Gerald in college.KAYLA PINCUS

Gerald Arhin is an unstoppable force against all odds. Despite his visual impairment, Gerald has trailblazed a path from a rural town in Ghana to the University of Cambridge for his MPhil in African Studies. Gerald now has four PhD offers that are not being funded due to the pandemic. Reading this portrait of Gerald and of his incredible achievements is important - donating on the Gofundme is even more important.

Gerald became blind after a botched surgery intended to treat his glaucoma. “When I became blind at the age of six,” Gerald says, “I thought I was the only blind person in the whole world.”

His life was uprooted, but thanks to his mother’s devotion, Gerald was able to attend Akropong School for the Blind. Gerald’s mother has always been his inspiration. He states, “She did not listen to people that did not see it worthy enough to invest in a person with disability.” Despite her financial instability and taking care of Gerald and his two half siblings by herself, she found a way to put Gerald through the specialized schooling he needed to thrive.

As soon as he arrived at school, he recognized class disparities amongst his peers. “There are people that come from super rich families. I felt that, no, this is not an equal platform; this is very much unfair”. Some of Gerald’s classmates were not able to stay in school because they were going hungry and had to beg from their peers in order to survive. He wonders where they are now. “I decided that, oh, if I’m able to move up that economic ladder, certainly this is where I am going to look at. I have to look at the most vulnerable people in the society and how to make their lives better”.

“Gerald can listen to the bells of the churches and recognize which church it is and place himself in his mental map of where he is in Cambridge.”

As time went on, Gerald learned how to adapt to his condition. Years later, his classmate at Cambridge, Joseph du Durfort, would be shocked to learn all the ways in which Gerald manages to move through the world. “He listens to the bells of the churches, and he can recognize which church it is and place himself in his mental map of where he is in Cambridge; or the smells of a bakery; or, at that point, he could feel the pavement on the ground, and he recognized the pavement just by walking on it, and he could tell me exactly where we were.”

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Gerald continued on his path through high school. Ebenezer Azamati, Gerald’s former schoolmate at Akropong School for the Blind and current PhD Candidate at Oxford University, has known Gerald for nearly two decades. “The experiences that he has gone through in life have really been very challenging ones and not too many people would be able to stand what he’s gone through. There were times he missed a few weeks of learning because of eye pains. But he still grappled with those pains and it did not affect his academics – that’s how serious he was”.

The pair moved on to Okuapemman Senior High School – an ability-integrated school. Ebenezer relishes in his friend’s drive and accomplishments. “When he went to second year, he ran for and got elected to become the Senior Prefect and lead over 3,200 students”. Gerald became the first blind student to hold this position in all of West Africa. “I think, having grown up in a very poor area and having seen many very difficult things, those things have shaped his thoughts. I think that’s what has shaped what he wants to study. It is his wish that nobody ever goes through such difficulties as he went through.”

“Gerald is resolute to ‘make policy that maximizes Ghana’s prosperity from her resources’.”

Growing up, Gerald lived in an area heavily impacted by mining. “There is this river that basically was the source of water for the whole community. In fact, it – extends beyond the community – is called the Brim River. Now, because of mining activities, this river was heavily polluted, and we were unable to drink out of it and use the water for any purpose at all”. Gerald noticed that the riches being made from the resources were not benefiting the community and seemed to be making the situation worse. This strengthened his resolution to “make policy that maximizes Ghana’s prosperity from her resources.”

In 2007, Ghana discovered oil in commercial quantities and Gerald started researching. He noticed that natural resources seemed to have a tendency to cause mayhem in the regions they were found. This is the point where Gerald felt he really had found his path. “My concern is about those who are living in the concession areas and how this impacts their lives and how their lives could be improved.”

Gerald’s goal is to ensure that the citizens of Ghana properly benefit from the riches their country has to offer – a course of action he largely began at the University of Ghana.

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In 2016, after seeing a documentary about children who were in school studying under trees, on the floor and often without teachers, Gerald decided to go by himself during one of his summer breaks to a village in the Volta Region of Ghana to be a volunteer teacher. “Before that, I discussed this with my mom. As usual, she was very much worried as to, I mean, I don’t know where I’m going; there would be tough living conditions; who would help me? I told her, ‘Mama, don’t worry, I’ll be fine. You are struggling just because you want me to have an impact on humanity. Even if I go and something happens to me, it was in the process of impacting on humanity.’”

There were often food shortages and no electricity. The inaccessibility of the region to a visual impairment was no match for Gerald. “I got lost. But the more I was getting lost, the more I was getting used to the environment. After just about seven days, I think, I was pretty much okay”. After three weeks, Gerald contracted malaria, but he continued to teach. “He who is not ready to die for something is not fit to lead. If the children are happy, that’s good enough”, Gerald says with a big smile. He taught English and Social Studies and did additional community service with other members of the village, educating them on teenage pregnancy and the dangers of dropping out of school. The number of students who passed their classes shot through the roof and, to this day, Gerald’s former students reach out to him for guidance on their educational and career paths.

“Disability is such that, at some point, you may feel that you do not have what it takes to even have life. But it is not something you cannot surmount.”

In 2017, Gerald partnered with a friend to produce a documentary – based on his own life – about obstacles facing those with disabilities. They travelled the country showing the film and interviewing with media outlets to educate Ghanaians on disability resources. When strangers from around the country contacted Gerald expressing sometimes suicidal thoughts, Gerald explained, “Disability is such that, at some point, you may feel that you do not have what it takes to even have life. It’s pretty difficult. I have gone through it. I wouldn’t say that because I’m here, it’s just as simple as that. It takes lots of emotional and psychological courage to go through that and when you are also from a very disadvantaged background, it becomes much, much more challenging. But it’s not something we cannot surmount”.

Now, Gerald has surmounted nearly every challenge. After finishing his Cambridge degree, he was offered four PhD positions at various UK universities and has settled on Manchester. However, the pandemic has caused scholarships to be cancelled and Gerald is urgently running out of options. “Anytime I’m facing some sort of hurdle like what I’m facing right now, I remember what she was going through at the time and I tell myself that my mother did a lot of things to get me here. I can’t afford to give up.”

If we do not intervene to support Gerald, he may fall through the cracks. He is not yet a Manchester student, so he does not qualify for hardship funds through his new university. He has completed his Cambridge course, so he no longer falls under the protection and care of this university.

“Gerald is up to any task thrown his way. Even those he cannot see.”

When we look at what Gerald has accomplished moving through a world too often not designed for him, we have to wonder just how far he can go in a career that puts him on the same playing field as anyone else. I have no doubt that he will surpass any expectation we set.

It takes a village to raise and support each of us. Let’s be Gerald’s village and foster him on his journey to improving lives. With the aid of these funds, Gerald is up to any task thrown his way – even those he cannot see.

To help Gerald with funding, you can donate to this GoFundMe: http://gf.me/u/yvmx8v

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