Out of Africa Dyslexic ! My dyslexia, then known as “Word Blindness”, was recognised when I was in primary school in Ghana by an American teacher, who informed my mother that she thought I had something called “Word Blindness.”
Of course, my mother was horrified, and it was difficult for her to believe. So, far as she was concerned, I could see all right, and she could not understand or make sense of it. To her credit she supported me as much as she could in her own way by putting in place extra after-school classes during weekdays and weekends, thinking that would help me learn to read and spell. But, of course, that was the worst thing she could do.
As a person with dyslexia, I needed to be taught the way I could understand and not the conventional way of thinking. I was working very hard as it was. The normal everyday classes plus the extra hours of ‘more of the same’ made it difficult for me to learn. It was not helpful. Every academic year, I would change school and or even move school during the middle of an academic year.
My mother was so desperate for me to read and spell that she overlooked the fact that I was very good with Maths and Arithmetic and was scoring high marks in this area; but when it came to reading and spelling, I just could not get it. I can never forget the word “HAVE”! One afternoon, during a reading session with my mother, I could not recognise the word HAVE, and this happened page after page. My poor mother could not understand for the life of her why I was not getting it, as she had told me over and over a few pages before; but I just could not get it.
I went through school not achieving much and my self-esteem was at an all-time low most of the time. The easy, happy go lucky child was soon becoming a thing of the past. I became very slow, withdrawn, shy and not able to express myself among my peers and others. The beating and humiliation of not being able to read aloud like everybody in class was just unbearable. On one occasion, at my old boarding school, we were clearing up the school’s storeroom and we came across old entrance results papers. To my horror one of my mates found my entrance exam to the school, and it was not good. It was mostly marked as wrong. I thought I was going to faint and wanted the ground beneath me to open and swallow me. Then, before I could stop her, her hand was up in the air with my papers in the hand for all to see. She shouted at the top of her voice to everyone, “Look what I have found.
Somebody got zero, zero, zero. How come this person is here?” Most of my friends deserted me after that. I was later sent to the UK to continue with my studies, and it was there that I was finally and properly assessed and diagnosed to be dyslexic and was given the proper support and intervention. And, with the opening or coming of age of personalised computers and assisted technology, my world opened, and the sky was the limit. I wanted to study everything; I just couldn’t stop studying one course after another, I was just addicted to learning, I guess I wanted to prove to everybody that even though I could not read or spell, I had a brain that could put things together; only that, I could not put them into words on paper.
I started by studying Hotel and Business Management but still felt there was another side to me that needed to come out, and even though I had a very successful career in Modelling and Acting I was never confident or believed in myself, despite being told how beautiful I was. I had a good eye for photography and went on to study filmmaking because of my lack of confidence in front of the camera.
I went on to gain different degrees in Social Work, PGCE and a Masters in Psychology. In 2000, I had a chance to come back to Ghana to stay for a while. It was at this point that I realised that nothing had changed in Ghana.
Most of the children were still being punished, caned, called stupid or lazy and made to feel as if there was something wrong with them. It was at this point I realised I needed to start a solo awareness programme to inform society that there was something known as Dyslexia and that these children were trying very hard to learn.
I started by going round schools and places of worship, marching on the streets, and going on radio and television to talk about Dyslexia. At first people were sceptical and would not believe there was something known as Dyslexia. Luckily or by chance, around the same time, a film came out called “Stars on Earth” which then helped to put the message out widely, opening people’s eyes and minds to the fact that there was a condition called Dyslexia.
In 2002, I opened the first Dyslexia Awareness Centre, in Accra, Ghana supporting people with dyslexia in the capital. And, to date, we have helped so many children realise their dreams, with most of them pursuing their careers at different levels. We are currently working with parents and schools at our intervention centre supporting children who are struggling in schools. Hoping to work with others to take the support across the whole of Ghana and the rest of Africa.