“Choose your choice, love your choice, be responsible for your choice.” This was the piece of advice from the parents that became a popular mantra in the home of the Effahs as they set out to pursue their dreams in academic life on the way to building careers.
Not only did this play a key role in what they chose to become, but it has also helped shape their lives and their perspective about life.
In a rare family chat, the Effahs share their stories of becoming what they are today.
The Effahs, made up of the mother and Matriarch, Mrs Grace Vera Effah (GVE), children - Professor Elsie Effah Kaufmann (EEK), Belinda Yaa Dankwaa Effah (BYDE), Dr Kofi Effah (KVE) and Kwadwo Osei Effah (KOE), share with Daily Graphic’s Rosalind K. Amoh, their beginnings and how the support they received from their parents, gave them the solid foundation which in a way, helped secure their future.
The shy quiet girl, Elsie Effah Kaufmann, is now a Professor in Biomedical Engineering and has just been appointed the Dean of the Department at the University of Ghana and also the famed
Quiz Mistress of the National Science and Maths Quiz (NSMQ).
Belinda, the free-spirit, is now an agricultural scientist turned banker.
Kofi, the idealist, is an obstetrician- Gynaecologist and heads the Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Centre (CCPTC) at the Battor Catholic Hospital and Kwadwo, a hands-on practical person, has become a well-known book industrialist and publisher whose love for God’s work grows by the day.
Mrs Effah and Kwadwo were interviewed in their home at Inchaban near Sekondi, while Elsie and Belinda were interviewed in Accra. Kofi, due to the nature of his job, joined virtually.
Rosalind K. Amoh (RKA): As a family, you look like what we all aspire to have. It is the reason I wanted us to chat so you can share your story to inspire the young families and I am grateful to you all for agreeing to be part of this conversation. It is really a privilege.
Grace Vera Effah (GVE): It is great to have you around and we are grateful that you find our story inspiring so as to use your prestigious media to share with others.
RKA: Mummy, I will start with you. Can you please tell us a bit about the Effahs?
GVE: The Effah family began with my good self, then Grace Vera Kuranchie. My husband Mr Y. Kwabena Effah (now late) and I first met in 1959 at an inter college sports festival while we were students. I was a student at the Komenda Teacher Training College and he was from Osei Tutu Training College. Years later, we reunited and built a relationship which ended in marriage.
RKA: This is something that most of our parents would not talk about, but how were you communicating, given that you were miles apart from each other?
GVE: It is interesting. At the start of our courtship, he was at Juaboso while I was at Ekumfi. Sometimes, the letter he wrote to me would be brought along with the cargo trucks and it would be left at the market. Someone who could read and write would then find it and bring it to me at school because that was the address. Sometimes, before it was brought to me, the letter had already been opened and possibly read. Yes, that time, there was no post offices in those areas and there were no telegrams either. But we found a way around it.
RKA: That sounds interesting but it must have been frustrating for you to wait for months to get a letter or a reply to yours.
GVE: Well, we understood the challenge and we learnt to cope and found a way around it.
RKA: Reading about Mr Effah, who I knew as the headmaster of the T.I Ahmadiyya Secondary School, AMASS, famed for raising national and international athletes, I realised that he was a Muslim and you are a Christian right?
GVE: Yes, he was and I am a Methodist.
RKA: How did that difference in religion affect your home and the raising of your children?
GVE: Right from the start when I agreed to marry him, we discussed it and he agreed that he would not impose his religion on me. He also agreed that he would let me take the children to church until they were old enough to decide where they wanted to be. Thankfully, maybe because he was also an open-minded person, he was not insistent on giving our children Islamic names, so we had Elsie Akosua Biraa, Belinda Yaa Dankwaa, Kofi and Kwadwo Osei Effah.
Elsie was chosen from a book I read and whose character I really liked, Belinda from Europe who was in Ghana then as a volunteer and a member of the Peace Corp asked that we name our daughter after her and he did not object and the boys were also given their names.
Looking back, they all seem to have exhibited the character traits of the people they were named after respectively.
Elsie has always been a bookworm and gets excited at the sight of books and libraries, no wonder she has stayed on that path. Belinda is a free spirit, I remember when she was about five or six years, she boldly said she would not allow anyone to sit on her happiness and she has lived like that to date. Kofi is an idealist. I don’t know if that also amounts to being a perfectionist, and Kwadwo, as the baby in the family, was always curious, artistic and it is therefore no surprise that he ended up in book industry.
