Toastmaster in Ghana: “The goal is to have a more positive impact on women”
When it’s 9 a.m. in Chicago, it’s 3 p.m. in West Africa. A fact I learned on Friday, talking with Patricia Dzifa Mensah-Larkai, Administrator of the Ghana Boundary Commission, which is trying to keep this nation’s borders and internal borders where they are supposed to be and settle the disputes.
“Most Ghanaians speak or understand nine major languages,” she said, ticking them off: Twi, Fante, Akuapem, Ewe, etc. “That doesn’t mean that everything is going well. Not everyone is able to understand all the different languages.
Mensah-Larkai also speaks French and English, so we were able to communicate. As for why we were talking, thanks to Toastmasters International, which sent out an email featuring “five inspiring women” to commemorate International Women’s Day, which is Tuesday. The holiday was established by the United Nations in 1975 to “honor the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”.
Toastmasters held its 87th international convention in Chicago in 2018. Regular readers may recall that I went there and discovered a world organization of touching sincerity and optimism that seems to exist on a plane outside from the dark chaos of daily life, which doubles for International Women’s Day and the UN.
This could be a reason to adopt or ignore them. I chose the first, asking to speak with the inspirational woman in Africa because, really, how often do you get the chance?
“I like to empower women, in terms of value, by ensuring that skills are given by God, not just on certificates, but by putting them into practice,” Mensah-Larkai said. “To say, ‘I’m not going to settle for less. I will work and try, not to reach the average, but always aim for excellence. Ask myself: ‘What can I do better?’ then search for the answer.
She grew up in the metropolis of Accra, a city of 4 million people, in what we would consider a cop family – her grandfather was a police officer, as was her mother. His father — both parents are deceased — was a career soldier.
I wondered how the public and law enforcement get along in Ghana.
“The relationship has improved,” she said, as police have done a better job of ensuring their ranks include “good representation of all ethnic groups.” A reminder of how humanity is wired to analyze differences. Some Americans looking at Ghana might ask, “Which ethnic groups?” which is not the situation there. There is a majority group, the Akan, comprising almost half of the country, but the other half is split into more than 70 distinct ethnic groups, including a white minority of around 4%.
Mensah-Larkai is married and has two daughters aged 7 and 16. She did not go to Chicago, but lived in Alabama when her husband was studying there.
“My stay was a great experience for me,” she said.
No racism? Because the South, well, has a reputation…
“I wouldn’t personally say that I experienced any form of racism,” she said. “It all comes down to how you assert yourself, your humanity. The more we think about negative things, the more it keeps bringing us down.
Speaking of being knocked down. Given Russia’s war on Ukraine, one could easily wonder what relevance something like Toastmasters, International Women’s Day, or the UN might have. Aren’t all noble ambitions dashed by the first missile hitting a building?
You might look at the situation and decide that nothing is changing. Women push their children to safety while men attack each other; the same today as 10,000 years ago, with only the backdrop changing from savannas to stations.
However, there are real differences. The Sun-Times ran a story about an Oak Park wedding staged in the shadow of the Ukrainian war, but it was the bride coming home to fight. It is certainly a change; I’ll let you discuss whether this is an improvement. I would say the world is better off when everyone, regardless of gender, becomes what they want, not what society tells them to.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey, but a lot of women leaders have made a lot of progress,” Mensah-Larkai said. “We need to look at how we can help women make new inroads. Seek solutions in our workplaces, countries, continents and beyond. The goal is to have a positive impact on more women.