An interview with Gilbert Nkpeniyeng on How a Talking Book Message Inspired His Education Journey
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
In June, we posted a message on Facebook to celebrate the Day of the African Child, which commemorates June 16, 1976, when schoolchildren in Soweto took to the streets to protest about the inferior quality of their education and demand their right to be taught in their own language. Our message featured a photo that was taken 11 years ago in Ving-Ving, a village in the Upper West Region of Ghana.
Gilbert in 2008. He remembers the day this photo was taken.
To our surprise, the boy in the photo, Gilbert Nkpeniyeng, wrote back:
“Thanks so much to Amplio and its hardworking staff and partners. I clearly remember this picture was taken in the days of my primary school, around 2008. Had it not been for the Talking Book, I wouldn’t have had the courage to study harder. Amplio’s efforts really impact poor families. I am living testimony to that. I almost quit school before I encountered the Talking Book, which lifted my hopes with messages to keep going because education is my life.”
It was a gift to hear directly from a Talking Book beneficiary. As you can imagine, Gilbert’s message made our day. Of course, we wanted to know more! We’re excited to share this interview with Gilbert Nkpeniyeng.
Amplio: Gilbert, tell us about your first Talking Book experience.
Gilbert: I first used the Talking Book with my family in Ving-Ving, the community where we live in the Upper West Region. It was around 2008, and I was about 10 years old. I remember when Cliff (Cliff Schmidt, Amplio’s founder and executive director) and some others first came to my hometown in order to understand more about life in Ving-Ving. I was shocked and amazed when they stayed the night in the community and ate the same food as my people. That made me feel like something good was about to happen.
The importance of the work of Amplio and Literacy Bridge Ghana is written in the hearts of those who listen to the Talking Book. It has improved health and saved lives. Many students have benefitted from the educational messaging, of which I am living proof. Also, the Talking Book has put food on the table of many farmers through messages on agriculture. Providing access to information is just so beneficial, especially to less privileged people in rural Ghana.
Amplio: Was there a Talking Book message that made a difference for you?
Gilbert: Yes. Growing up in a village where many people are uneducated makes it difficult for children to understand how they will benefit in the future from going to school now. The Talking Book message about the consequences of dropping out of school inspired me to stay in school and learn. Anytime I see the Talking Book I smile because it is a great influence on my life.
Amplio: What were some of the challenges related to staying in school?
Gilbert: It has not been easy for me to pursue education. Buying quality textbooks was a serious challenge for me and other students from less privileged families. Transportation to and from school was also a problem. I had to travel to another village for junior high school because my village didn’t have one. It was stressful because I didn’t have a bicycle to help me get there. I managed to make the trip for my whole first term, and then, at the age of 14, I traveled to work on farms in order to earn money to buy a bicycle. However, I could not find any work and I was locked up. I was locked up for more than four weeks. When I got out, I still couldn’t afford bus fare to go home, so I was stuck there for even longer.
When I tried to return to school, the headteacher said that I had been away for more than a month, which meant I had been automatically dismissed and would be unable to return. My father pleaded with him, and I tried to tell my story and explain what had happened. Our words fell on deaf ears. I wept in the head teacher’s office. My father and I left for home feeling demoralized and confused. But I remembered the Talking Book message about the consequences of dropping out of school and saw the consequences for people in my village.
(There’s more to this story. Read how Gilbert persevered.)
Some people use mobile phones and radios… They use the Talking Book most, because the messages are directed at their specific areas of need.
Amplio: Do others in your community still listen to Talking Books?
Gilbert: Yes, they listen to messages on agriculture because more than 90 percent of those in the workforce are peasant farmers. They also listen to messages on health, education, and women’s empowerment among others.
Amplio: Tell us about mobile phones and radios.
Gilbert: Some people in Ving-Ving use mobile phones and radios, and some even have televisions. They use the Talking Book most because the messages are directed at their specific areas of need. Talking Books are portable and always contain a series of relevant messages that are of interest to the community.
Amplio: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges people face in Ving-Ving?
Gilbert: Some of the major problems in Ving Ving include inadequate potable drinking water, lack of health facilities, and a high illiteracy rate.
Amplio: Do you think the Talking Book has made an impact?
Gilbert: In my own community, I have observed a lot of changes. Exclusive breastfeeding is now widely practiced, delivery in a health facility under a trained midwife is more common, and handwashing with soap has also increased. There are also more literate people now in Ving-Ving.
Gilbert is pursuing scholarship opportunities to complete his B.Ed. in Social Science.
I’ve always had a love of education, not just in the classroom but in the field on issues of social behavior change as well. I dream of being an educationist.
Amplio: Tell us about your decision to pursue a degree.
Gilbert: My decision to go to university was triggered by my experiences in high school and the influential messages I heard from the Talking Book, even after high school. The messages motivated me because they explained to parents and students that higher education was necessary to get a good job. I am pursuing an Education degree, because I’ve always had a love of education, not just in the classroom but in the field on issues of social behavior change as well. I dream of being an educationist.
Amplio: How has your personal journey made you want to make positive change?
Gilbert: I am the youngest of four children. My older siblings never went to school. I live with my mum and dad when I am not at university, and also my niece and two nephews. When I was in high school, I made an effort to bring them to Ving-Ving from the farming community in southern Ghana where they were living with their parents, so that they could start school. The oldest one, who I brought first, is now in junior high. The other two are in primary school.
I also volunteer with LBG, but I’ve needed to focus on making money to pay for school, so not as much as I had hoped. However, when I am back home, the LBG staff sometimes gets me involved when they have a survey in the communities, which I’ve always done with great joy. I have also helped record dramas several times for new Talking Book messages.
Amplio: You’re still facing many obstacles to getting your degree.
Gilbert: Yes, furthering my education has come with an emotional as well as a financial cost. I was born in a village where people earn less than a dollar a day, where three square meals a day are never guaranteed. When an academic session ends, I get very worried because I know I will have to travel to southern Ghana and work on people’s farms to try to earn money to pay for school fees. Last year, I had severe malaria. It hasn’t been good for my studies or for my health, but I don’t have a choice.
Amplio: What inspires you to keep going?
Gilbert: The Talking Book messages have given me a reservoir of motivation that keeps me going despite the struggles. Also, the LBG staff encourage me, especially Mr. Fidelis Da-uri, the senior content manager who creates the messages for Talking Books.
Amplio: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Gilbert: In the next five years, I see myself becoming a great educator. I will finish my degree and national service in two to three years, provided I’m able to finance my education. I dream of reaching the top despite the obstacles I am facing, so I see myself becoming the best I can be in the next five years.
Gilbert Nkpeniyeng is pursuing a B.Ed in Social Science (Economics) at the University of Development Studies in Wa, in the Upper West Region, Ghana. He is currently seeking scholarship opportunities. Connect with Gilbert on Facebook.
Gilbert's village, Ving-Ving, was where Talking Books were field-tested. Read our story here.