Growing up in Ashaiman, becoming a Civil Engineer in Michigan, USA

Selorm Tamakloe
5 min readFeb 16, 2021

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Ezekiel Ababio completed his undergraduate studies in Civil Engineering from KNUST in 2014. In 2019, he completed a master’s degree program in the same field of study at Lawrence Technological University and started practising as a Civil Engineer in the state of Michigan.

The two sentences in the paragraph above are easy to write, but the journey behind them for Ezekiel wasn’t that smooth. With many hurdles to jump over and lots of seemingly hopeless moments, Ezekiel’s story is an inspiration for any young Ghanaian child growing up in an underprivileged community.

How was growing up for you?

I was born in Ashaiman, and as the stigma was, Ashaiman boys were considered stubborn. In some ways, it is kind of true. There wasn’t a lot of motivation in the neighbourhoods to focus on creating any significant change. That made it difficult for most children to aspire towards truly purposeful goals or dreams.

My parents would tell me to study, but there wasn’t any tangible reason to. The prevailing perception for most of us was to just get some basic level education. I couldn’t tell why I had to put in that much effort when schooling would end in just a few years. Back then, I didn’t even know exactly what tertiary education was and there were hardly any role models we could look up to. I could even count the number of people who furthered their education to the high school level.

It was when I got to Tema Senior High School that I actually started dreaming and aspiring. For the first time, I was out of my comfort zone, meeting teenagers who were talking about big and purposeful dreams that they had. I realised there was something more beyond life in the slums. Something more beyond learning a trade or dropping out of high school. I was challenged by the dreams of my classmates to forge new dreams for myself.

Was it difficult getting into university?

The journey from high school to university wasn’t easy for me. I had finally found reasons to study in high school, and those efforts to study paid off with some decent grades, but my family had so many financial issues. I was still highly motivated, so I kept pushing myself and looked for ways I could raise money by myself.

I took up a job as a teacher so I could get some money to buy my forms. I applied and got admission, but my dad asked that I defer to the next year. What they had was still not sufficient to supplement what I was able to raise. My heart was broken, but there was nothing I could do about that.

I ended up staying home for 3 years — one gap year, which was compulsory at that time, and two other years that I could have been a student in a university. I didn’t give up through it all and kept working to raise more money for my education.

Did you try to apply for some scholarships?

I knew about scholarships, but the kind of environment I grew in oftentimes makes one think that scholarships are meant only for a certain group of people so far and distant. I didn’t actively pursue any scholarship opportunity. I just prayed that someone would help me. I didn’t even know where to find the scholarships that I had conceptually heard about.

Finally, an individual was willing to help me. In some ways, that also is a scholarship, only that it was not coming through an organization like most publicized scholarships do.

How was your time at KNUST?

My time at KNUST was good. It was my first time being in Kumasi. There were so many things I had to adapt to. Having stayed home for long, I had to jumpstart my brain and get it in shape for studying as a student. I had to put in some extra effort. I blended in well over time and got to enjoy the experience. I would say I got to have great moments partly based on the kinds of friends I had.

It was helpful to have helping hands throughout the way — people who were there to show me how to navigate certain paths. I remember one time I was very down and it was time for exams and I was confused. I spoke to a colleague who was ahead of me. After that 30 minutes conversation, I was so energized to study and I even got an A in that course.

How about life after university?

I became a teaching assistant at the university for one year. Then I applied for a masters program at KNUST. I started my master's program in civil engineering structures at KNUST for a year and some months before I quit. One of my professors informed me about a masters degree opportunity at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan. It was when I got admission to that school that I moved to study in the US.

Right now I work as a project engineer for an engineering firm in Michigan. I work with anything structural ranging from steel, timber, to masonry. I do a lot of consultation as well.

What can be done to help children in communities like Ashaiman?

A child can only go as far as he/she can see. When I was in JHS, there were opportunities to attend events that were designed to provide educational exposure, but in most cases, only a few of us (maybe the brilliant students) would be selected to attend. These opportunities need to be opened up to all.

When I was young, Ashaiman wasn’t a big place as it is now. You didn’t get to see young professionals and get motivated through the exposure. I believe that the reason why some of my classmates in high school were able to challenge me to dream big was that they were in environments where they heard people speaking about the kind of goals that they ended up shaping them.

Schools in communities like Ashaiman need their students to be exposed to career pathways beyond what they see on a daily basis. These children need to hear these opportunities. Let us try to get connected with “lower-class” schools, in communities at risk. There are young kids there who are also smart. Until we do that, they will never realise their full potential.

Any final words?

If you want to do something or you have a dream to achieve something, don’t be stagnant. Do not stay at one place saying that my dream has not come true. For example, don’t close your mind because you were not able to go to university in the first year of applying. Take a course while waiting. Take up a job. Continue building up yourself.

For me, the way I got a scholarship was through doing some of these things. I would have still been at home if not for stepping out to teach and taking up some of these other jobs. Sometimes, the opportunity to do exactly what we desire to do comes through doing some other things.

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Selorm Tamakloe

principally an interviewer, consequentially a poet, and occasionally voicing opinions