Langley City resident Eric Manu knew one day he may be called to serve his home country of Ghana, but it did nothing to lessen the shock of being told, “You will be the next successor to lead the village.”
“I said, ‘Are you kidding?’” said Manu, 32, who has been working as a landscaper since coming to Canada in 2012.
“I said ‘OK, I will discuss that with my boss.”
Manu approached his boss and close friend, Susan Watson, for advice.
His uncle, who was chief of the Adansi Aboabo II village in the East District of Ashanti Region of Ghana, had passed away, and Manu was next in line. He had recently married a Canadian, Dorrie, and had a newborn baby at home. There was a lot to consider.
Luckily, Watson was overwhelmingly supportive. Not only did she encourage him to take the position, she helped him launch the To The Moon and Back Foundation to collect donations for the village, and will be visiting him in Africa during his coronation in January.
“I am so grateful for my boss and her encouragement for me to take the throne,” Manu said.
“She said, ‘You have the courage, I see your spirit; you are a young guy with a positive mind and if you go for it, I am with you.’”
But before the news could fully sink in, the pair had another shock to deal with: the press.
It’s been a media frenzy for Manu, who in the past couple of weeks has been approached for seven different documentaries, a TV series, and several articles from media outlets around the world.
He has also received an outpouring of support from organizations that want to help, such as Livecare telemedicine and Organics 4 Orphans.
“I see it to be a blessing,” Manu said.
“It’s a life-changing opportunity for the village and the people. It is something that I never dreamed of. I never thought this would happen to me. The life change for me is going to affect them as well, in a positive way.”
Manu has big dreams for the village of 6,000 people, who have never before received donations.
Since founding the To the Moon and Back Foundation, he and Watson have already shipped a 20-foot container filled with clothes, books and supplies to the village, and have many items leftover that still need to be sent.
He also hopes to revitalize the village’s culture, preserve their historic landmarks from times of slavery and create an educational exchange program.
“It is in my heart to change my village,” Manu said.
“We want corporate bodies to help in terms of education, health, agriculture, any opportunity that will change the life of the people.”
A big part of this is through the exchange program, which Manu and Watson are very passionate about.
By having Canadians stay in Ghana, they can teach the village members valuable skills to empower them, to make them more independent and, ultimately, to keep the young people in the village, Watson said.
“Eric worries about the young people going into the cities, which attracts them for money, but then they end up going into drugs and prostitution rather than making the fast buck that everyone thinks they’re going to,” she said.
Likewise, Manu hopes the youth can come to Canada as well to share their culture of dancing and drumming.
“We want to involve the community of Langley to be part of the foundation,” he said.
“This kind of culture is not common here. So when the children come here, they can be teaching the youth here and you never know, they can go all over B.C. and entertain people.”
It is also important to quell the myths of North America that many of the youth have, he added.
“They have to come here for the education,” he said.
“In Ghana, we think money grows on trees in Canada, but when I came here I trimmed the trees and there’s no money on them.
“You still have to wait two weeks for a paycheque. And I work hard for it.”
Many of his personal paycheques have gone into building a new home in Ghana, which will be used to headquarter his foundation and house volunteers.
“My long-term plan in Ghana is to be an ambassador for the foundation as well as my duties as the chief,” he said.
“I want to project Africa here, and promote the exchange program. I will be championing the cause of moving the youth through drumming and dancing and finding a way of sponsoring them here for summer exchange programs with the community.”
Manu and Watson are currently looking for youth organizations to partner with long-term in exchange programs. These could be high schools, universities, community groups or even individuals. They are also taking monetary donations to cover the customs fees for the shipping container (which cost $5,000 to send, most of which Watson paid for herself), and a second crate of goods.
To learn more or to donate, visit www.tothemoonandbackfoundation.com.