Nurturing a passion
“Is Kofi there?” called my Father.
It was somewhere in 1999. I was by then in the primary school. Such calls from my [Late] Father, especially when he sat in the corridor, basically involved two things; either he would teach me a life-lesson or he requested I helped him select a document from a bank of papers.
A night school he claimed to have attended only afforded him the ability to tell the time by his wrist-watch. However, when he called me on that day he would ‘read’ a national daily to my hearing.
In the newspaper, Opanin Mensah Solomon stood by a plantain tree that had borne three buds. It was a mystery and he was, on that day he called me, touting his achievements.
“So, who wrote this about you?” I asked.
“A pressman,” he answered, instructing me to speak to his right ear for the left [ear] was failing him.
“A Pressman? Who are those people?
“Their job is to write news in the papers.”
He had educated me and from that day I said to myself I will also be a pressman.
I started writing
In the year 2000, I had failed entry exams into the junior secondary school level at the Sacred Heart Primary & JSS in Sunyani, Brong Ahafo Region. I had not been able to convince my parents to buy me a lens so in writing the entry exams, I saw nothing written on the chalkboard as I was made to sit far away from the board. The invigilator would not heed to my cry to let me sit in front of the class.
My [Late] mother, Ama Adease, got me admission at the St James Primary & JSS, also in Sunyani, as I protested against being repeated at Sacred Heart.
In my new school, I met a teacher who rekindled my passion for journalism. The Social Studies teacher named Mr. Abebey once charged us to write as some students from Accra did in the Junior Graphic.
“Those students in Accra are not better than you. Start writing short stories and I will help you post them to the Junior Graphic for publication,” said Mr. Abebey, wearing a blue faded jeans that matched his arm-folded-long-sleeve white shirt.
When I got home the day Mr. Abebey motivated us, I ran to my Father to tell me a tale. He had a bank of Ananse stories
Days later, the teacher brought copies of the Junior Graphic to class on one Wednesday. He was super happy. The Ananse story my Father told me had been published.
“Hey keep quiet [he told the class]. This is a story Solomon wrote and it has been published,” he said showing it to the class.
That publication inspired me to write more. I wrote ‘letter to the editor’ to The Mirror and Graphic Nsεmpa [an Asante Twi newspaper the Graphic Communication Group used to publish].
Journalism at the teachers’ training college
“Hello! Good morning and welcome to the BETCO Breakfast news. My name is Solomon Mensah … ,” that was my introduction.
It was at the dining hall of the then Berekum Teachers’ Training College (BETCO). My strategy was to listen to both Joy FM and Radio Ghana’s 6am news via their affiliate stations Sky FM and Radio BAR, in Sunyani, respectively, every day. I would jolt down the news, re-write and present it at the dining hall when students had their breakfast around 9am.
The Students’ Representative Council led by one Kwasi Amankonah had subsequently made for me an ID card authorizing me as a ‘college journalist.’ I, as well, fished for stories on campus and in Berekum town to broadcast to my audience. In one of such reports, I interviewed Lord Oppong Stephen, then Berekum NDC Parliamentary aspirant, in 2007, via phone at the dining hall.
To give my news a new feel of class, I approached a very pretty lady who sat just by me in class. I had, before then, been accused of having ‘something to do with her’ but we never went beyond friendship.
Aside her beauty, Lawrencia Mintah’s voice was enough a Celine Deon’s song to the ear.
Capitalizing on the scratchy public address system at the College’s dining hall, I would give her copies of the news scripts and we read the news together.
In other breath, I wrote and pasted articles on the College’s noticeboard using the pen name ‘Otiberεkε.’ The name which means the ‘wisdom head that wears a royal crown’ earned me the status of a campus celebrity. If I would not be (mis)taken for exaggeration, at any point in time one saw students gathered at the notice board reading my articles.
Indeed, the hand-written articles with its corresponding art work drawn by a friend, Kelvin Takyi, had some lecturers reading too.
It almost became tormenting the frequent dreams I had in my sleep. In those dreams, I would see myself either holding the microphone interviewing people or shooting a scene with a camera on my shoulder while I squint-eyed.
In all these dreams, it was only Kelvin Takyi I informed and he had one response; “Take it serious and pursue your dream.”
In search of a mentor
If for any reason I will miss Radio Ghana’s news, I will in no way miss a segment on the news called “News Commentary.”
The News Commentary gives writers and social commentators the opportunity to write about issues happening in and around the country. One name was frequently mentioned on this segment.
“In News Commentary, today, Manasseh Azure Awuni, SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism argues that …,” that young man’s style of writing was unmatched. I looked for him online, sent him a mail, exchanged contacts and he has since been a great helper.
The GIJ admission
The passion for journalism was hard hitting me in all this while. But I needed to complete the college for my mother.
I applied for internship at both Space FM and Chris FM, in Sunyani and Berekum respectively. I was denied.
I consulted both a counselor and one of my brothers that I wanted to study journalism. Their answers made me buy Ghana Institute of Journalism’s admission form. When Manasseh called to tell me I had been shortlisted for a course in Diploma in Communication studies, I knew the time had come.
Coming to Accra & the hustle
I eventually had to relocate to Accra. After three months asylum with some good friends at Mamprobi, I [peacefully] parted ways to settle at Labadi to start city life on my own. Here, getting access to water, bath and toilet were a miracle.
City life was as hard as squeezing water from stone. Opposite the entrance of GIJ, was a banku seller. Together with a friend we bought banku on credit. However, I would go to the rural areas in Brong Ahafo for stories whenever I got some little amount of money.
My first television report dubbed “Disabled Man in Berekum” was aired on GTV on 30th May, 2012. I was by then in second semester, first year at GIJ. I thereafter did freelance for Adom TV, Joy News and wrote for Agoo Magazine among others.
On campus, I wrote and pasted articles using the pen name Aniwaba and as well wrote for Radio Ghana’s News Commentary.
Cutting a long story short, becoming a journalist has been one desperate journey travelled with determination. Today, the struggle seems to be over and I am proud I took a risk following my passion.
On September 17, 2016 I graduated from GIJ with a Second Class Upper in Bachelor of Arts. I have never felt fulfilled as on this day.
Whereas following one’s passion is important, we must not let money lead us. Many were my [teacher] friends who asked whether journalism paid much more than teaching. I had one answer for such folks.
That, we do not study journalism because we want to amass wealth. We study journalism because it is either an undying passion or a calling to serve humanity.
Go out there and chase your dream. Trust in God and you will emerge a success. I have trusted God that He will plant my feet on a higher rock in my chosen field. You can trust Him too.
By Solomon Mensah
The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM 92.7. Views expressed here solely remain his opinion and not that of his organization.
Email: [email protected]