Determined to finish school, he severed ties with his street friends, focusing wholeheartedly on his studies.

Around this time, Gabriel's biological mother returned, and his father, hopeful to keep him from running away again, allowed him to stay with her. Although content, Gabriel faced a setback when his mother couldn't afford his return to school for the next semester. After three months at home, he ran away once more, this time to the lively city of Osu, where the generosity of passersby and newfound friends provided a semblance of stability. Yet, bullying and threats loomed, with one incident involving a man chasing them with a machete.

Despite the challenges, Gabriel sought a better life, especially one that involved going back to school after a year away. An NGO supporting street children's education became his beacon of hope. Gabriel attended their programs diligently, and his commitment paid off. Reunited with his father, an emotional and joyous reunion unfolded. Gabriel's determination to return to school, despite facing shame among peers, led to his enrollment, but a lack of school supplies became a new hurdle.

Despite setbacks in obtaining essentials, Gabriel didn't give up. Frustrated, he turned to the streets to beg for money to save up for school supplies, seeing it as the only alternative with his father caring for many children. In the face of adversity, Gabriel's resilience and commitment shone brightly, lighting the path to a brighter future.

  • The day an angry man chased me with a machete was the day I knew I could no longer continue to live on the street.
    Gabriel Awuah

After three years of running away and returning, Gabriel finally found a semblance of settled life at home. Although he occasionally took odd jobs on the street, he always returned home—until the day his stepmom lost her phone. Fearing accusations of theft and potential beatings, Gabriel decided to move to the street permanently, taking a few belongings, including his school books, before his father returned from work.

On the streets of Opebia, Gabriel found companionship with friends like Peter, who introduced him to TK and volunteers from Future of Africa (FOA). Each Saturday, he eagerly joined the group, initially too shy to engage with the volunteers. Witnessing Peter's re-enrollment in school through FOA's efforts sparked a conviction in Gabriel that the organization could help him too. Motivated to break free from street life, he made a heartfelt choice to join FOA, expressing his unwavering commitment to transformation and the desire to return to school in a poignant letter.

In the halls of Hope Christian Academy (HCA), Gabriel embarked on a new chapter, entering Form 1 in junior high school (grade 7). Initially grappling with the rigors of boarding school life, he felt the weight of routine and the absence of freedom to connect with friends outside the campus. The challenge was compounded by being the lone newcomer in a class where bonds were already tightly woven.

Yet, in the face of adversity, Gabriel found pillars of support in two fellow FOA scholars, seasoned veterans of HCA who had once tread the streets themselves. Their guidance became the compass steering him through the unfamiliar terrain, helping him adapt to the stability of his new environment.

Eager to learn, Gabriel faced the daunting task of catching up on missed lessons, striving to bridge the gap with his peers. Discipline, too, posed a hurdle as he adjusted to the authority and structure he hadn't known for years. However, propelled by an unwavering commitment to transformation, Gabriel not only overcame these obstacles but was elected in his final year of junior high school as the school prefect, leading a student body of over 400 students. 

FOA's supportive community proved invaluable, encouraging him to build confidence and shaping him into a responsible young man. Having recently successfully graduated from Junior High School, Gabriel will begin a new chapter at Aggrey Memorial Senior High School in January 2024. His journey, marked by resilience and fueled by compassion, stands as a testament to the transformative power of second chances and the unwavering support of the FOA community.

[Written by Mary Dorcas Sinaida]

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