Tween Talk with Eugenia Tachie Menson: The Spelling Bee-Gh has lost a Pillar

 Mr. Kwadwo Kyeremeh, of blessed memory

I had arrived at the Kumasi Airport in July of 2008, after I had secured funding from sponsors to include the cities of Kumasi and Tamale in The Spelling Bee programme that year.  My goal was to find 10 schools to participate in the Bee.  Even though I had lived in Kumasi before, I couldn’t recollect all the schools there; I will have to ask around, I thought to myself.

Wheeling my luggage and walking towards the exit, I saw uniformed taxi drivers jostling and shoving each other for passengers.  Then I saw him, standing aside, arms folded across his chest with his pleasant-looking face and leaning against the railing which separated passengers from the drivers.

I made eye contact with him and nodded towards him; he walked towards me, took my luggage off me and said, “Lady, akwaaba”.  I had never met him before that day but here he was being so welcoming and familiar with me.  I liked his calm demeanour, how he wasn’t pushing or shoving to get a passenger’s attention.  Yet how by remaining calm, he got what was due him.

From that moment, Opanin Kwadwo, as I called him, became the de facto Co-ordinator for The Spelling Bee in Kumasi.  He sought out schools to participate in the programme and would coordinate the travel to and from Accra for all the Kumasi Bee finalists, every single year.  He was a selfless volunteer for the programme and would even use his own funds to procure items and venues for the Bee, because he had gotten us a good deal which needed to be paid for immediately.

As the years wore on, Opanin Kwadwo would meet every key member of staff of the Bee team. When they were in Kumasi, our Board of Directors, our Volunteer Trainers and our guests who were all based in Accra would have no one else pick or drive them but Opanin Kwadwo.

In 2018, when Shifa Amankwah Gabbey won The Spelling Bee, making her the first ever Kumasi student winner, Opanin Kwadwo called me on the phone and said, “All our hard work has now paid off.  Now is the time for the Bee to be very well accepted in Kumasi”. I was excited, but nothing prepared me or the team for what Opanin had planned.

He contacted Otumfuo Ankobeahene, and together, they arranged for Shifa Amankwa-Gabbey to visit Manhyia and meet His Royal Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II to present to him her cup!  We couldn’t believe it when we were invited to Manhyia; we didn’t even know the protocols.

However, as a royal himself, Opanin Kwadwo took us through the protocols, and what an honour it was to finally visit Manhyia and meet Otumfuo, King of Asanteman. This visit was captured by the American news channel CNN, and I am glad Opanin Kwadwo was featured in the story.

Through Opanin Kwadwo’s counsel and guidance, we did right by Manhyia protocols. As a result, Otumfuo and his counsel of advisors did us the extra honour of hosting the national finals of The Spelling Bee 2020!  How were we ever going to make this happen?  Bring the national spelling programme to Manhyia, Kumasi?  But Opanin Kwadwo made it happen; he led the way and made sure he used his wide network to our advantage. We held a historic and successful event to the glory of God, Otumfuo, Manhyia and the people of Asanteman. All because, Opanin Kwadwo laid us a good foundation.

On August 3, 2021, while in Kenya with some of The Spelling Bee children, I noticed I had missed a call from Otumfuo Ankobeahene. I quickly sent a WhatsApp message to Opanin Kwadwo to kindly reach out to Otumfuo Ankobeahene and find out what the matter was. There was no immediate response, but I was confident Opanin would get back to me later in the day when he was less busy.

I had a virtual staff meeting after which my Assistant, Salome, asked me to stay on the call after everyone dropped off.  What could be the matter, I wondered?  She struggled to bring the words out: Derrick Antwi-Boasiako of Manhyia called to inform her that Opanin Kwadwo had died.  I screamed! I cried! I was shocked!  I was angry! I was sad…why? I checked my phone to see if he had responded to my message, but there was no response.  I called Otumfuo Ankobeahene back, and he confirmed the bad news.

Oh Opanin Kwadwo!!  Who will look out for The Spelling Bee in Kumasi?  Who will pick us from the Kumasi airport?  Who will use their wide network to help us in Kumasi when the need arises?  Who? But we know God our Maker has better plans for us all.  And so, we will console ourselves, with our hearts still heavy, that you definitely are in a better place.  The board, management and staff of The Spelling Bee will forever remain grateful to you for your invaluable support.

Opanin Kwadwo, da yie. Nyame nnfa wo nsie yie.  Till we meet again….

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