Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Prince Obiri-Mainoo, a professor from Ghana who, after teaching at Harvard, has launched an online high school based in West Africa!
Prince, tell us about your background.
Prince: Hello! I was named after the chief of my father’s hometown called Ahwerewa in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. My education has been very challenging, as I followed my father to the stations he was posted as a police constable. This seemed to have affected my education in the early years. However, as there was no money to continue my education with my average passes, I chose the only option available — to self-teach myself to the university.
So, I did just that and in 1976, I finally got admission to the University of Ghana to read Political Science, Philosophy and Ancient History and graduated in 1980. With the bachelor’s degree as a graduate teacher, I could teach in the secondary (senior high) schools and teachers’ colleges in Ghana.
I taught at the Wesley College of Education, a prestigious teachers college managed by the Methodist Church. After four years, I decided to seek “greener pastures” elsewhere and found one at the Bank for Housing and Construction, known as BHC for short. I stayed there for nine years without a promotion because of a clash of interest with the bank manager, so three months later in December 1993, I resigned.
This led me to set up an NGO, Mac’s Vision Alliance to help junior high and high school students with their academic work and their financial future. In less than three years, Mac’s Vision had attracted the attention of parents, school teachers, church leaders, overseas missionary organizations, and friends and colleagues in North America, Europe and Australia. No wonder, we received invitations to open branches of Mac’s Vision in two of the ten regions of Ghana at that same time.
In the United States, one of the friends had also heard about the exploits of Mac’s Vision in Ghana and felt that if I were to relocate, Mac’s Vision would touch many lives, especially those in their teens. It was he who put in the Green Card Visa Lottery application and surprisingly, my name was picked!
In deciding to come or not to come to the U.S., there were some interesting coincidences that made it possible. I would only come if all seven of us were coming: my wife and our five children. Then, a brother-in-law agreed to loan us some money for the tickets. Within just one month, a missionary passing by stopped at our church with his wife. They both accepted to house all seven of us!
So, on May 17, the entire family of seven set off on KLM and arrived in the city of New York and to a small town of Webster in Massachusetts on May 18th, 1996.
Coming over to the United States, I enrolled at the then Lesley College in Cambridge for my Masters in Technology in Education program while still teaching full time in a junior high school and graduated in November 2001. In 2009, I was recommended to join the faculty at the African Language Program (ALP) at Harvard University where I was in charge of students wanting to learn the Akan Twi language.
Wow, from junior high to the prestigious Harvard without other competing applicants?
Having been exposed to the power of the internet and its associated transformation in almost every facet of life, I decided in 2013 to go to Ghana to register an online high school so that students in Ghana could benefit from the comparatively challenging and highly innovative education system in the United States. On my return, I had been replaced at Harvard.
As if by design, I was once again recommended to join the African Language Studies (ALS) program at Boston University (BU) and started work in the fall of 2015. Once again, I had to go back to Ghana to finalize arrangements to launch the high school, which was now at an advanced stage towards launching.
This is the school we now call National Africa College Online High School (NACOHS). In 2017, while still in Ghana, I received a call from my director at Boston University to return to the U.S. at the time when plans for NACOHS were still ongoing. That was when I had to make a hard choice of staying to complete the work on NACOHS and not to return to the U.S. So, I chose to resign from my appointment with BU in September 2017.
TT: What a fascinating career progression! Please tell us more about your world travels.
P: Three trips stand out as interesting; two of these were to the Far East.
First, Singapore. This six-week leadership training at the Haggai Institute was interesting in that I saw one of the cleanest cities in the world where, for the first time, I saw a street/road being cleaned. It was in Singapore that I witnessed a fifteen-story building being torn down for the construction of a thirty-two-story complex.
This was intriguing to me since I saw the whole exercise bizarre and a “complete waste of money” and other resources, so I thought. I later understood that, because of lack of available land, the leadership of the country had resorted to reclaiming land from the sea and expanding skyward by tearing down buildings and replacing them with taller ones. Wow! To me the trip to Singapore was an eye-opener and a life-changing experience.
Next was Hong Kong. This other country, coincidentally was also a city-country like Singapore, Hong Kong. The invitation to attend a three-day International Finance Corporation (IFC) 7th Global Education Conference got to me through one of my former students at Harvard.
Nigel had been very excited about the topics being discussed in class and had actually followed me to Ghana for a two-week visit. It was he who informed me about the benefits to NACOHS if I am able to attend the conference. When he got to know that I had not budgeted for such a trip, he stepped in and funded about eighty percent of the entire trip.
