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The Otwetiri Project

An Academic from Africa Uses Soccer to Inspire Educational Improvements for Youth in West African Villages with His Nonprofit Business

Tometi Gbedema came to the U.S. in 2000 to pursue graduate studies through the UC Davis Extension Program after obtaining an MA in Translation, with French and English as his working languages, from Université du Bénin in Lomé, Togo, West Africa. Through his studies, Tometi earned an MS in Community Development followed by a Ph.D. in Geography with a specialization in tourism development, both from UC Davis. While his own academic achievements show his deep commitment to education, it was Tometi’s love of soccer that inspired The Otwetiri Project, a nonprofit he founded in 2007 to help improve the educational environment and opportunities for the children from poor villages back home in Ghana. With the support of the Davis soccer community, The Otwetiri Project has raised money to rebuild a primary school and sponsor an annual soccer tournament for village schools in rural Ghana. Tometi now has his sights set on a computer lab and information technology (IT) education for the youth of the villages in Ghana and Togo that The Otwetiri Projects supports. On the advice of MOBI partner Fifth Wave, Tometi took the Starting a Business course to learn more about the business side of his nonprofit and to help achieve the organization’s next goals.

How it got started: Soccer has been a lifelong passion of Tometi’s. He pursued a career in soccer before coming to the U.S., advancing to the semi-professional level and travelling throughout West Africa. Shortly after his arrival in the U.S., while attending graduate school at UC Davis, Tometi got involved in youth and high school soccer coaching with the Davis Youth Soccer League (DYSL), now Davis Legacy Soccer Club (DLSC), and the Davis Senior High School (DHS). His love of soccer inspired his idea to help the children of Otwetiri and other villages in Ghana and Togo through The Otwetiri Project. In the beginning the Davis soccer community supported him by collecting equipment donations that he sent to Ghana.

“Soccer brings us together,” says Tometi about the universal love of football (as it is known around the world) back home. “I created a tournament, the Davis California Challenge Cup (D3C) tournament, as a way to get children involved in school education, teach them how to work hard, be competitive, and keep them healthy and in school.

The soccer parents also helped Tometi establish The Otwetiri Project as a nonprofit organization, which allowed them to raise money as well as equipment. Thanks to the incredible support of his soccer players, their parents, and his students, The Otwetiri Project hosts a “Taste of Ghana” event and other fundraisers each year to fund projects.

Now, Tometi hopes the lessons he learned through the MOBI Starting a Business course can help him and his organization provide more services to the rural poor and needful communities they serve in West Africa.

How MOBI helped: When he founded The Otwetiri Project, Tometi was helped by a board of very dedicated soccer moms and a head coach, who helped him find resources to build the website, establish the business as a nonprofit, and start fundraising activities. In taking the MOBI Starting a Business course now, several years later, Tometi has gained a new perspective for what is needed behind the scenes to make these things possible. He learned about budgeting and planning in particular. “The My Own Business Institute course helped me to sharpen my skills in what I have been doing because I lacked some important abilities like working with partner organizations to benefit our projects and dealing with our sponsors and volunteers,” says Tometi about his experience. “It also has helped me to know how to examine and manage the finances of the business and reach out to donors for assistance.”

What’s next: Tometi recognizes the importance of teaching computer skills to children in school. In many West African villages there is no internet connectivity, or people have to walk to the top of a hill to get a connection. Otwetiri is the largest village in the area, and Tometi hopes to establish a computer lab with laptops where children can learn valuable IT skills that can foster advanced learning and career opportunities. People of all ages can come from neighboring villages to gain computer skills. His dream is to collaborate with educational institutions and partners who could visit the school to teach different information technology skills to the students.

COVID has brought many challenges both to education in the villages in Ghana and Togo where The Otwetiri Project focuses its efforts, but also to The Otwetiri Project itself. Fundraising efforts were largely through in-person events, which are not possible due to the health risks of the pandemic. Tometi remains hopeful and is eager to implement some of the financial planning and digital marketing lessons he learned through MOBI. He plans to take the Business Expansion course to learn even more. Tometi also hopes to continue teaching to support further economic and community development in West Africa and to help build support and connections for African immigrants pursuing lives and careers in the United States.

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