08-09-10, 10:38 AM #1
A Silent Heritage
This inspirational story chronicles Dr Letitia Obeng's rise from humble beginnings in rural Ghana to international prominence as a scientist and environmentalist.
Her brilliant tome lifts the lid on an incredible career, and serves as a paean to Africa, its history, and its future. But A Silent Heritage is far more than a personal history book. The 569-page title is bound to inspire Ghanaian youth and beyond.
Dr. Obeng succeeded in turning a childhood fascination with the wonders of nature into a rewarding vocation in zoology.
In the 1940s, Ghana (then the Gold Coast in British West Africa) lacked a university so Dr. Obeng, with others, had to travel halfway across the world to Britain, on a government scholarship, for further studies at the University of Birmingham.
A Silent Heritage reveals just how difficult a time that was: a woman in a man's field, and one of only three West African *women in the whole of the university.*
Some people might have let factors such as these keep them down. But it only strengthened Dr. Obeng's will to succeed.
Upon graduation, Dr Obeng returned home and, within weeks, had launched herself into the formidable challenge of organizing a Zoology department at the start of the University College of Science and Technology in Kumasi.
The support of her late husband George was pivotal in putting together a laboratory and a course for students out of virtually nothing - a mouldy old microscope, two beakers and benches.
It is clear from Dr. Obeng's writing that George, with whom she had three children, was and remains the love of her life.
Tragically, he died aged just 40. Dr. Obeng found herself a widow with a young family to raise alone but faced the challenge with the determination and courage that has typified her life.
The sections of the book where she has to re-confront these painful times are among the most poignant and revealing; they reveal Dr. Obeng, the person.
Though the author, admirably, does not shy away from revealing every heartache and knock-back, the overall tenor of the memoir is one of gratitude.
The title itself - "A Silent Heritage" - reflects this philosophy, referring as it does to the rich heritage, both natural and social, that helps form a person and shape their destiny.
Until her retirement, Dr. Obeng continued to trailblaze in science. She became the first Ghanaian woman to establish a national scientific research institute.
Her work with the Volta Lake Research Project on the world's largest single man-made lake, at the time, led to an invite to the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm.
In the '80s, through UNEP’s Regional Office for Africa, she initiated the African Sub-Regional Environment Program for a practical approach to dealing with the environmental problems of the Africa Region.
In 2007 Dr. Obeng was elected the first woman President of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the oldest Academy in post-colonial Africa.
With her strong attachment to her country, Dr. Obeng *cleverly incorporates in A Silent Heritage, refreshing and lively tit-bits on anthropology, sociology, political history, the country’s educational system, its rich culture and even gives examples of the infectious Ghanaian sense of humour.
To this day, Dr. Obeng continues to be decorated for her many achievements, including receiving Ghana's first national award for Science and Technology (Biology) and, in 2006, being honoured with the coveted National Award of the Star of Ghana.
Despite the recognition she has received, Dr. Obeng is a modest figure and one who takes delight in the simple things in life such as gardening, cooking, reading and enjoying the rewards of family life.
A Silent Heritage, then, is that rarest of beasts - an autobiography of a truly exceptional figure that never comes across as self-congratulatory or pompous. It's a book that you'll struggle to put down, and one that will inspire readers of all ages and backgrounds.
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