To Ghana and Back:


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Winning the lottery may mean financial freedom for some, but for Freda Kotey it meant an opportunity to come to the United States from Accra, Ghana to pursue her passion for helping others.

by Maureen Linke

Kotey, a 33-year-old graduate student in VCU’s School of Social Work, is currently attending classes at the satellite campus in Alexandria, Virginia. With a passion for learning and a drive to succeed, Kotey hopes to be able to someday give back to the country she came from five years ago.“I did a lot of research about schools…and I realized that VCU had one of the best schools of social work in the nation, and I knew I had to be there,” said Kotey.

Kotey was randomly chosen through the U.S. Diversity Visa Program. According to its website, this program provides up to 55,000 immigration visas each year to applicants from countries with historic low rates of immigration to the U.S. On average, about 3,000 are Ghanaian.

Before coming to the U.S. Kotey completed an undergraduate degree in sociology and law from the She then began working with the International Federation of Women Lawyers(FIDA), a non-government agency committed to improving the situation of women and children in Ghana. FIDA provides legal and family counseling and seeks financial support for children.

“I knew I wanted more…I knew I wanted to help the women and children in Ghana, because no one fights for them,” said Kotey.

Kotey devotes much of her time to interning at the City of Alexandria’s Department of Child Protective Services. She also takes classes at the satellite campus in Alexandria. Roberto Toro, an administrator at VCU’s School of Social Work said Kotey can always be found in the classroom after hours.

“Freda is one of the few students you know you will always see,” said Toro. “She’s dedicated and focused on exactly what she is doing.”

Troubles Along the Way

While Kotey is pursuing her passion for social work, there are some strings attached as an international student. Because of the travel restrictions on green cards, Kotey’s six-year-old son Richard must live in Ghana.

“With a green card you are limited, you can’t spend more than a year in another country,” said Kotey. “That’s one problem I have right now, my son is on a green card…so once a year I go back and bring him back here with me, but then he has to go back.”

International students like Kotey face other challenges such as their previous degrees not being recognized in America. Aba Cole, a representative in VCU’s Office of International Admissions said many credits do not transfer.

“Most students have to start over unless they are taking a test for nursing or another medical related field,” said Cole. “People have difficulties getting their financial documents in, too I’d say that’s the biggest problem.”

Kotey’s sister Christabel Annor is one of the few that did not have to continue her education in America. She and her husband came from Ghana a few years before Koety. She then received her nursing license after passing the board and feels the profession is a more respected in the United States.

“In Ghana nurses are not given as much credit,” said Annor. “But here we are given more responsibility and aren’t limited by procedures.”

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To learn more about obstacles encountered by African immigrants as well as potential solutions, click here for a podcast with Dr. Vivian Dzokoto, an assistant professor of African American Studies.

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The Grass is Always Greener

While their challenges may differ, Kotey believes most Ghanaians share something that is fundamentally similar.

“The main reason people come here from Ghana is for the greener pastures,” said Kotey. “Whatever the situation is here, it’s better than Ghana.”

Kotey looks forward to the opportunities that pursuing her education will provide if she decides to return to Ghana in the future.

“When you go to Ghana you are a hotcake,” said Kotey. “Even your first degree from the U.S. is more valued in Ghana than a master’s degree from Ghana.”

While Kotey is learning much in the classroom she is also a source of knowledge for the many students who are curious about what Ghana is like.

“They want a different view point,” said Kotey. “Most of them talk about it a lot. It makes me so happy that people want to know what goes on in my country.”

Kotey plans to travel to Ghana in December 2009 as part of the annual trip taken by VCU’s School of Social Work graduate students.

“I want to go not because it’s my country to go to, but to come with others to help my country,” said Kotey.

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Grayhaven Winery’s South African Food and Wine Festival is a chance to experience African culture through wine tasting, cusine, and authentic performances. Directly imported South African wines as well as Grayhaven favorites make this annual event one not to be missed.

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~ by Maureen Linke on July 31, 2009.

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