Maryville College alumnus and 2018 recipient of the Kin Takahashi Award for Young Alumni Frank Twum-Barimah encouraged students he spoke to on Wednesday to use their Maryville College educations to make a difference in the world.
Twum-Barimah was born in Ghana and lives there today. He works for World Vision International as the regional adviser for humanitarian and emergency affairs in West Africa. He graduated from Maryville College in 2004.
Twum-Barimah came to Maryville thanks to support from the late George Carpenter, a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina. Carpenter, who died in July, met Twum-Barimah on a mission trip in Ghana and, after seeing his potential, felt divinely inspired to help him receive a college education. Carpenter was an MC alumnus himself, and he worked to bring Twum-Barimah to the school and support him while he was there.
Twum-Barimah came to Maryville in 2000 and still remembers how little others knew about the place where he had come from. He recalled being asked “Did you buy those clothes here? Do you wear clothes in Africa? Do you live in houses?”
He turned to his adviser, John Gallagher, who told him he would have to teach people who he was.
Twum-Barimah represented his class in the Student Government Association every year and spent every Saturday volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity in Blount County.
“It was every Saturday for four years,” he said. “I don’t even know how many houses we built.”
Twum-Barimah’s major was management, but he never saw himself working in an office. Gallagher pushed him to think beyond his career, to think about the person he wanted to become. His mind began to open to the things he could do in the world outside of himself.
He recalled a particularly impactful trip to Washington D.C. while he was a student.
“Coming from Ghana, I thought in the U.S. there were no homeless people, no hunger,” he said. “But then I went to D.C., and I saw people sleeping in boxes on the street, standing in line for meals. Homeless in the U.S., and it is everyone’s dream to be here!”
He was beginning to turn toward a humanitarian career, but didn’t see himself going back to Ghana. It was his mentor, Pastor Carpenter, who pushed him to return, saying that America had plenty of Franks already. Ghana needed him.
The return to Ghana was difficult, full of reverse culture shock and frustration with the corruption there. Twum-Barimah got the opportunity to work with World Vision in 2013. It was while traveling in the Ghanaian countryside that Twum-Barimah learned for sure that he needed to be in Africa.
“I thought I had seen poverty, people who were deprived, but wow,” he said. “I needed to be there.”
Two promotions later, Twum-Barimah now does emergency response and preparedness around Sub-Saharan Africa. He works with lots of refugees and displaced peoples, especially in areas where people have been affected by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
“It can be a mess sometimes, and that is where people like us come in,” Twum-Barimah said. “But what Maryville College does is push you to stretch your mind, so when you are in the real world, nothing surprises you anywhere.”
To this day, Twum-Barimah credits his Maryville College education with making him the person he is today and enabling him to make a difference in the world. He encouraged the students he spoke with to continue expanding that education by pushing outside of their comfort zone to find where they fit in the world.
“What I want to encourage you is don’t be afraid. Just be yourself more, with skill. That is what’s going to take you to the next level,” Twum-Barimah said. “God bless you.”
Twum-Barimah is visiting with his wife, Alia, and his children, 2-year-old Jayna and 3-month-old Jax.
“When I was informed about coming here to receive this award, it wasn’t just an honor. It was an opportunity to reconnect with my old classmates and share my experiences with the students,” Twum-Barimah said. “Part of me still feels like this is home.”