Ahmed, Ramatu. Bronx African American History Project. By Mark Naison. Fordham University Project, March, 2010.
Interviewee: Ramatu Ahmed
Interviewer: Dr. Mark Naison
Date of Interview: March 10, 2010
Summarized by Sheina Ledesma
Ramatu Ahmed is a leader in the Ghanaian community in New York City. She is currently a committee member of the National Council of Women of the United States and the Harlem Hospital’s Medina Clinic but is actively involved in many other projects and organizations that are working towards the improvement of the lives of women who live in both Africa and America. One of her greatest passions is bringing awareness to the issue of the lack of availability of higher education for girls and adult women across Africa and even in the United States.
Born in the northern region of Ghana to a father in the military, Ramatu was raised in military barracks with her Muslim family where they were able to lead reasonably comfortable lives. While living in the barracks children were given an education, families were given food, and they had a church and a mosque on site for worship. In 1966, when Ramatu was still very young her father’s battalion was involved in the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the government of Ghana. After the coup, Ramatu remembers being present for a number of other coups and subsequently experienced the ever-changing face of the Ghanaian government. Despite the political instability her father was able to enjoy a long career in the military and eventually retired and moved to a small village to work as a peasant farmer. This transition from life in the barracks to village life was difficult for Ramatu. Accustomed to living with running water and electricity, Ramatu was faced with the realities of living in rural Ghana. She had to use an outhouse, had no electricity, and the family now had to farm their own land to acquire vegetables to eat.
Despite the change in lifestyle, Ramatu remained focused on acquiring an education. While her father did not dissuade her from studying, he, like so many other Ghanaian men during the time, did not believe that it was important for a girl to learn anything beyond reading and writing. However, Ramatu enjoyed school and wanted to become either a doctor or a lawyer when she got older. Unfortunately for her, during her secondary education Ramatu’s grades fell due to a lack of books and other resources to complete her studies. Seeing her potential and passion to learn, a school official recommended she participate in a program at the Pan-African Institute for Development in Cameroon. From there, she was introduced to another program in the United States to study American women’s involvement in politics where she traveled to Kentucky to participate in the program. Once back in Ghana, Ramatu was given yet another opportunity to travel to India to train women at the grassroots level in entrepreneurship development. Although Ramatu was not able to attend a University, she was still given many opportunities to travel the world and learn a vast amount about the issues women faced not just in Africa but also internationally. This background ignited a passion in Ramatu that led her to become involved in the women’s movement in Ghana and to join informative conferences like the UN Conference on Women.
Encouraged by these experiences Ramatu embarked on a trip to Santa Barbara, California to raise funds for various projects she wanted to focus on in Ghana. After some time in California Ramatu began to experience financial difficulty so she decided to leave California and return to Ghana. However, while in transit to Ghana, Ramatu stopped in New York City for some time to meet with business friends in a last attempt to raise money for her work in Ghana. Ramatu was not successful however, and because of financial hardships ended up staying in the Bronx indefinitely.
From the beginning of her stay in the Bronx Ramatu has been able to connect with many other Ghanaians who live in her community. She has become an active member of the community and has devoted most of her time to improving the lives of African immigrants in the Bronx, specifically women. She noted during her interview that there are many serious issues facing women and their families across New York City. One issue is the language barrier many face. Many women are not able to speak English and have great difficulty affording official courses in English. Ramatu understands that this is a great hurdle and is continually working to provide women with information on where and how they can learn English through an affordable means. Ramatu also mentioned that many immigrant families are scared to go to hospitals. Many believe that hospitals are not safe and are too expensive. As a result they often opt out of essential care for themselves and their loved ones. Through her work with the Medina Clinic at Harlem Hospital, Ramatu is working to educate families on the free services provided at the clinic. Ramatu has also become an advocate for illegal African immigrants against immigration raids that she mentioned plague many in the Bronx. She believes that by educating political officials and residents of New York City, something can be done to slow down raids and deportations that separate families across the city.
As for life in New York City, Ramatu remarked on the vast cultural differences between America and Ghana. She finds that one of the greatest aspects of cultural difference is in the way teenagers act if they are raised in the States. Many she elaborated, “have much freedom but they don’t know how to handle the freedom”. She believes that most children are too disrespectful to their parents and other adults and have strayed away from the Ghanaian culture. She would like to see a revival in their traditions and culture before it has faded away.
Although Ramatu has become deeply involved in advocacy projects in the Bronx she has not lost passion for the issues that women face in Ghana. She is still working to raise money for women who want to pursue higher education and also hopes to move secondary school in Ghana from private to public and free. She is currently working as an intern for Barbara Nemeraziz at a radio stationed called WVAI. She is committed to taking advantage of all the opportunities living in the Bronx has to offer and is hopeful that she will be able to influence change in the Bronx and in Ghana.