When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!

Shirley West, fondly known as ‘Mama Shirley’ by everyone at Asante Africa Foundation, has decided to move to Texas to be with her family. Over the years, she has become an indispensable part of the team, and we know that this farewell is definitely not a goodbye.  She sums up her journey in this post.

“Back in 2007 all was well in my life.  All 3 of my children were grown and doing well.  Then one Saturday night in late April, everything changed. We received the call that no parent ever wants to receive.  My beautiful 36 year old daughter was dead.  How can this be??  I had just talked to her on Thursday.  It must be a dream, a very bad dream!  Once the shock wore off, the reality sat in.  Along with that reality, I lost all my energy, passion for life and found myself suffering from mild depression.  My doctor recommended medication, counselling and support groups.  I told her I would think about it.  I went home and back to my main activities since my daughter’s death- thinking about life, watching re-runs and surfing the net.

While surfing the net, I came across a new nonprofit that fascinated me. It was called Asante Africa Foundation and was started by a woman who lived about 3 miles from me.  Something kept drawing me back to this website and finally one day, I decided maybe this is what I needed to do-volunteer with Asante Africa.  Something new to help occupy my mind! I filled out the volunteer application and before I knew it, I was having coffee with the founder, Erna Grasz. She said she had the perfect job for me –Volunteer Manager.  It required a lot of the skills I already had from my volunteer job at ASSE working with international exchange students and host families. I agreed to be the volunteer manager and before long, I also found myself getting involved with the program team. That is where my passion lays–Children and Education–Teaching and Mentoring.  (The healing was beginning).


Mama Shirley with Erna

Soon Erna asked me if I wanted to go to Africa.  Africa was the last place I had ever thought of going.  But I said yes.  Much to my surprise, I found myself intrigued with the children and people I met there.  Since I was now involved with the scholarship program, I found it therapeutic to meet many of our young students and learn the customs and ways of the African people and enjoy the sites of the beautiful animals and people that live there.  

My two favorite programs are our Girls’ Advancement and Leadership Entrepreneurship Incubator (LEI).  Why?  Because they empower young people with knowledge and skills they need to be successful and take charge of their lives.  They learn to have a dream and how to work towards achieving that dream.  Girls learn how to take charge of their lives and bodies in a positive way. Both teach young people to “Pay it forward” by sharing the knowledge and skills that they have learned with other students and members of their communities. Every year, I try to attend LEI to foster and build relationships and form bounds to help mentor the students as they prepare for adulthood. It also helps me form bonds with our in-country teams.  Later this year, I plan to make my 6th trip to Africa for LEI.

Having been involved with all aspects of the organization as a volunteer and staff member, I can truly say, it is amazing that volunteers can accomplish so much!  I have learned so much about nonprofits and what it takes to run and make them successful. It is not an easy task.  I have also acquired many new skills and met many awesome people, both here and in Africa!   

With Asante Africa USA Team

As a donor, I have seen and continue to see how Asante Africa is educating children and transforming worlds, not just for our students, but also for their families and communities.  We are empowering the next generation of leaders and change agents.  I can see that my donations are being well spent and make a huge difference in young people’s lives. 

As a Board Advisor, my experience gives another view to our organization, here and in country.  I have seen the growth of Asante Africa Foundation from a mere concept to an organization that is making a difference and teaching young people skills and empowering them to initiate change in their world and beyond.

But most of all, I have learned that something good can come out of a tragedy.  So goes the saying, “When one door closes, another opens”.

As I leave the Bay area for Texas, my roles at Asante Africa will down-size, but I am not yet ready to completely leave behind the organization that helped me heal from the worst day of my life.”

Click here to support LEI match and help us reach our goal. All contributions till August 31’16 will be doubled by Social Capital Foundation.



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