The milestones in children’s lives – first steps, birthdays, school graduations, sports games – are moments few parents want to miss.
But the best Akwasi Koduah can hope for is catching these moments on WhatsApp during a video call. More than 5,000 miles separate Koduah from his wife and four sons, who live in Ghana.
Triplets Jessy, Melvin and Frederick turned 2 on Wednesday. John, the oldest of his children, will turn 7 on Sunday. Koduah said it’s hard for his wife, Akosua, to raise four boys on her own.
Koduah lives in Raleigh and works two full-time janitor jobs – at the WRAL television station and also UNC Rex Hospital. He sends much of the money he earns to his family for food, diapers and other living expenses.
In April, he applied for his family to get green cards, the first step in a lengthy and expensive immigration process.
“I’m missing everything, and you can’t go back (in time),” Koduah, 49, said. “It’s difficult. It’s killing me.”
To help Koduah bring his family from west Africa to the United States, Randall Kerr, an investigative producer at WRAL, launched a GoFundMe campaign last month. The two met in a break room at the station two years ago and quickly bonded over their mutual love of soccer.
It wasn’t long before Kerr learned about Koduah’s mission to bring his family to Raleigh.
It’s only in America that people are willing to do this. It’s amazing.
The online campaign, which has raised nearly $12,000, will help with airfare, legal expenses and a new house for the family.
Learning about his friend’s circumstances was eye-opening for Kerr. He was irritated about the cost of his sons’ soccer travel team expenses, while Koduah didn’t even get to see his sons play.
“I can’t imagine what he goes through,” Kerr said. “He’d never be able to save up enough. It’s such an expensive process to get here.”
When Kerr told him about the fundraising initiative, Koduah was dumbfounded.
“It’s only in America that people are willing to do this,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
In Ghana, a country of more than 27 million people, Koduah bought and sold clothes to earn money after graduating from high school. He came to the United States 20 years ago in search of work.
“If not for the poverty, I would be there with them,” he said of his family. “Everything is about money. If I can get an opportunity in America, it means a better future for us.”
Between 1992 and 2013, Ghana’s poverty rate fell from 56.5 percent to 24.2 percent, according to UNICEF, a United Nations program that provides humanitarian help in developing countries.
Oil production and development have fueled growth in the country, and in 2010 Ghana attained lower-middle income status.
But socioeconomic disparities still exist, and the gap between urban and rural areas in Ghana has increased. In the 1990s, poverty rates in rural parts of the country were twice as high as in urban centers; today, they are four times as high.
Koduah arrives at WRAL at 4:30 a.m. to clean the station. Eight hours later, he rushes back to his apartment to talk to his family before they start making dinner and getting ready for bed. The time in Ghana is four hours ahead of Raleigh.
Koduah then sometimes sleeps for an hour or two before leaving for his job at Rex, where he mops floors and empties trash cans from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
If he’s lucky, he might get two hours of shut-eye before he has to wake up and start over again.
“It’s tough for me, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to provide for my little family,” Koduah said.
Kerr helped Koduah connect with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who sent a letter in June about the family’s immigration status. Processing the initial form Koduah submitted for his wife and children takes roughly five months, and officials still need to receive background-check clearance, Tillis wrote.
So Koduah keeps going, working hard each day. He returns to Ghana once a year to visit.
“Being with your family is the best thing,” he said. “Being apart is really hard.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler
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