Bucknell Volleyball's Kebah Edoho Tries to Make the World a Better Place
Oct. 1, 2012
By Becky Hart, Bucknell Athletic Communications
How did you spend your summer? Spent some time with the family? Maybe finished some DIY projects around the house or lounged on the beach? Not Kebah Edoho. This Bucknell volleyball senior tackled medical issues in impoverished South Africa and when she returned home to Maryland, she worked with asylum seekers in the United States. Yes, she made us feel lazy, too.
The life of a Bucknell student-athlete often follows an obvious cycle. They go to class, they go to games, they try to get some sleep, they repeat. Every once in a while, someone breaks the mold. Edoho is one of those people. A psychology major, Edoho traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, last summer as part of a Bucknell class focusing on community development and social entrepreneurship in some of the area's poorest townships. Partnering with SHAWCO - The Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organization through the University of Cape Town - Edoho and her classmates spent their mornings in lectures learning about current issues in South Africa. Afternoons were then filled with internship experiences and the opportunity to witness first-hand how the communities are dealing with those issues.
Edoho's internship took her to health clinics in Cape Town's townships, areas that often began as segregated communities during Apartheid and remain as some of the most underdeveloped communities in the country. The experience was an eye-opening one for Edoho despite her previous experience living in and traveling through Africa. While her favorite part of the class was working with children in the pediatric clinics, it was also a surprise to the native of Odenton, Md., to see patients suffering from illnesses considered all but obsolete in the United States. Fungal and bacterial illnesses similar to tapeworm and diarrhea that could prove to be fatal were some of the more common ailments Edoho witnessed, not to mention AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases that continue to be a problem due in part to a lack education and resources.
Improving limited health care opportunities in the townships was the driving force behind Edoho's project during her three weeks in and around Cape Town. That overwhelming need for legitimate change was yet another surprise for Edoho, who described the government's efforts to this point as being little more than a superficial coat of paint on a deeper problem. According to the Bucknellian, houses built along the highways are deceptive in that they give the impression of progress when, in reality, they lack what we consider to be basic necessities such as running water. Those houses built away from the main roads and out of the primary line of sight still leave much to be desired as well.
With the realities of everyday South African life becoming clearer with each passing day, Edoho gained her biggest lesson. "You can't fix a country in three weeks," she says.
Last summer was not the first time Edoho had her life changed - and changed others' lives - in Africa. The daughter of a Liberian mother who played volleyball in the Ivory Coast and a Nigerian father, Edoho has twice been to the continent to visit family. Her account of one trip to Liberia can be found on volleyball's 2011 summer blog at BucknellBison.com. While that entry describes the humor in differing vocabulary such as lollipop vs. stick candy, she also came to a more serious realization. Many Liberian citizens were missing shoes.
Edoho painted a picture of roads being resurfaced but then being used before the tar could fully set, leaving behind jagged rock. "They were walking on rough road without shoes," Edoho reported, astonished.
Back at Bucknell, an opportunity for change presented itself to Edoho while in the volleyball locker room.
"There were shoes everywhere. Some had never been used. They were still in boxes. We were just kicking them around."
That set Edoho's plan for the excess shoes in motion because "they're not going to go away unless you get rid of them." Edoho got her coaches and team involved and, by partnering with the non-profit Tarkus Zonen Shoes for Liberia, started her first shoe drive. The Bison collected sneakers from other teams, the rest of the campus and the community. Two summers of the drive resulted in more than 700 shoes collected and shipped to some of Liberia's most underdeveloped communities.
"I go to (the Tarkus Zonen) website sometimes and read the testimonials," says Edoho, grinning from ear to ear. "You see all these pictures of the kids holding up their shoes and they're so happy.
"It's about making good use of what we have. Being wasteful is not okay."
What does one do with the rest of the summer after working in South African health clinics and sending shoes to impoverished African countries? In Edoho's case, she joined forces with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit organization that provides countless resources to help people rebuild their lives after a humanitarian crisis. Upon returning from Cape Town, Edoho began her internship in Maryland, working with asylum seekers from places like Burma and Nepal to find jobs and obtain medical care as they set up new lives in the United States. Edoho's biggest lesson from this experience? "Be patient and empathetic."
While with the IRC, Edoho was constantly amazed by people who had been prominent professionals in their home countries only to be forced to start from scratch in their new home.
"Now they're working at Subway and they have to work their way back up," laments Edoho. "I can't imagine how hard that is for them."
One of Bucknell volleyball's two team captains, Edoho is often trying to put herself in others' shoes as she guides a young Bison squad through the 2012 campaign. Before she knows it, however, the season will be over and Edoho will be looking at her graduate school options. Not surprisingly, the senior's plans continue down the same selfless path that has already spanned two continents and affected numerous lives.
"My ultimate goal is to work in counseling psychology," says Edoho, who is also considering getting into social work or working at psychiatric hospital to help pay for her graduate studies. "All of these experiences have been working toward that ultimate goal."
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Football Gameday Program.