While most women can only dream of being queen for a day, cultural studies doctoral student Karen Yawa Agbemabiese has turned this dream into a reality by fulfilling her position as Queenmother in Abor, a small town located in the Volta region of Ghana.
Between classes, motherhood and fulfilling her duty as a leader, the Columbus native finds time to develop a new school in Ghana and pursue women's rights.
Agbemabiese is known as a student in Athens, but she is a leader to the people of Abor. Shuttling from Athens to Ghana every summer, Agbemabiese's leadership extends to the more than 500,000 people living in Abor. The duties of the Queenmother include advising the chief and elders on matters of development and education, and pursuing justice for women and girls. Her influence extends beyond the realm of female rights and includes leading the community during the absence of the king, whether due to illness or disaster. The position has more intangible duties, as well.
"It also requires insider knowledge of the customs and traditions of the community," Agbemabiese said. She also must "be an adviser to the king, and see to the developmental needs of the community -- as a mother would to her children."
Agbemabiese, who earned her master's degree in international studies with a specialization in African studies from Ohio University in 2007, was installed as the Queenmother on July 11, 2008, after her marriage to Padmore Agbemabiese, also known as Togbui Azaglo II, chief of Aborkutsine. With her marriage and title came a "stool name," a traditional name of reverence given to members of high-ranking tribal families in Ghana, Mama Dunenyo which means "eminent mother of the community."
Her connection to Ghana was nearly instantaneous, Agbemabiese said. When she first visited Ghana in 2005, she felt the immediate desire to help its people. Ghana, like many other nations, has limited financial resources available for education, which can be expensive for students. School costs include transportation, uniforms, supplies and living expenses for dormitories.
In response to these costs and the need they create, Agbemabiese started a foundation in memory of her parents, Norma and Charles Grooms Sr., to provide annual financial assistance to female students at Abor Senior High School. Last summer, the foundation donated 10 computers and two professional keyboards to the high school to assist their fledgling music program.
Her passion for female education has also led her to focus on nontraditional students. Agbemabiese recently chose a location in Abor to use for a vocational school for young women who have previously dropped out of school due to causes such as financial problems or teenage pregnancy. She has already obtained 12 sewing machines and hopes to open the school in the fall of 2010. Next summer she will return to Abor with 20 members of her Columbus church, Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, to begin construction.
"What I would like to see, especially in Abor, is the empowerment of women," Agbemabiese said. "I want to make sure that have equal educational opportunities. I want other girls to know that even if they drop out of school due to challenges in their lives there are still other options available."
Agbemabiese has devoted much of her life to the education of underprivileged girls. As a former girls' basketball coach, she is proud that most of her former players in Columbus have graduated from college. Agbemabiese plans to move with her husband in spring 2011 after completing her degree.
"My journeys to Ghana have helped me discover my identity," she said. "My experiences can't be numbered or quantified as my heart is overwhelmed with love and admiration for the people of Abor."