RKA: How did you and your husband cope raising your four young children while you travelled around from one duty post to another?
GVE: Right from the start, we gave the children an orientation to help them adjust. Some did not like it but they had no choice as home was where we all were.
For instance, they had settled in well at Winneba when daddy was transferred to Koforidua so we had no choice.
Elsie was happy because it gave her the opportunity to be at the library and read more books, Belinda was not enthused because she had to leave her friends and start the process of making new friends, but by and large, they all settled in well.
I think our home was what at that time, many homes of teachers or educationists would have in their homes. A bit of strictness and firmness, but our home had more love and right from the start, the children were made to understand there was no compromise when it came to education.
RKA: Dr Effah Kaufmann, for this interview, do I have your permission to just call you Elsie?
EEK: Yes, please do.
RKA: You being the first child, what do you remember about growing up with your siblings?
EEK: I think it was fun, but as the first child, the weight of responsibility was placed on me right from the start. I had to always lead by example and also supervise my siblings to get them to do the right thing. To keep them out of trouble, I had to be creative, and I realised that teaching was an innate thing for me. I taught my siblings how to read and write even before they went to school but I did not realised that until way later.
RKA: Did the weight of expectation extend to school work or how you were being groomed?
EEK: Education was a priority in our home. For much of the time, we lived without any extended help, so it was just our parents and us. We were encouraged and supported to be excellent pupils at school, while our social grooming was also not compromised. In all that, we were happy to be together. As we grew older, I, naturally the quiet reserved type, watched as the others carried out their sibling fights.
RKA: Belinda, your name keeps coming up, perhaps, it is a good time to get you to join the conversation.
BYDE: Thank you, I think it is because I am the organiser of the family. In the beginning, I was a ‘no nonsense’ girl who wouldn’t allow anyone to bully me. As we grew older and more mature, I used that trait to keep the family knitted together. You see when you wanted to talk to us, you were asked to talk to me?
RKA: I have heard the name Yaccini, Bawus who later became Vandidi and Azurus, who are they?
BYDE: Yes, they are names we adopted from the characters of the cartoons we watched. I am Yaccini, Kofi is Vandidi and Kwadwo is Azurus. That was what we used for our fights. Elsie was not part of the fights, so she had no nickname. She was later given one by our aunt, but that is for your ears only.
RKA: Those fights, were they real?
BYDE: Yes, there were organised fights as daddy’s way of ending the numerous complaints he was greeted with anytime he returned from work. So he ‘decreed’ that there would be no fight in his absence, so when he came home from work, while he had his supper, he listened to our issues and then said: “If fighting is what will help resolve the issue, go ahead,” and I remember it was always the boys against me.
RKA: You must have been a bully then?
BYDE: Not really but I wanted to ensure that I was in charge. Elsie was too quiet and soft spoken. The boys had to be kept in line. Because Elsie left earlier for school and then continued outside the country, I spent more time with the boys and we had our childhood friction, but it was a healthy one.
RKA: Vandidi, what about you?
KVE: It was an interesting childhood because though our parents were both teachers, they had different ways of making me see things. My mum was more like a 'peacemaker,' my dad was a 'master planner' always thinking about ways to improve systems. My dad became my headmaster at T. I. Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kumasi. I saw the planning that went into T. I. Ahmadiyya dominating sports in the Ashanti Region in the 1980s. It was interesting.
With regard to academic work, I must have been about 8+/9 years old. My sisters were doing very well in their classes. One teacher actually expressed surprise when he got to know that Belinda was my sister. How can such a 'brilliant' girl have such a 'dull' boy for a brother... I also tried to do well. Then I realised I didn't have to put in so much to do well.
RKA: What about the Effahs being a family of geniuses?
KVE: People underestimate the energy that so called 'geniuses' put in to achieve success. From T. I. Ahmadiyya, I went to Presec, Legon and became the first person in Ghana to get five straight As at the A level (in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Statistics and General Paper). I can tell you it wasn't raw talent. The energy I put in at Presec was something else. And the self denial...
Some young doctors now look at me when I operate and marvel. Some people even joke that I was born with scissors in my hands to operate. Twenty years ago, when I came to Battor, I didn't know how to operate. In two years (before I went to Accra to start postgraduate studies in Obstetrics and Gynaecology), I had performed over 230 total abdominal hysterectomies. Many people have no idea the amount of work that goes into it. My son is good in class. He puts in a lot of effort to be good. He will be better than me if he continues. He is more focused and organised than I was and he works hard. I wouldn't call it just talent.
