Student voyager Frederick Frimpong first learned about Semester at Sea when he met, by chance, a few students on the Fall 2009 voyage while the MV Explorer was docked near Accra, Ghana. Born and raised in a small village named Senase, Fred befriended these students, brought them to his village, and introduced them to his family and his way of life.
Nearly five years later, Fred — now a 23-year-old college student about to transfer to the University San Diego — is sailing on the Summer 2014 voyage, fully engaged in the shipboard community and spreading the word about a nonprofit organization he helped to found: The GodFreds Foundation, whose mission to build and operate a school and residence in Fred’s home village.
“It’s much more than I ever expected,” said Fred of his SAS summer. “It is a unique opportunity for me to meet so many awesome people. The community is so nice — the RDs, the professors, the deans, the students.”
To fully understand how Fred’s SAS summer on the ship has come full circle, it’s important to share a bit of back story: After meeting those first Semester at Sea students five years ago, Fred was inspired to start a business offering village homestays for visitors to Ghana. Ultimately, his tour business Facebook page helped him connect with Barbara Allison, a Lifelong Learner on the Spring 2013 voyage, whose son Andrew, had sailed as a student in Summer 2011.
Barbara and Fred became fast friends, ultimately leading to Barbara and her husband Mike to help financially sponsor Fred’s college education at Hult Business School in London, and to continue to support him as he make the move to San Diego, to live closer to the Allison family and finish out his college degree in Social Entrepreneurship at USD.
But the Allison’s relationship with Fred goes even further. Barbara was deeply moved by the lack of education available to children in Fred’s village — and also impressed with Fred’s like-minded goals to improve the living and educational conditions in his home area. After all, Fred had always donated funds raised from his tour business to improving the way of life for his fellow villagers; Barbara and other voyagers who visited Senase on that Spring 2013 voyage helped to put in a system for running water.
Other Fred-led trips to Senase helped raise money for school technology and uniforms for children who didn’t go to school because they couldn’t afford the proper clothing. More reasons for not attending or succeeding in school in and around Fred’s village: The existing schools are a one- to two-hour walk away — and they have dirt floors and leaking roofs; school supplies are scarce; children don’t come to school with lunch, and therefore lack the energy to focus on schoolwork; parents are illiterate and don’t encourage education. Perhaps most poignant, students don’t have lights in their homes so they can do homework after school once the sun sets.
“The best way to end poverty in Africa is through education.” — Fred Frimpong, co-founder The GodFreds Foundation
Together, the Allison family and Fred worked to find a solution to remove all of the barriers that prevented children from getting solid schooling. From that deep desire came The GodFreds Foundation, so named for a young Ghanian child Godfred, to whom Fred acts as a benefactor so young GodFred can attend school outside of Senase, since Senase’s educationally opportunities are so lacking.
But not for long, once The GodFreds Foundation meets its lofty goals. The foundation has already purchased six acres for a school in the Senase area, and the Allisons and Fred are currently hard at work fundraising to break ground on two school buildings, a computer lab, and a residence for students and teachers. “We will live with them as a community,” said Fred. “After I graduate from school, I will return.”
This summer the number of people who are involved with raising money for The Godfreds Foundation has multiplied: Fred and SAS students who have gotten wind of the school-building project gather at lunch on class days to brainstorm. One result: Students plan to go back to their own universities to start their own “charity clubs,” see what kind of support they can get for the project from school administrators and other at-home contacts, and otherwise spread the word about The Godfreds Foundation. They plan to keep in touch after the voyage via Facebook and Skype.
Meanwhile, in addition to speaking to classes and at shipwide informative lectures about The GodFreds Foundation, Fred has fully integrated himself into ship life — and the always smiling student can’t say enough about “living the dream” aboard the MV Explorer, namely because of its “awesome” shipboard community.
“I try to get to know every person who comes my way,” says Fred. “I speak to my cabin stewards, Lifelong Learners and teachers. I have meals with different people all the time — I talk to everyone.”
Fred says at first the ship felt a bit overwhelming: “I didn’t know what the inside was going to look like. [When the ship had docked in Tema, Africa] I could only see the top of the ship from the gate. I had no idea all the facilities it had: the swimming pool, the basketball court, the library… all of those cabins down the long hallways.”
In some ways, however, ship life is surprisingly similar to life in a small African village: “Back at home, you never pass someone without saying hi — even if you don’t know them well. This is very normal to me, and it’s what happens on Semester at Sea. Any time I walk by people on the ship, I say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ This is like home.”
As the summer voyage comes to an end in just a few short days, Fred — like many students onboard — has mixed feelings about bidding good-bye to the MV Explorer: “I don’t know if I am excited or sad to leave the ship. It’s complicated.”
But there is a lot for Fred to look forward to, including a plan to return to Ghana in October to meet still more SAS voyagers when the ship docks there. Plus, there’s the move to sunny California, ultimately graduating from the University of San Diego, and continuing to raise funds through The GodFreds Foundation to give motivated Ghanian children the chance to succeed in life with a solid education as their base. Says Fred, “The best way to end poverty in Africa is through education.”