CEO/Founder Princess Naa Asie Ocansey
Each One Reach One Teach One
God is truly amazing! I never ever thought I would be working to fight HIV/AIDS! It is with humility and embarrassment that I tell you my story.
As a trained Engineer, my personal vision was to return home to Africa, to my little rural village, Ada, and bring my people into the Computer Age. I did not want to hear or know about HIV/AIDS – that was the business of doctors.
In January 2000, I was in the USA at the invitation of Johnson and Johnson to discuss possible product endorsement for them. They had previously assisted us with the donation of several computers for the start up of the Neko Tech Center. It was during this visit that I met Steven Seagal at the World Literacy Crusade event in California. He asked me what I was doing about HIV/AIDS. I answered, “That is not my area”. I walked away.
About a month later, I had a dream. I went into a casino and many people were gambling. I walked out. As I was going, someone called my name and said: “Princess, where are you going?”
“I am going home,” I replied.
“Why,” he asked.
“Because I don’t gamble,” I said.
“Turn around and look behind you,” he said.
When I turned a saw millions and millions of people standing behind me, I became frightened.
“All these people are going to die because you refuse to speak to HIV/AIDS!” He said in anger pointing to the people behind me. I was overcome with fear.
I said, “Me? how, why?”
He continued saying: “You know people, you have influence, you can help these people
yet you refuse to speak about HIV/AIDS, so all these people are going to die!”
Then he held up a queen of hearts playing card, and he said: “By the way, you say you don’t gamble….well, you are gambling with these people’s lives!
Then he said very loudly pointing his finger sternly at me: “Stop gambling with their lives! Stop gambling with their lives! Stop gambling with their lives!” The last one jolted me out of my sleep…then I realized I was dreaming. But it felt so real! The room felt heavy and it was 3:00 am.
That same day just around 5pm, I received a fax from Johnson and Johnson’s subsidiary, Ortho McNeil Pharmaceutical, that they would like to sponsor me to the National Medical Association conference in August 2000 to speak about, guess what? “Women and AIDS in Ghana!”
I just could not believe my eyes! We never discussed HIV/AIDS during the meeting a few weeks earlier. There seems to be no way out. A calling had been made and Providence was put in place. How could I back out. I had one major limitation. I did not know ANYTHING about HIV/AIDS. I did not even know the difference between HIV and AIDS (and honestly, did not want to know). I am ashamed today to say, I was the classic conservative ostrich! But now, it was time to answer to His call or face being swallowed by a whale like Jonah in the Bible.
I came back to Ghana and went to see Dr. Deborah Cubagee, our family doctor and shared my story with her. Luckily, the very next day, she was giving a presentation about HIV/AIDS at our local Presbyterian Church at the center of the earth, located on the Greenwich Meridian (longitude zero degrees). This is where I was first baptized, but because my Mother, our family church leader is Methodist, we grew up in the Methodist Church. As I entered the church, a strange feeling went through my stomach. My ignorance on HIV/AIDS was about to end. I was actually starting my journey on my calling.
Dr. Cubagee gave a very thorough presentation to the entire church and I was moved to speak. There was no turning back after this. I got on my knees and asked God to forgive my ignorance. I read all I could about HIV/AIDS. I went into my village to visit people living with AIDS. My heart went out especially to the children living with HIV/AIDS.
It broke my heart to see Baby Steven, our first AIDS baby die. I spent days in the hospital with Prosper our oldest child living with AIDS. I held Prosper as he died and it changed my being. In spite of his suffering and pain, Prosper wanted to live, he fought hard to stay alive. It made me make a new commitment to children living with HIV/AIDS…..It is humanly wrong for us as the human race to allow HIV to be passed on to our babies. The suffering and pain is too much for their young lives and we must fight with all we have for this to stop, now!
I was blessed with the company of my friend, Mrs. Maame Hajar and her children, who accompanied me to the US. The night before my presentation, suddenly I felt very insecure to face these “big”doctors and talk about the little I knew about HIV/AIDS.
I rewrote my speech from 9pm to 7:30 am. Each time, I would throw the speech away.
The presentation was at 8:15 am. I arrived at 8:20 am. In my entire life, till this day, I have never been as nervous as I was that day!
So, I was announced and brought to the podium. I started to read my speech. My hands were shaking. I just could not take it anymore. I threw my speech down and walked from behind the podium to the front of the stage. The entire room was quite.
