McDonogh students wait to donate bicycles to the African nation… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
Greg Caso learned to ride on the purple Mountain Lion, but the 16-year-old had not used the bicycle in years. So on Friday, he pulled it out of the family garage and took it with him to McDonogh School.
"This bike went through the family ranks," said Caso, a junior at the private school in Owings Mills. "My three older siblings and I all learned on it, and there is a strong attachment. Now, I hope it gets to a kid who really needs it, and I hope I get to hear that story."
That's the concept that spurred McDonogh's Mission Emmanuel Project, an ambitious and costly effort to ship hundreds of bicycles to the West African nation of Ghana, where they are a popular means of transportation among students and teachers. Inspired by the story of Emmanuel O. Yeboah, a disabled Ghanaian cyclist, the school is filling a 20-foot shipping container with donated bicycles and books. Four students are planning to travel to Ghana in May, about the time the container comes into port."This is the nicest concept," said Nancy Love, a faculty adviser who will accompany the four seniors - one of them her son, Ben - on the trip. "Instead of walking hours to school, kids can ride a bike and maybe have more time to study and read."
Yeboah, who addressed the students last fall, returned to the school Friday.
The 32-year-old man was born without a right leg. He said relatives told his mother to abandon him.
"Disability is considered a curse on your family," he said.
Yeboah said his father left the home when his mother insisted on raising their son. For years, he said, his mother carried him in her bag so he could go to school. When he grew too heavy, he said, he would hop three miles to class.
"He asked us to stand on one leg and jump," said Brendan Fowl, a brawny senior with several athletic awards pinned to his blazer. "Most of us could only do it for a minute."
"The idea of a kid hopping to school for three miles just makes you want to help out," Ben Love said.
Yeboah's trek became slightly easier when his grandmother found him crutches. Still, he said, as the only disabled student in a school of 240, he was friendless. He is working to change attitudes toward the disabled in Ghana, where he said discrimination forces many to spend their lives begging.
Determined to raise awareness of their plight, he chose cycling "to change the perception of the disabled in my country." Missionaries helped him get the bike that he rode for 10 days on a 400-mile journey across his country. He wore a flip-flop on his left foot and pedaled with one leg.
"I went everywhere to spread my message," he said.
That message resonated among the students. Several stayed in contact with Yeboah since his appearance last fall and asked how they could help.
"It was not just the words, but how he said them," Fowl said. "We all have bikes we are not using, and this was a great way to help."
Headmaster Charles Britton called Yeboah's appearance "a wonderful teaching moment."
"His story is incredible, and he spoke of it in an understated and incredibly thoughtful way," Britton said. "He not only inspired them, but they came away with a plan to make an impact."
At McDonogh on Friday, students lined up to donate bikes. A few were teary at parting with a piece of their childhood.
Kendyl Webb, a fourth-grader, donated the pink bike she received on her 6th birthday.
"It's not hard to give it away because I know where it's going," she said.
Added senior Danny Bredar: "We have the power and the opportunity to help and to give the gift of mobility."
Yeboah has spent months lecturing in the United States, has made a documentary and appeared on "Oprah." Along the way, he has received a donation that he says has changed his life: a prosthesis, on which he has painted an American flag. Now he pedals with both legs.
"I watched that documentary three times, and I seem to hang on every word," said senior Kyle Rice. "I can't wait to go to Ghana to help."
Some bikes from Maryland may be sold in Africa, with the proceeds helping to pay for Yeboah's newest project: a school for disabled students in the city of Koforidua, his hometown. He has the land and is working to raise about $1 million in construction costs for the school he will call "Emmanuel's Gift International School."
Love, Fowl, Rice and Bredar, the four seniors who helped to organize McDonogh's Mission Emmanuel, hope to participate in the school groundbreaking in Ghana this spring. As part of their last school project, they will keep a journal and probably film a documentary of their two-week trip.
"Each country's future belongs to its children," Yeboah said. "They will spread the message."