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Heritage Christian College's first-ever graduates line up for a class photo on the school's campus in Accra, Ghana.
International
Photos by Erik Tryggestad

African ‘Shark Tank’


ACCRA, Ghana — Snail. It’s what’s for dinner.

No, these aren’t the dainty European escargot served as hors d’oeuvre at cocktail parties. These are massive, meaty West African snails as big as your hand, perfect for cutting into strips and mixing into soups. 

Comfort Awuah used to peddle odds and ends on the streets of Accra. Now she runs a start-up business raising snails — a Ghanaian comfort food.

Comfort Awuah used to peddle odds and ends on the streets of Accra. Now she runs a start-up business raising snails — a Ghanaian comfort food.

Comfort Awuah proudly held one up as it munched away on a banana leaf, blissfully unaware of its destiny in a pot of okra stew.

“Now you don’t have to go to the village for your snails,” Awuah yelled, struggling to be heard over the music at an outdoor small business fair sponsored by Heritage Christian College, where she and her classmate Roberta Dankwa launched A-DAN Snail & Mushroom Farm. 

The 432-student college, associated with Churches of Christ and internationally accredited, hosted the fair two days before celebrating its first class of 30 graduates. They earned degrees in information technology, business administration and theology. Each also received healthy doses of Bible, ethics and entrepreneurship.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of preacher-training schools serve the more than 1 million members of Churches of Christ spread across the massive African continent. But few congregations can support their own minister. 

The college seeks to produce church members with professional degrees who can get good-paying jobs, launch their own businesses and give support to their home churches and global evangelism.

That’s where the snails come in.

Standing before a panel of Ghanian Christian businesspeople — like the TV show “Shark Tank” but with a kinder heart — Awuah and Dankwa pitched their idea for the farm as part of a Start-Up Challenge sponsored by the college’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Philanthropy and Ethics. 

Many Ghanaians grow up in rural villages among the country’s lush forests, the students told the judges. There they find plenty of large, free-range snails. But when they move to bustling Accra, they no longer have access to the forests — or the foods of their youth.

Farm-raised snails give busy Ghanaians a taste of nostalgia, of home, the students said. 

They’re slow-moving comfort food.

The “sharks” liked what they heard and gave the students funds to launch the farm.  

At the business fair, Awuah wore a polo emblazoned with her company logo — and a broad grin — as she yelled over the music.

“Before we even graduate, we have our own business,” she said gleefully. “And now we are set up to employ other people. We do philanthropy. We give 10 percent of our income to an orphanage.”

‘The roads are bad; you want to leave’

Before she came to Heritage Christian College, Awuah scraped together a living just like thousands of other young West Africans — selling fruit, phone chargers, toilet paper and other items on the streets of Accra. 

On any given afternoon, lines of young peddlers snake their way between the cars of the stalled motorists as they inch along the capital’s streets. The sellers are everywhere, all selling the same things. 

Although Ghana, population 29 million, boasts a lower unemployment rate than many African nations, the country’s young people have difficulty finding jobs. About 14 percent of Ghanaians ages 18 to 35 are unemployed, according to estimates by the World Bank, though analysts suspect that percentage is much higher.

Seth Amofah

Seth Amofah

“The roads are bad, and you want to leave,” said Seth Amofah, a Church of Christ member who grew up in the gold-mining town of Obuasi, west of Accra, where his father was a miner. 

Amofah left home to study in the European capital of Tallinn, Estonia. He regretted contributing to the problem of “brain drain” among Africans with higher ed degrees, so he was glad for the chance to return to Ghana, where he serves as a resident scholar at Heritage Christian College.

“I’m happy to have a home to come to,” he said.

Ghana needs ‘disruptive innovators

“We need to produce a new kind of student. We need to have disruptive innovators,” said Chris Gordon, a professor at the University of Ghana, during a public lecture hosted by Heritage Christian College after the business fair. “We don’t need students who think outside the box. We need students who ask, ‘What is a box?’”

The Heritage Christian College chorus sings during the school's Second Public Lecture, themed "I Promise on my Honour," at the British Council in Accra, Ghana.

The Heritage Christian College chorus sings during the school’s Second Public Lecture, themed “I Promise on my Honour,” at the British Council in Accra, Ghana.

Gordon and Sam Okudzeto, an attorney and member of Ghana’s Council of State, spoke to a crowd of Ghanaian community leaders and church members during the lecture, held at the British Council facility in Accra. Also present were students from Heritage and Hope Christian Academy, a K-12 school associated with Churches of Christ.

“We don’t need students who think outside the box. We need students who ask, ‘What is a box?’”

Beneath a banner bearing the image of British tycoon Richard Branson that read “Entrepreneurs are GREAT,” the two speakers stressed the need for integrity, innovation and environmental stewardship in their homeland. 

Okudzeto railed against the ads he sees on Ghanaian TV — some offering quick loans and others featuring pastors who proclaim, “God doesn’t want you to be sick. God wants you to be rich.”

“Where in the Bible do you see that?” Okudzeto asked. Success doesn’t come through such schemes, he added. It is achieved through “tenacity of the mind.” 

Gordon spoke against the growing and dangerous practice of e-waste — burning old computers to get their copper components. 

That, he said, is not the kind of innovation his country needs.

The Hon. Sam Okudzeto speaks on "Faithfulness and Loyalty — Virtues That Anchor Nation Building."

