Gideon Tuffour Amponsah was raised in Nima, Accra, one of the most impoverished areas in Ghana. Wanting to create meaningful social change for young people, he founded MyHealth MyWellbeing, a social enterprise dedicated to reducing the stigma around mental health issues. We met him at the 2017 Summer Youth Assembly at the United Nations, where he pitched his venture at the Resolution Social Venture Challenge and was ultimately awarded a Resolution Fellowship.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, my name is Gideon Tuffour Amponsah. I’m 22 years old and a youth activist from Ghana. I graduated this year with a BS in Finance from Minot State University in North Dakota. Born and raised in Ghana, I moved to the United States in 2016 to further my education.
Which three adjectives would people use to describe you?
Inspiring, honest, and hardworking.
What do you love most about your home community?
Home is where the heart is. I love Ghana; it’s home. I love our culture and our great hospitality. We welcome everyone to Ghana with our arms wide open. I also love the power of the young Ghanaian. Despite the challenges we have as a country, Ghana’s young people are always determined and very optimistic to make a positive impact.
What role do young leaders play in the world today?
Young people are the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. All over the world, young leaders are starting their own businesses, running for public offices, demanding answers from authorities and most importantly being the change they want to see. Young leaders know how to engage with their communities to create solutions to local problems. Young leaders are changemakers!
What’s your favorite quote?
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” — Barack Obama.
What’s your favorite book and why?
My favorite book is Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. I read it in my second year of college. I love this book because Gladwell sought to find factors that contribute to high levels of success using stories of successful people and various communities. I learned a lot from reading it.
What is the challenge your venture seeks to address?
The World Health Organization records that 650 thousand people in Ghana, a country of about 27 million, suffer from severe mental disorders and an additional 2,106,000 people suffer from moderate to mild disorders. And yet, the government invests less than 1% of the health budget into mental health.
Even with all the data available to show that mental health needs to be a priority in Ghana, many people believe that talking about mental health is a sign of weakness, and this is worse for men. People have used religion and outmoded cultural practices to undermine the rights of those with mental disorders. The stigma has left many young people committing suicide. Persons who also receive treatments for mental illness are usually neglected and discriminated by their communities. Many people will not want to work with such people because they believe it is “unsafe” to be associated with them.
What inspired you to start this venture?
At age 10, I was fortunate to find myself on national radio advocating for the rights of children, young people, and women. Becoming a community leader at such a young age has shaped my life in a unique way. I am always looking for various ways to impact my community. I decided to start MyHealth MyWellbeing after I watched a TED Talk on mental health in Africa. I did my research and I realized it’s a more serious issue than I thought. I shared this vision with some of my friends and we decided to take action. I believe we can all work to help inspire and touch the lives of the many people struggling with mental health issues.
Have you been personally affected by this issue? If so, how?
I was born and raised in Nima, one of the most impoverished areas in Ghana’s capital city, Accra. In places like Nima, some people walk and sleep naked in the streets. Such people are labeled as “mad people.” They are neglected by their families and loved ones. These people are often mistreated in religious camps and are seen as curses to their families and society. As a Christian, I have been to so many prayer camps and seen people suffering from mental illness chained to walls, pillars, and other objects. I believe it behooves us as young leaders to educate our religious and local leaders to treat persons faced with mental challenges with utmost respect.
Also, some people I grew up with and other loved ones in my community have committed suicide. Some of these people were often seen by society as “normal people.” They showed no signs of suffering from depression, stress, or any mental illness. I always ask myself, “What could I have done to have prevented the loss of such precious lives?”
How is your venture addressing these challenges?
MyHealth MyWellbeing is encouraging young people to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by creating awareness through education to improve mental health in Ghana. We are running in-school educational programs in senior high schools mainly in Accra. We are partnered with other youth-led organizations to educate the public about mental health using radio and community outreach programs. We hope to expand our outreach to psychiatric hospitals as well. Our goal is to provide skills-oriented training to people who have received treatment for mental illness. In doing so, we can give them the ability to learn a trade and improve their economic stability.
What are you and your team hoping to achieve through this venture?
We want to help establish an environment where mental health is treated as a priority and people are encouraged to treat their mental health with as much importance as they treat their physical health. We hope to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness through in-school education and awareness-creation events. In the long run, we want to help people who have received treatment for mental illness integrate back into their communities and provide them with skills that can enhance their social and economic lives.
What excites you about the Resolution Fellowship?
I love the Resolution Fellowship. What excites me most is its lifelong commitment to young leaders like me — to help us start projects and create the change we want to see in our communities. I am excited to be part of a large network of young leaders and professionals whom I can go to for professional advice, career experiences, and seek out opportunities all around the world.
How will the Fellowship help you achieve your goals?
By connecting me with Guides who will serve as mentors and share professional insights on how to run a successful venture. I will also have access to a wide range of resources to help achieve my personal goals.
What are your goals for the future?
I believe I am born to serve. I want to dedicate my life to serving a cause greater than myself. I want to become a lawyer, a diplomat, and a social entrepreneur. I want to inspire those who have experienced the same difficult economic and social conditions that I did during childhood. Most importantly, I want to be a beacon of hope.
What advice would you give other college students who are looking to start their first social venture?
My best advice would be to just do it. One important thing The Resolution Project has taught me is that you do not need to have fully figured out your idea before you can start making an impact. That little idea you think you haven’t figured all out yet might be the next big thing. The whole point of running a social venture is to touch lives and make a difference in your communities. If your idea positively affects only one person, you’ve done so much better than doing nothing.
Please join us in welcoming Gideon to the Resolution community!