BELTSVILLE – Yaa Awusi-Sarkodie is a teenage girl that has lived through a number of hardships in her life, but has used her struggles as fuel to keep moving forward.
Awusi-Sarkodie, a senior at High Point High School, lost her mother when she was just 8 years old. In May 2013, at 12, she immigrated to the United States from Ghana with her brothers to reunite with her father, who moved to America when she was just a 1-year-old.
The transition was difficult as she had to become accustomed to regional accents and overcome bullying, but she knew being in America was a “huge opportunity.” And she kept moving forward because she knew that is what her mother would have wanted.
“Everything that she does, she does to honor her mother’s memory, and anything that is short of what her memory of her mother is, it greaves her heart. She feels like she hasn’t done enough,” said Amelia Simmons, Awusi-Sarkodie’s counselor at High Point.
Simmons has known Awusi-Sarkodie since she was a freshman and her first encounter with the student was when Awusi-Sarkodie and her father came in to talk about her grades.
“They were visibly upset and I though ‘oh my goodness.’ As a counselor you think, ‘what is going on.’ And we sit down,” Simmons said. “And they said they were concerned about her grades. So I said, ‘okay let me pull them up.’ And I pull them up and she had one class where she had 90 percent. Everything else was like 98 or 100.”
Awusi-Sarkodie and her father were concerned about the 90 percent and Simmons recalls the student telling her she was upset because she was not doing her best.
“She’s very humble and she works very, very hard,” Simmons said.
That hard work accumulates into six Advanced Placement classes, honors courses, the track team, the soccer team, being a part of Liberty’s Promise, the African Student Association, Peer Forward, the National Honor Society where she serves as the academic advisor, Upward Bound and the school’s student government association where she is currently the secretary.
Outside of school she tutors three students, held an internship at the University of Maryland, and takes on major roles at her church, Agape Life Ministries. There she is in charge of organizing breakfast between services, oversees snack distribution to children, is a member of the Revive Youth Ministry and sings alto in the church choir.
In December she starts an internship with Washington Adventist Hospital.
Through it all, Awusi-Sarkodie has held straight As throughout the process as well and currently holds a 4.21 grade point average and earned honor roll distinctions, coach’s awards and a superintendent’s award.
For college, she hopes to stay nearby after being apart from her father for so long. She has her eyes set on Georgetown to study global health science. She wants to become an adolescent medical specialist who specializes in reproductive and emotional health.
The plan, she said, is to take her skills back to Ghana to help educate young girls about teen pregnancy and build hospitals that focus on health education. She wants to teach people to teach others about health.
“My mother, she didn’t have that. Basically a lack of education cost her her life. Same as my grandmother and my auntie – they didn’t know their illnesses and they passed away because of that and I really don’t want that to happen to other people,” Awusi-Sarkodie said.
Awusi-Sarkodie knows the road ahead is long for her, with at least eight more years of study, but wants to reach her goals and even has plans to join the Peace Corps. And Simmons thinks Awusi-Sarkodie will reach them all.
“I see her accomplishing beyond that. I see her not only doing that in her country, but throughout Africa, throughout the Caribbean. I just see her being a very strong change agent for her people,” Simmons said.