As a child growing up in Besebuom, a small, rural community in the Eastern Region of Ghana, Maxwell Odonkor had little motivation or vision to transform his own life, let alone the lives of others. Like many parents in Besebuom, his mother and father – who worked as farmers – struggled to financially support his education. Maxwell remembers having to go to school without a uniform or textbooks and recalls the single lamp he had to study by at night, straining his eyes as he revised for his exams. Learning under these conditions, he admits, was tough, and he was often reluctant to finish his homework.
Maxwell’s parents may have found it difficult to fund their son’s schooling, but they were passionate believers in the power of education, encouraging him to take advantage of every opportunity. Others in the community criticised this attitude, preferring that their children remained within the confines of the village, helping out around the house or at the family business. Maxwell’s parents ignored their disapproval. Recognising his son’s passion for Graphic Design, Maxwell’s father promised to give him a second-hand computer if he managed to pass his end of year exams. Maxwell grins as he remembers the motivation this gave him to work harder at school. With the persistent support of his parents, he managed to pass not only his end of year exam, but every exam after, graduating from high school and enrolling at Pentecost University in Accra, Ghana’s bustling capital.
It was at Pentecost University that Maxwell Odonkor first met Francis Osei Asibey, a quiet, conscientious young man from the Ashanti region, who had also travelled to the capital in pursuit of an education. The two quickly became friends, and one morning Maxwell came to Francis with an idea. Immensely grateful for the support he had received from his family, Maxwell wanted to reciprocate, helping others to access the same opportunities that he had been given. To do this, Maxwell proposed the formation of a small volunteer organisation, made up of students from the university to collaborate with and support communities. Francis, who, as a student mentor, understood the power of connecting with and inspiring others, listened eagerly. He wholeheartedly pledged his support, and World Inspiring Network, or WIN, was born.
Francis remembers WIN’s initial venture: a campaign designed to promote peace, unity and friendship during Ghana’s 2016 election. Later, the group began collate donations for poorer communities, travelling to Kasoa for their first distribution. The group faced much adversity, ranging from lack of resources to unreliable volunteers, but Maxwell and Francis persevered, motivated by their desire to help others and inspire a future generation. Maxwell, in particular, was profoundly influenced by his parents, who, he explained, often sacrificed their own wellbeing to help others.
Several hours drive away, in the neighbouring Volta region, Willow Faulkner had recently arrived from New York to begin working with international NGO Pencils of Promise. Growing up on the other side of the world, Willow had experienced little of Ghana’s education system, but soon gained a valuable insight, and with it, a passion to enact positive, tangible change. Like Maxwell, Willow had worked hard to receive a quality education, winning first a scholarship to study abroad in Germany and then to Syracuse University, where she completed both her undergraduate and postgraduate education. Willow, a first-generation college student, also shared Maxwell’s passion for education. Though rightfully proud of her scholarships, Willow acknowledges that she was fortunate to be able to access them, commenting that all children, irrespective of background, should be afforded the same opportunities. Education, in Willow’s opinion, is a right, not a privilege.
Willow worked in Ghana for three years. During her time there, she encountered a number of fantastic NGOs, all working to support various communities across the country, but there was something missing. Willow dreamed of being able to found her own NGO; an organisation which placed emphasis on the skills and resources already existing in a community, with programmes designed to encourage residents to become change makers and forge valuable connections with others. Perhaps it was fated then, that, during a conference in Accra during 2019, Willow was introduced to Maxwell Odonkor. Maxwell told Willow about the small volunteer group he had founded and conveyed his ambitious vision for the group’s future; to become an international organisation which focused on the empowerment of individuals around the globe, inspiring them to contribute to sustainable development in their own communities.
Over the coming months, the two would communicate regularly, with Maxwell often traveling several hours by bus to meet with Willow and discuss ideas. Valuing Willow’s passion for helping others, and recognising her commitment to increasing the reach of World Inspiring Network, Maxwell asked whether she would join the organisation as co-founder. Willow accepted his offer enthusiastically, working with Maxwell and Francis to develop projects for the coming year.
Today, WIN is thriving. What started as a small student organisation has grown exponentially, with people around the world volunteering their time and skills to help those in need. Currently, WIN works with four rural communities; Besebuom, Ahomahomasu, Tafi Mador and Osunu Dompe. The first three of these communities were selected because of their association with WIN’s founders, Willow explains. Besebuom, for example, was where Maxwell was born. Ahomahomasu was where he completed much of his education. Tafi Mador, in Ghana’s Volta region, is where Willow’s fiancé grew up. She considers it, therefore, to be something of an adopted community. Selecting communities in this way was deliberate. Both Maxwell and Willow believe that understanding a community is integral to successfully supporting its sustainable development.
In 2018, WIN was contacted by Osunu Dompe, a small community in Greater Accra, who asked the charity for support. Maxwell made a number of visits to the village, establishing connections with community chiefs and families, and gaining a better understanding of how WIN could help. Collaboration and communication are crucial elements of WIN’s ethos, with emphasis placed on actively engaging with communities
As 2020 draws to a close, the group are raising money to support the education of 120 children from Besebuom, Ahomahomasu, Tafi Mador and Osunu Dompe. Maxwell, Francis and Willow discuss their plans for the future, describing hopes for a network of volunteers who work to motivate others within their community to enact sustainable change across the globe. Francis hopes that those helped by WIN might become leaders, inspiring future generations. WIN’s aspirations are certainly ambitious, but with leaders as passionate and committed as Maxwell Odonkor, Willow Faulkner and Francis Osei Asibey, there is little doubt that they will achieve them.
Hannah Jackson has recently completed an MA in Religion and Politics and is passionate in advocating for human rights around the world. She joined the team at World Inspiring Network in 2020 as Partnership and Development Officer. Hannah Jackson also works with the charity as a volunteer blog writer enjoys photography, and hopes to be a foreign correspondent in the future.