She is a jack of many trades: a model, TV show producer/host, actress, and entrepreneur, all at the same time. And before that; a bar operator, a farm help, and a cassava processor.
But Philomena Esinam Afi Antonio is most famous for her Solar4Girls project which is lighting up several homes in rural Ghana, one community at a time.
Throughout her rough and tough life, Afi learnt the hard way that you don’t need to have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth to be able to feed others with golden spoons; you shouldn’t necessarily own a river to be in the position to share a cup of water; and you don’t have to be rich before you can give to others.
These are lessons she learned from others including strangers who invested all that they could in her, the fruit of which is a well-rounded career woman, striving to strike an unforgettable impact on younger generations.
“Things got a bit tough after Secondary School so I had to work at a communication center to gather some money to further my education. My boss then gave me money to buy admission forms at Takoradi Polytechnic which she was supposed to be deducting from my salary but she never did,” Afi told the Revolutionary Minds Project with a wide smile of appreciation to her kind and caring former employer.
Afi has kept the lesson that this act of goodwill taught her as a key guiding principle throughout her life. So, even before her startup company, Solar People, which markets solar lightening equipment becomes a Ghana Club 100 company Afi has made giving back to society a key metric for measuring the success of her venture.
Using cuts on profit margins from ‘Solar People,’ donations by customers, and personal money from herself, friends and other team members, Afi has given free solar lamps to numerous boys and girls in a number of rural communities including Likpe Nkwanta, Sosu and Opintin in the Volta Region. This is helping children in these communities where there is no electricity study at night and be able to do their homework so they have the same opportunity as their colleagues in big cities.
“Some of them used to use kerosene lanterns which are not very healthy to the eyes and it is expensive. You have to buy kerosene all the time. But the solar lantern is very efficient. We have the sun all the time,” Afi explained.
She wants to end the specter of children’s educational activities ceasing after class because they do not have electricity at home to read books with or work on assignments, once the sun goes down. A phenomenon which is ‘all too common’ in these communities.
Why Solar 4 Girls?
“I have always wanted to do something for the less privileged so I thought so hard of what I could do and I had this idea of providing solar lamps to children in rural areas without electricity at all. Children in these areas write same exams as children in developed areas which I thought wasn’t cool, so this pushed me to embark on this project,” Afi explained to the Revolutionary Minds Project team.
“I chose the name Solar4Girls although the project is not benefitting only girls because I am passionate about girl child education and want to put more attention on girls,” she added.
For the children in these communities, Afi is a life saver. The solar lamps have become the ‘brightest stars’ in communities that for many years have looked nothing better than pitch-dark at night. They have a mentor from the city who takes time off her busy schedule to come teach them, talk with them and encourage them to aim for the skies. And they have a television personality as a good friend who they can relate to and call their sister from another mother. This is what gives Afi the inspiration to continue doing what she does.
“We later went back to some of the communities to stay the night and visited the kids in the evening to find out how the lamps are impacting in their lives. It was a nice experience spending the night with them. The joy on the faces of the kids gives me fulfillment, they are eager to learn and are always happy seeing us,” Afi noted.
The Solar4Girls Project is planning series of events in the coming months including one christened SolarChristmas to raise money to purchase and distribute more solar lanterns to children in other deprived communities. “This project is going to be a life time one until there are no villages without electricity. This is not a one man project and we will need all the help there is,” Afi said. She knows giving the children solar lanterns do not solve all their educational problems, as some of them have to walk miles to get to school in not too good looking uniforms and several other challenges. But Afi believes it is a good foundation step on which numerous other big plans can be built to secure the future of these children.
Turning the page
Afi has worked as a model for about four years now, helping market some of the country’s biggest brands. She’s been featured on the cover of the famous Classic Magazine and done photo shoots with stars like former Black Stars Captain Stephen Appiah. But her presence on that modeling stage was for a very long time an extremely unlikely move until she did it.
“I have knock knees; the Ashantis will call it ‘alanta.’ I do not have straight legs. I get people laughing at me and making fun of me. When I was a child, the kids used to laugh at me and try to walk like me,” Afi said. Persons affected by knock-knees have their knees angling in and touching one another when they stand upright.
“When I went to Takoradi Polytechnic, I was thinking of how to dress to hide my legs so I ended up wearing my daddy’s old school clothes with four pockets and big trousers and all that. I was wearing those throughout school and I earned the name old school… Some people were questioning whether I was crazy but they didn’t know I was trying to hide my legs,” she added.
After school, Afi felt the urge to prove a point that no fence was too high to climb, and no road was too slippery to successfully run on as long as one had a better tomorrow in sight. She tore down her deepest fears, trumped her strongest apprehension and took on a career that is considered a reserve for the ‘perfect girl,’ – modeling. And she is succeeding with it.
“My advice to young ones like myself is that they should believe in themselves always, put God first and help others when they can. There will always be tough times but giving up is not an option. If you give up along the way, then there was no point in even starting in the first place,” Afi said when asked by the Revolutionary Minds team for a final word of encouragement to the youth.
Hopeful, inspirational, passionate and forward-looking are just a few of the attributes that define the life and character of this young woman. Afi Antonio appears not to be just a photo/runway model but a role model to several young people across our country and the Revolutionary Minds Project wishes her well every step of the way.
This write up by journalist Joseph Opoku Gakpo with editing by Nana Aba Forson is part of a series of articles by the REVOLUTIONARY MINDS project to put the spotlight on unnoticed individuals engaged in radically, inspiring activities in their communities.
The focus of the project is to tell the stories of young persons engaged in activities they would ordinarily not be doing. Every month, the project publishes the story of one “Revolutionary Mind” on www.josephopokugakpo.wordpress.com, and this website and aggressively shares it on social media to the reach of as many people as possible. The objective of the project is to inspire all young people to do something groundbreaking in their communities.
REVOLUTIONARY MINDS…. Do something Daring