In 2018, you left your home country for the first time and came to Germany. What was your first impression of the country?
I flew into Frankfurt and took a train to Marburg. I remember standing on the platform waiting for the train and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Where I come from, there’s just one train, and all it does is shuttle to and fro twice a day between Accra and Nsawam. It takes two or three hours to complete the journey of 40 kilometres. In the 20 minutes I was waiting for the train in Frankfurt, I saw more trains than I’d seen in the past 20 years.
For most people, money’s already tight as it is. So lots of children go to work and earn a bit on the side for the family rather than run up additional costs. Money was always one of those omnipresent topics at home. When we got back from school, first of all my siblings and I had to help prepare the kenkey for the next day.
Where are you from in Ghana? And why do you have a German first name?
I grew up in Pokuase. It used to be a suburb, but now it’s a district of Accra. Ghana’s population is made up of different ethnic groups. The Ga tribe, which is numerically
predominant in my region, is one of them. Naming among the Ga follows a long tradition: the newborn is always given the middle name of his grandfather as his middle name, i.e. my great-great-grandfather was also called Otto, just as my grandson will also be called Otto at some point. In addition, every member of the Ga has a name affix. For the women it is “Naa”, which means Queen. For us men it is “Nii” – the King. I only use my first name (Rafak Nii) in Ghana, here in Germany it’s Otto for simplicity’s sake.
How can one imagine your family?
We are an average Ghanaian family. My father is a taxi driver and my mother stands by the road at lunchtime to sell her homemade kenkey, dumplings made from maize. I am the second oldest of us seven children and now 28 years old. My youngest sister is just ten years old.
Did all your siblings also go to school?
It is very important to my mother. She herself was not allowed to go to school as a child – just like my father. She always tells us that we should do better and that we have to learn something to have better chances later on.
There is compulsory education in Ghana, isn’t there?
Theoretically, yes. But the reality is different. About one third of all children in Ghana do not go to school until the end. Many parents do not realise the opportunities that an education brings to their children. For many, school is an expense item that can be saved, because even if you don’t have to pay school fees in Ghana, you still have to pay for pencils, exercise books, books and school uniforms.
Money is tight for most anyway. So many children go to work and earn something extra for the family rather than incur additional costs. The issue of money was always present at home, too. My siblings and I therefore had to help prepare the Kenkey for the next day after school.
And what’s the school system like in Ghana?
In Germany about 15 per cent of the population is under 15, whereas in Ghana that number’s about 40 per cent. The young population is also reflected in class sizes in Ghana – they’re much larger than in Germany, usually around 40 pupils. There’s also a
two-shift system for classrooms to make it possible to organise proper teaching. If you’re in the A shift, classes start at 8 a.m. If you’re in the B shift, classes start at 2. It’s similar to Germany in that there are lower, middle and upper grades. If you successfully complete the senior high level, you’re entitled to go to university.
Where did you study and what did you read?
I studied at the University of Ghana. It’s at the opposite end of Accra, but I couldn’t afford any accommodation near the university so during term times I had to commute every day. Also, there’s a lot of traffic in Accra, like any big city, and it’s totally gridlocked in the mornings and evenings, so each one-way trip took about two hours – on a good day.
But after three years, I made it and I came away with a bachelor’s degree in social work and sociology. But of course I owe this to my relatives, lots of my close friends, but also more distant acquaintances who did what they could to support me during my studies. Like many Africans, without financial support from relatives living abroad, I wouldn’t have been able to go to university.
What happened after that?
When I was studying, it became clear to me that I find it important to help others. I wanted to give something back to others for all the support I’d received. So I looked after so-called street children in Accra. This was voluntary work and I kept it going during my community service, which lasted a year and is mandatory for all Ghanaians.
I graduated with a master’s degree in the autumn of 2020. The first thing I’d like to do now is get some work experience. I first worked on a freelance basis for the PATRIZIA Foundation. The task I was given was to develop digital learning concepts in times of the coronavirus pandemic. We felt it was important not to come up with some one-size-fits-all solution, but to find a way to take the specific requirements of each country into account. In the meantime, I’m doing a traineeship and going through all the different areas at the foundation – from donor relations to project partner management and PR.
What are your plans for the future?
Education is the key to a successful future. My mother has always said that and it’s reflected in the way I’ve lived my life until now. I’d like to become a role model to others and help give as many children as possible the chance to lead a life of self-determination. Time will tell whether I work as a politician in Ghana, or maybe set up tailor-made programmes for countries like Ghana as part of an international non-profit organization.
You’ve been in Germany for more than four years now. Do you miss home?
I miss my parents and my brothers and sisters. But most of all, I miss my mother’s kenkey. Actually, you can buy the ingredients for it in Germany now, but no-one makes it as delicious as she does. I hope it’ll be possible to go home for a few weeks this year, despite coronavirus, and I can let her spoil me. That would be really wonderful!
We would like to thank Otto for talking to us.
Interview conducted by Andreas Menke.
Rafak Nii Otto Dodoo
Even here in Germany, Rafak Nii Otto Dodoo (28) is committed to helping children in his home country. Driven by the firm belief that education is the only way to escape the circle of poverty, he and a fellow student have initiated a project aimed at supporting children in a refugee camp in Budumburam. Located outside Accra, the camp is home to about 12,000 people who have fled Liberia. His project – Knowledge is Power: The Reading Hub – aims to ignite interest among schoolchildren in reading and improve their general knowledge. In 2020, the initiative was honoured with the Commitment Award from the Willy Brandt School. He also founded the Dodoo Coding Club in his hometown of Pokuase, the aim of which is to enable children to become familiar with computer programming at an early age. This fuels interest in the topic, allowing children to train to become programmers later in life. This would be a win-win situation on a number of fronts. It’s an opportunity for young Ghanaians to enter a well-paid profession in the local community, and at the same time it addresses the shortage of skilled programmers in developed countries.