So I have seen all my siblings work very hard. I cannot rule out some 'good genes' maybe from our great grandfathers and grandmothers, but without hard work and discipline, I don't think anyone can be really successful.
Our parents were disciplinarians. That was helpful.
RKA: Kwadwo, obviously as the ‘baby’ of the family, you had very little say or?
KOE: I had a memorable childhood. However, there was no compromise on being an excellent student. It was expectant and there was always reward for that, thus we were all encouraged to be the best. Elsie set the pace and we all had to follow.
RKA: Mummy, it seems parents of your generation had a common objective: to raise their children well, emphasise the importance of education, but it was also that sometimes, they forced their children to choose certain career paths. Was it the same in your house?
GVE: Yes, that happened a lot, but our home was different. We did not force anyone to choose a career. Our advice was: Choose your choice, love your choice and be responsible for what you do with your choice beyond the normal having a moral upright life, being content with what they had and working hard and being truthful at all times. Also, we trained them to speak their minds respectfully and I’m happy that they took those pieces of advice seriously.
RKA: Seeing what they have become now gives you a sense of pride then.
GVE: Yes, I’m very proud of what they all have become. Though their father is not alive, he saw how they had all turned out to be and was very happy and satisfied. We have always been supportive and continue to support them even now, in all they do.
RKA: Elsie, mummy talks about family support and the importance of raising children well. Any perspective to share?
EEK: Indeed, I think I speak for all of us. Our parents have been supportive and exemplary. Due to the difference in their religious beliefs, we learnt to mutually respect people with divergent opinion or backgrounds, good negotiation skills as we have to justify every request we made.
BYDE: Family is everything and I remember that growing up, our home was always fun because we celebrated and fully participated in both the Christian festivities as well as the Muslim festivals too.
RKA: Mother’s Day will soon be here with us. If there was a simple message for mummy, what would it be? You all can give a brief message.
EEK: I owe a lot to mummy. She is the one to call when in trouble. For all these years that I have played the role of the Quiz Mistress of the National Science and Maths Quiz, she has been my sole supporter in the auditorium, and in the early days, she helped run my home and took care of my three children. She still supports us with prayers and words of encouragement.
BYDE: We have become who we are as adults because of the way she and daddy raised us teaching and living by example, all the values. Integrity, managing our finances, and a bond so special. She loves cooking and I picked that trait from her. She is our best friend and prayer warrior.
KVE: As I have grown and become a parent myself, I have appreciated more, the love and sacrifices she made for me. My daughter is named after her (Boa) and so she continues to be remembered at home even when she is not with us. The guidance over the years is appreciated. Her role as 'peacemaker' is appreciated. I will not be able to pay her for what she has done for me. I will try and 'pay it forward'.
KOE: It is understandable that as the youngest, I am the most attached to mummy and still live in the same city with her. They trained us to be independent and do things on our own. Importantly, she and daddy trained us to keep the strong bond among us as siblings and family, but still respect our privacy.
For me, she has helped me build my faith and together with her, we began a branch of the Methodist Church, the Inchaban Mount Zion Society which we started in our home and to the glory of God a permanent place of worship is being developed.
If for nothing at all, I’m grateful to her for leading me to Christ and encouraging me to do God’s work.
RKA: These are touching testimonies. Mummy, in a few weeks we will be celebrating mothers for their selflessness. What advice would you give today’s mothers?
GVE: I just want young parents, particularly mothers, to realise that the challenges of combining careers with motherhood has always been there and did not start in their time. We all went through it, and it was even more difficult in our time as there were no nannies or creches where we could leave our children and go to work after our maternity leave.
I will advise them to plan and manage their schedule and times to accommodate all their responsibilities. Mothers should train and educate their children to be what they want them to be and not leave that responsibility for others to execute.
Also, they should train their children to adapt to situations; it is not as if there is only gain and no pain in life. Finally, they should not impose their will on their children when it comes to career choices.
The Bible tells us to train the children the way they should go and when they grow up, they will not depart from it. That remains key. In this day when technology is dictating how lives have to be lived, it is a challenge but parents should find a way to train their children to manage their time and resources, and all the moral values as those are key.
RKA: On behalf of the entire team, I would like to say thank you very much.
GVE: I also, on behalf of all of us, say thank you for this opportunity. We have also thoroughly enjoyed sitting around together and reminiscing. I hope your readers and viewers find it inspiring and interesting.