“I am very nervous”, I announced to the room full of medical doctors. “I must admit to you I did not want to come here, I am not a doctor. I am only here because God sent me to you. At this time I am going to trust Him to speak to you through me. My people are dying of HIV/AIDS. More than ever we need you. We need doctors to come and help us fight HIV/AIDS. This is an urgent call to a mass action against HIV/AIDS. I was overcome by a spirit and I really can not remember all that I said. In summary, I invited the doctors to come and they heeded to the call. Over 100 doctors signed up to come to Ghana to help us fight.
Then an interesting twist occurred. Earlier on before I left to go to the USA, Isaac Hayes (Nene Katey Ocansey I), was in Ghana for the opening of the NekoTech Center which we co-founded in 1998 with dedicated assistance of Rev. Alfreddie Johnson of the World Literacy Crusade and his Board Members. Patrick Hines, a member of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) was also visiting Ghana when he saw us and wanted to get an autograph for his mom. We were impressed with Patrick and invited him to visit NekoTech and we discussed our humanitarian work.
At the NMA conference was Nia Banks, Chairperson of the SNMA board for the year 2000, whom Patrick had told about our work. She heard me speak and wrote down her name to join the fight. The SNMA, run with the project, fully embraced Save a Million Lives and became our partner for five years 2000-2005.
I addressed the SNMA conference in April 2001. In June 2001 the first Save a Million Lives Mission was held. The plan was for a two year project. The founding SNMA members of Save a Million Lives were Patrick Hines, Aima Ahonkia, and Nadine Jackson.
They dedicated themselves to coordinating and designing a world class model together with the Ghana Health Service in Ada and our Neko Tech Community Advisory Board. Dr Yabani, the District Director for Health was a formidable leader and the project was conducted in 12 villages even to the most underserved, our Islands in the Volta River, Pediatorkope. USA medical doctors and students got into local river taxis and rowed to the Islands, through rain and shine.
The most exciting part of the project was when we finally got the wisdom that “invitations to HIV/AIDS seminars do not work in rural Ghana.” Our most successful draw to be able to get the message to the people is through Bike races. When we announced the bike race, and provided bikes( thanks to J&J of the USA) for the race, EVERYONE came out. We were modestly expecting 50 we had over 1000 people at Neko Tech! We had them, and the war against HIV began. By the time the USA doctors arrived, our people were ready to embrace them and join the war with vigor!
The Save a Million Lives HIV/AIDS project started out in June 2001 with 5 components:
- Counseling – Counseling Training and Family Counseling
- Community Health Education – HIV/AIDS Ambassadors (Peer Education)
- Monitoring, Evaluation and Action Team
- Major Community Events – Debates, Church Service, Bike races,
In the 2002, from our studies it became necessary to add an orphan support and care project bringing the project to 6 components.
In 2005, we added GRANDMOTHERS to our orphan support and care projects. Grandmothers are the silently burdened victims in the war against AIDS. Many grandmothers in rural Ghana are suffering the double agony of having lost their children, and becoming burdened at a late age, when their earning capacity has dwindled, to care for their grandchildren.
Also in 2005, Otumfo Steven Seagal and I focused on Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT). We are committed to mobilizing all global forces to fight MTCT.
The mission of 2001 brought 40 medical doctors and students from the SNMA and NMA. Over 100 medical doctors and students from the USA have participated in SaML over the 5 year period with participation of over 21 universities and medical centers throughout the USA
After 5 years, the Save a Million Lives project was rolled out nationally as the model.
Rural grassroots projects in Ada, Accra, Tema and Cape Coast. Several community NGOs participated from 6 regions are now certified to start SAML in their communities.
Fees for a 1000 Feet Program – 759 orphans are enrolled in our school fees program. These are both for orphans and needy children.
Shoes for a 1000 Feet – Every child was provided with a shoe so that they would not walk in the hot sands to injure their delicate soles of their feet.
Save a Million Lives is being started in the UK as a fundraising vehicle to build an orphanage in Ghana for the NekoTech Orphans.
Over 10,000 people have received free medical care, services and medications.
Over 30 nurses have been trained as counselors and Community Health Educators.
Over 150 HIV/AIDS Ambassadors have been trained with a new group of 30 children ages 10-15 years.
Stigma has been broken in many communities about HIV/AIDS as people have become more aware about HIV/AIDS transmission modes through national broadcasts of NekoTech’s Documentaries and programs on radio, TV and Print media.