When junior Andrew Addo spoke in May about his Norton Fellowship this summer, his goals were clear. The water along a beach in Prampram, Ghana, was anything but.
He had spent time there in the summer since he was in grammar school, running the beaches as a way to train for soccer as he got older. He has family in Ghana.
“Wait a second,” he thought to himself. “Why are these beaches so filled with trash?”
He talked with the local fishing community and heard about the decline in fish, which in part was attributed to the amount of plastic in the water. The fishing industry is vital to the economy of Ghana, employing 2.7 million people, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation.
Something had to be done, Andrew thought. And something was done.
Ghana generates about 840,000 tons of plastic waste per year, and only about 9.5 percent is recycled, according to an article by the World Economic Forum. By 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in the ocean if action was not taken, the article said.
Ghana has launched programs to stem the tide, and Andrew wanted to do his part. With assistance from a Norton Fellowship, Andrew organized a beach cleanup in Prampram, a coastal resort town in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana.
Norton Fellowships enable a select group of students to pursue their interests and become more engaged with their local communities over summer break. The fellowships are administered by the Norton Family Center for the Common Good. Students must apply. If chosen, they receive up to $1,000 to help them complete their project.
“We got over 100 people to show up for the cleanup and we cleared the entire beach at a resort,” Andrew wrote in a July email to Matthew Kammrath, the Keller Family Director of the Norton Family Center for the Common Good. “We ended up filling 10 50-gallon bags with plastic.”
Andrew had custom T-shirts made as an incentive for those who signed up to clean the beach. His grandmother, who lives in Ghana, obtained gloves and bags for the project. She also was able to acquire wooden sticks and the heads of rakes, “so we nailed the rake heads to the stakes to make rakes,” Andrew said in the email.
Andrew also took steps to ensure that the beach cleanup was more than a one-time effort. He put part of the funding for his project into the purchase of a grinder. The plan is to sell ground and washed plastic to a recycling company in Ghana, which Andrew visited over the summer. The money from the recycling company will help to pay the people collecting the plastic, allowing the project to be self-sustainable.
Now back on campus, Andrew reflected on the experience while sitting near the Norton Center this week. He felt a sense of satisfaction — but not contentment.
“I was very happy that I was making a contribution to the world,” Andrew said. “Up until the cleanup I hadn't felt I had done anything very significant for the community mostly because of my age. But I was able to see if you combine hard work and the lessons this wonderful school is able to teach you, you can make a broad impact on people. I was happy to see the success so far, but there is still a lot of work to be done to accelerate the project and make it more impactful.”
Seniors Katie Fullerton, Zarin Rizvi, and Isabella Delach also were Norton Fellows for 2023.
Katie’s project centered on creating an anthology of stories from women effected by the Vietnam War. Zarin taught basic coding to young people from Hartford and Windsor, with a goal to help underserved students learn basic programming language. Isabella helped distribute welcome kits for new immigrants arriving in Chicago. She also helped with English tutoring for the young children through the World Relief Organization.