The Hon. Sam Okudzeto speaks on “Faithfulness and Loyalty — Virtues That Anchor Nation Building.” At right is Heritage Christian College Provost Williams Abayaawien Atuilik.

He mentioned the demand in the U.S. for African-themed products and shared an image from Amazon.com of a graduation shawl with intricate, Ghanaian designs. Increasingly, African-American high school and college students are buying the shawls to identify with their heritage.

They’re made in China. 

“What are you creating for Ghana?” Gordon asked the attendees, urging them to seek business opportunities that will make their country better.

Don’t just do it for the money, Okudzeto added. “You cannot chase money. Money will always run faster than you.”

Sawdust becomes pig feed, human waste becomes charcoal

The day after the lecture, Heritage Christian College students were back in the shark tank for the finals of the entrepreneurship center’s latest Start-Up Challenge.

The “sharks” included Ghanaian bankers and business owners as well as church members from the U.S. with experience in financial planning and education, in town for the next day’s graduation.

In groups of two to five, the students pitched their business plans and revenue estimates. 

The competitors included:

• A salon that comes to your home, focused on natural hair styling over hair extension through weaves.

• An advertising firm that installs LCD screens in the minibuses (called “tro tros”) that transport Ghanaians across the city.

• A company that produces and delivers prepackaged salads in an effort to get Ghanaians to “eat healthy” — the company’s motto.

They faced tough questions from the judges: How will you be on time for appointments in Ghana’s unpredictable traffic? How will you keep the screens from getting stolen? How will you keep the produce fresh in the West African heat?

After the pitches, the judges compared notes and selected how to distribute the 100,000 Ghanaian cedis (about $18,000) in start-up funds. 

The biggest winner was Bos Piggery, a pig farming business, already launched by Heritage students, that uses Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO) technology to transform sawdust into pig feed, reducing costs.

At the Start-Up Challenge, students present their plan for a clothing company specializing in modern business attire influenced by traditional African designs.

At the Start-Up Challenge, students present their plan for a clothing company specializing in modern business attire influenced by traditional African designs.

The college has received international recognition for one of its business ventures. Students Evans Kwarkye, Stephen Nketsia and Austin Carboo developed a plan to deal with a pervasive (and disgusting) problem in developing nations — inadequate means for disposing of human waste. 

The students developed a business model for converting such waste into charcoal briquets that can be sold for cooking. They presented the plan at the 2018 Global Social Innovation Challenge in San Diego. More than 50 teams from 12 countries competed. “Team Charcoal” won the Audience Choice Award and the grand prize of $15,000.

‘Invest it, risk it’

After the business fair, the lectures, the Start-Up Challenge and a celebratory dinner, Heritage students donned caps and gowns to receive their diplomas.

They walked in a line past a series of tents set up on the college’s 10-acre campus, where hundreds of their relatives and friends hooted and cheered in the humid morning air.

The guest speaker, Richard Lytle, challenged the graduates to “flourish within the paradigm of Christ.”

Lytle was a longtime dean of the business college at Abilene Christian University, which in 2009 signed a memorandum of understanding with Heritage. The West Texas university, also associated with Churches of Christ, agreed to provide temporary faculty for the West African school as well as to offer scholarships to train its professors and secure internet access to its library.

Douglas Boateng, left, prays for graduates of Heritage Bible Institute, which shares a campus with Heritage Christian College. The college’s first-ever graduation also was the 19th commencement for the Bible institute, directed by Alexander Maxwell Yawson. The institute awarded 37 students — including its first-ever deaf student — degrees in Intermediate Christian Ministry.

Douglas Boateng, left, prays for graduates of Heritage Bible Institute, which shares a campus with Heritage Christian College. The college’s first-ever graduation also was the 19th commencement for the Bible institute, directed by Alexander Maxwell Yawson. The institute awarded 37 students — including its first-ever deaf student — degrees in Intermediate Christian Ministry.

Lytle, now president and chief executive officer of CEO Forum, told the students that entrepreneurship and creativity are gifts from God, the ultimate Creator.

“Create something of value,” Lytle said. “When people invest in your business, they should feel blessed.

He urged the graduates — “as Ghanaians, as Christians, as citizens of the world” — to take what God has given them and “invest it. Risk it.”

‘What God can do with the ordinary’

Heritage’s founding president, Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah, had a childhood not much different from that of the young peddlers on the streets of Accra.

Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah

Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah

By age 6, he lost both of his parents.

“I thought my world had come to an end,” he told the students and their families at the graduation. “I had to struggle so hard even to finish school. At 12 years old, I worked on cocoa farms. I had to weave baskets or cut firewood to sell to pay for my school fees. I set booby traps in the bush to get food to eat. 

“But God had plans for my future.”

His life changed when he encountered people of faith who believed in him and helped educate him. He graduated from Abilene Christian and earned a doctorate in education from Biola University in California. He served for 22 years as minister for the Nsawam Road Church of Christ and trained ministers who work in 10 countries across Africa.

“I am a living testimony of what God can do with the ordinary,” he said. He prays that the Christian entrepreneurs and innovators Heritage produces will transform his continent for the better.

That transformation may come slowly, he said, even at a snail’s pace. 

But they’ve got snails to spare.

And sharks.

Websites: hccf-usa.org, hcuc.edu.gh

Filed under: A-DAN snail and mushroom farm Accra Africa Church of Christ Comfort when the shadow falls Ghana Heritage Christian College innovators International News okra stew snail farm snails Top Stories

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