Stephanie IpSpecial to the Langley Advance
In the span of a year, Eric Manu has gone from kneeling in flower beds as a landscaper in Langley, to being crowned a king in southern Ghana, and back again.
“I see myself to be me but when I go to Ghana, I have a big role to play and I’m totally different when I’m in that country,” said the 33-year-old who moved to B.C. four years ago after meeting and marrying a Canadian woman.
“But when I come here, I still have to be who I am.”
In November 2015, the Ghanaian immigrant spoke about how, following his uncle’s death, he had been chosen to become the next chief of the 6,000-person Akan tribe in his home village of Adansi Aboabo II in the Ashanti region of southern Ghana.
But instead of quitting his landscaping job, Manu invited his boss Susan Watson to witness the coronation in person.
Not wanting to arrive empty-handed, Watson began collecting donated books, clothing, and supplies from the community and from her landscaping clients.
The pair soon established the To The Moon And Back Foundation and shipped a large container of donations ahead of Watson’s visit last January.
The pair’s story also caught the attention of people around the world.
Watson said donations have come in from Korea, the United States, across Canada, and parts of Europe.
In early December, CNN was scheduled to sit down with Manu and Watson for a taped segment, the latest of dozens of interviews the pair have given over the last year.
“It just amazes me that our little story goes that far,” Watson said.
Manu, who returned to Canada in the fall, said those back home in Ghana couldn’t believe the international community would care about, or even want to support their village.
“I think it was a big surprise for people back home in Ghana, and also the Ghanaian community in Canada and United States, and even the U.K., for a young African man to be talked about in news all over the world concerning his trip back home to be taking on such a big responsibility at his age, to be chief of this tribe,” he said.
Proving his commitment to his new role, Manu has enrolled in online courses for social work and is steadily improving his English.
He dreams of building better relations between his home village and the international community, and a self-sufficient and sustainable tourism economy in southern Ghana.
In December, when Ip sat down to talk with Manu and Watson, they were about to receive a delivery of donations for their next shipment to Ghana. A dozen boxes had to be re-arranged inside the storage container before there was room for more boxes and bolts of thin fabric.
“Mosquito nets,” Watson said excitedly when the netting was unloaded from the truck.
This round of donations will ship in the new year, before Manu and Watson fly to Ghana in February.
The pair are hoping this year’s shipment will go more smoothly – noting last year’s container was caught in paperwork and held for weeks at the dock before they were finally able to get it moving, thanks to a little financial elbow grease.
Since then, Watson has registered the foundation in Ghana and has been in touch with trusted contacts, who will help ensure smooth transfer.
Watson also hopes to help re-build a local clinic in Manu’s home village, which is sorely in need of a paint job, examination tables, upgraded medical supplies, blankets, and separate sections for men and for women.
There’s also a need for a vehicle or a motorcycle, so people can be transported to the clinic quickly when treatment is needed.
The support provided by people in B.C. isn’t taken lightly by Manu – it’s part of the reason he returned to Canada to work with Watson again.
The other reason is because he wanted to continue making money to support other on-the-ground projects in Ghana, such as completing the village’s city library.
“My major priority to come back was to say a big thank you to my boss, as well as a big thank you to Canadian friends and family who made the donations and the container a possibility for us,” he said.
Despite the challenges being faced by the village of Adansi Aboabo II, Watson believes they are in good hands being ruled by Manu, who is known in his village by his tribal name, Nana Ofori Paaben II.
“Being there in Ghana for his coronation – he slipped that on like a velvet glove. He was made to be a chief,” Watson said proudly.
“But when Eric came home, he was still my Eric. He’s still my good worker, and he hasn’t changed.”– Stephanie Ip writes for The Province