I shopped for a hotel which was not too far away from the place of the conference. The one I eventually had, as seen in the picture, was just about 100 meters away by walking from the actual conference where all the sessions took place. My total bill for the five-day stay was less than a day’s fee at the conference location.
I am sharing this part of the trip because I could save several hundreds of dollars just by choosing to stay a bit away from the main conference hotel. So, in all your travels, shop around to stay as close as possible to the place of the event.
The other experience I encountered was not only enduring the long trip from the U.S. to mainland China without much legroom amongst several non-speaking English Chinese passengers, but also the fact that it was pretty hard getting an English speaker or translator in mainland China at the hotel where I spent a night in transit. Unknown to the hotel employees, their best English translator was only a few vocabulary words ahead of them since she could not understand simple questions in English. To them she was their chief English translator. Interesting!
The next voyage was a trip to the Netherlands through the neighboring country of Nigeria. This time, I went together with my wife. Because of some flight delays in Accra, we missed our connecting flight from Murtala Mohamed Airport, Lagos through Spain to Amsterdam. After enduring three nights at the airport at Ikeja without being issued with a boarding pass, we had to depend on our faith as Christians and began trusting that faith for a way out of this desperate situation.
On the morning of the third day, a beautiful young lady dressed in a green and white outfit was kind enough to listen to my story. Thank God, she beckoned us to follow her and succeeded in getting us two boarding passes, which were all that we needed to eventually leave Nigeria to the Netherlands.
When we returned a couple of weeks later from the trip, we went straight to look for the department she mentioned to us. Her name was Miss Obayemi, and her department was the Interline Desk at the Murtala Mohamed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. We were shocked to learn that there was nobody by that name at the department, even after insisting a couple of times that the information we had was correct. So, we had to return to Ghana with our special parcel and started asking ourselves: “Did we encounter an angel?” Maybe!
These conferences have been mainly educational in nature. So, I return with fresh ideas apart from making a lot of new friends. Generally, my trips have been funded by organizations hosting the conferences with a couple by individuals. This often takes away the burden of having to go with private savings or organizing fundraising activities.
TT: Nice! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly interesting.
P: One such trip that was fun and memorable was an IFES conference to Austria where I was one of the only two blacks attending the conference. Aside of the main conference program there was a Ping-Pong tourney which was open to all participants. For the previous four tournaments, a young man from Spain, Pedro had been the winner.
So, standing by watching, the other players asked if I knew how to play. I responded in the affirmative and was therefore registered as one of the competitors. With nobody but the other black participant from Zambia as the only guy rooting for me, I entered the tourney as a highly under-rated underdog, though this did not disturb me at all, knowing my style of play was better.
At the end, not only was I crowned the new champion but also won the game in two straight, convincing sets. This demanded that I should return the following year to defend my title, which by the magnanimity of a participant from Britain, I managed to go the following year and successfully retained my title but could not afford the cost of traveling to Austria for the third time and subsequent years.
TT: What an amazing story! You are a man of many talents. How have your travels impacted you in your career, and how have your travels impacted you as a person?
P: My travels made me a global traveler with an exposure that made me all the more yearning for improvement in the delivery of lessons that would go beyond me as an individual.
The setting up of NACOHS, initially as an online school, and later, a hybrid with an entrepreneurial component is a dream come true, since the school, when eventually opened in September would gradually create more job opportunities for the youth in Ghana and sub-Sahara Africa generally.
TT: Wonderful. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
P: There is a lot to learn out there beyond one’s own confines as a teacher, or whatever profession one might be in. Some such trips have had more positive effects on some travelers and have actually changed the course of life of some of them.
Nigel followed me to Ghana and this trip might have positively contributed towards his first job in Washington DC, because of his knowledge of an African language, and now as a top staff in a prominent African country. My own traveling experiences have impacted the establishment of NACOHS which has a network of educators and other professionals all contributing to make a difference in the lives of other people in our own communities and beyond.
No matter who or where you are in life, I encourage you to seize the moments and opportunities that come your way and try things out. In most cases some of these may be life-changing encounters that may slip by forever once you let go!
On this note, I invite you reading now to share in the NACOHS Experience and consider volunteering or teaching with us. This online school is meant to improve the living conditions of students and others now and the future, and may be of benefit to you, too! Many thanks.
TT: Thanks so much, Prince! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?