Student’s Nonprofit Brings Dental Care to Ghana and Beyond
Kwame Otuo-Achampong’s 'Project Dental All' born out of Rutgers’ ‘Changemaker Challenge’
Kwame Otuo-Achampong never imagined that brushing and flossing his teeth would fascinate his friends in Ghana. Then again, the Rutgers University-Newark senior never expected people in his parents’ native country would still clean their teeth with something called a chewing stick.
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Making that realization on a trip to Africa in 2009 set in motion a mission for the biology major with a minor in entrepreneurship: provide proper dental tools and the know-how to use them to the millions living without both worldwide.
“This is something I believe is my calling and my purpose,” said Otuo-Achampong, 21, whose seed for the nonprofit organization, Project Dental All, was planted when he shared a few extra toothbrushes, tubes of paste and floss with friends in Ghana. (Pictured: Kwame Otuo-Achampong with a smiling young friend in Ghana. Photo: Kwame Otuo-Achampong.)
After registering the nonprofit in 2012, it has racked up more than 3,500 likes on Facebook, established four chapters in the United States and launched projects in Africa and the Caribbean to distribute thousands of donated toothbrushes, paste and floss to hundreds of kids. In December, Otuo-Achampong, who hopes to study dentistry at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, returned to Ghana with his family and about 4,000 dental care supplies.
“As much as we had, it was not enough,” said the Lake Hopatcong resident, who had to turn away children when they ran out of toothbrushes. “It was really disappointing to see a child who now knew they needed it, but couldn’t have it.”
When Otuo-Achampong returned to Rutgers from Africa, the opportunity he’d been looking for to expand his nonprofit presented itself this spring through the university’s first Changemaker Challenge.
The contest, sponsored by Rutgers Student Life, calls on students to create something that generates positive social change on campus, in the community, or in the world. Examples include charity fundraising, recruiting volunteers or creating a new organization or nonprofit business over an eight-week period. Contestants submitted their proposals in late February and could choose a staff adviser to guide them through the process or have someone assigned.
For Otuo-Achampong, the choice was obvious: Arturo Osorio, the assistant professor in management and global business with the Rutgers Business School-New Brunswick and Newark. Osorio has been his mentor since Otuo-Achampong took his “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” course last spring.
“Kwame took every opportunity I made available to the class to advance his idea and crystallize his dream to help kids,” said Osorio. “Winning the Changemaker Challenge would show that big ideas can be dreamed and made a reality at Rutgers.”
Winning would also mean a $1,000 grant. Changemaker Challenge submissions will be judged by students, who will narrow the field to a handful of finalists through a Facebook vote between April 1 and 3. Finalists will present their plans at 8 p.m. April 7 in the Multipurpose Room of the Rutgers Student Center, where the winner will be selected.
While a $1,000 grant would greatly benefit Project Dental All, Otuo-Achampong said he is just excited about the opportunity present his plan to the Rutgers community and receive valuable feedback and, potentially, more support for his cause. “It’s putting me in a position where I have to actively arrange a very concrete and comprehensive presentation of the organization,” he said.
The contest was created to cap off the university’s second annual Changemakers Week, which ran from Feb. 10-14 and featured a series of programs designed to educate students on various ways that they can make positive social change throughout their college experience and in their future career.
Changemakers Week is the brainchild of Krista Kohlmann, assistant director for student involvement and community service initiatives for the department of Student Life and alumna Henah Parikh.
Parikh, who graduated in 2013, had a double major in communications and psychology but devoted a hefty chunk of her four years here to an unofficial third major: community service.
Through her leadership roles with the Student Volunteer Council, Alternative Breaks and Alpha Phi Omega, Parikh spent her spring breaks and many weekends, brightening the holidays for needy New Brunswick children, assisting in foster care programs, working in soup kitchens and tending to community gardens.
But Parikh’s proudest community service achievement at Rutgers was launching Changemakers Week with Kohlmann. “My passion is really to empower other people; provide students with the information, resource and inspiration to be able to have an idea and move forward with it and make it come to life,” said Parikh, who now works full-time as a community relations and volunteer program coordinator with Children’s Aid and Family Services. “It’s kind of like my one legacy I get to leave behind.”
Otuo-Achampong is striving to leave a similar impression on his peers before graduating.
“I believe everyone has the ability come up with these ideas,” he said. “They just need the encouragement to express them.”