Book review: King Peggy
by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
As a GMH alumni, I strongly recommend the easy read true story paperback “King Peggy” by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman available from Amazon.com, new and used. Regardless of whether you are a past participant, a future possibility or a much valued supporter, King Peggy puts you in a village story that parallels the hopes and frustrations of the GMH mission.
Peggy Bartels is a Ghanaian born 20+ year employee Assistant to the Ambassador at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington DC. In August of 2008, to her great surprise, (I will leave that read for you), she finds herself accepting her royal destiny as “King of Otuam, a dusty behind the times village of 7000+- Fante tribal people off the Cape Coast road between Accra and Elmira Castle. Alumni! Are visuals emerging?
On her initial visit, Peggy found conditions in Otuam much as GMH founder Debi Frock found in Akramaman. No electricity, no health facilities, minimal schooling and the critical component, no water less than an hours walk with a bucket on your head and dirty water at that- this job performed every day by the village children before school. Dust and pot holed roads, dilapidated buildings and an ingrained resignation that it would always be like this because it had always been like this. You can see hope in the eyes of African children, but most tribal village adults don’t believe anymore. The difference between Otuam and Akramaman was the corrupt leadership. King Peggy’s efforts to improve the village condition met roadblocks at every turn, until she eventually realized the village elders had basically chosen her, assuming her gender and out of country residency would be a weak deterrent to their on-going theft of power and money.
They didn’t count on Peggy Bartels.
African tribal leaders are chosen by “the spirits” although genealogy helps and gender is of no consequence. Suburban Silver Spring, MD condo living Peggielene Bartels, chose to accept the will of the Ashanti spirits that resided in the royal stools (seats or thrones) and assume her responsibility as King of Otuam. In a village with no functioning tax base, no industry and little government subsidy, King Peggy struggled against corruption and tradition to bring water, health, education and basic quality of life facilities to Otuam, while only on the ground there for a few months each year. With no village resources, she had to continue her embassy employment in the U.S. as the only consistent funding source for the Otuam projects. Now, six years later, King Peggy and Otuam have been adopted by a large DC church congregation and adequate funding is available to continue the move towards health and opportunity augmented by a functioning tax base and a developing local economy.
The book is a delightful read of African beliefs, customs, tribal histories and appeals to the spirits that reside in everything, even wooden stools. The hardships and conditions facing Otuam are familiar to those of us that have been in country with GMH. We have experienced the pot holed road trip to Accra, the tro tro’s, street hawkers, big eyed children with their own siblings on their backs, lack of water, health care and hope.
King Peggy chose to shoulder the burdens of Otuam by herself and it’s a compelling read but I am proud to be a supporter of GMH, bringing that hope and future to Akramaman and other villages through the work and commitment of many hands, hearts and treasures. If you have been, read King Peggy for the memories. If not, read King Peggy to better understand what you are helping to achieve in Ghana through your support of GMH.
Gail, the cute blonde on the left, traveled to Ghana with Debi in 2005 and 2006 to export the Cursillo movement in the Episcopal Church. During those trips, it was traveling to the villages that moved Debi to start Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope. Gail has been a strong volunteer for the organization. For several years she organized the silent auction for the Spirit of Ghana.