If it is up to Benolia Adjei-Cudjoe, she will represent her people as a minister of Urban and Local Development in 15 years. The 25-year-old student from Ghana started her Master’s degree in Society, Sustainability and Planning at the University of Groningen two months ago. The fact that she has the opportunity to follow a Master’s degree outside Ghana thanks to the Ubbo Emmius Fund scholarship is an important step towards realizing her dream.
Passionate, a little nervous, and engaging. That is how Benolia is best described during the interview. Since she moved to the Netherlands three months ago, everything has changed. The culture, the people, the weather, her studies. Laughing, she says: ‘You do everything on your own! Life in Ghana is the opposite, it revolves around the community.’
Her choice of Bachelor’s degree programme, in Geography and Regional Planning at the University of Cape Coast (Ghana), was based on a strong motivation to help her country. ‘Cities in Ghana are highly exposed to the effects of the climate crisis. I have experienced several forest fires and floods. As a planner, I want to contribute to making cities more sustainable and resilient.’
Of all the lectures Benolia has had so far, there is one comment that she remembers in particular. ‘The lecturer told us that the Netherlands once had to deal with a major flood. Planners prevented further escalation. I want to do things like that for my country. Planners can make a change and do something about the challenges posed by climate change.’
During her Master’s degree programme in Groningen, Benolia hopes to learn how to think critically above all. ‘My lecturers expect me to think for myself. They don’t want me to accept everything they tell me but, instead, form my own opinion. I am not used to that way of studying in Ghana.’
At Cape Coast, Benolia was one of the best students of her year: she graduated with an average GPA of 3.7 on a scale up to 4.0. ‘I always want to be the best’, she says resolutely. ‘My mother is my biggest inspiration. She has never had the opportunities I have when it comes to education. I want to make her proud.’
Besides making her mother proud, Benolia wants to prove that women – apart from raising children and managing the household – can contribute to society. This is something that is anything but self-evident in Ghana, Benolia says. ‘In Africa, a woman’s success is measured by her marital status. Women with ambition are seen as a threat. When I was about to start my Master’s programme, a friend warned me that it would be better for me to get married first because my degree would deter men.’
The ambitious student plans to prove the opposite – and she knows exactly how. As soon as Benolia has obtained her Master’s degree, she hopes to start her PhD in Ghana. ‘That way, I can become a lecturer at the university and share my knowledge and motivation with a new generation of students.’ In addition, she is planning to start an affordable housing business. ‘Housing is a huge problem in Ghana. I think that everyone deserves a safe home.’
The end goal is to become Minister of Urban and Local Development. ‘One thing I know for sure: if you want to change something in Africa, you have to get involved in politics. And changing something, that is what I want.’
Text: Aafke EppingaPhoto: Gerhard Taatgen
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