Margaret Hunsicker: ‘After my kids fought with me about school, I needed to build one’

Margaret Hunsicker recounts emotional moment she and two sons packed up and took a plane to Africa – after 10 years of work to get there

Margaret Hunsicker, 45, is an attorney from New York who quit her job as a full-time lawyer to move to Africa, where she and her family will be building schools in Ghana. She and her husband, Jaime, have three sons: George, 13, Christopher, 11, and Wesley, 9.

In 2006, she quit her job to work with Expat Funds USA, a non-profit organisation that helps residents of developing countries withdraw funds from US financial institutions. They have been in Ghana for six years.

“On a rainy Sunday afternoon, in a church parking lot in Lagos, one week after Hurricane Katrina, I got to meet a woman who lives on the second floor of a bungalow in the Pramerica section,” Hunsicker recalled. “She told me about the organization that helped her clear out her home and her belongings after the storm. She was scared – she thought her place was going to collapse. The experienced people they’d connected her with were able to offer her many things, but most importantly they connected her with the information and contacts she needed to get the rest of her things in order.”

But many times this woman was alone. Hunsicker decided it was important to connect other Ghanaians with each other, so she took a friend’s advice to start volunteering with Internews Ghana, an international organisation that aims to “accelerate and enable programmes and projects for local communities and create a national level strategy and programme” in Ghana.

“We originally had a plan to meet with people, answer questions and find small businesses that did good in their communities,” she explained. “But now, after so many years, we realised there were many issues that our donors and their representatives needed to get to the community.”

Her approach to helping Ghanaians: meet with local community leaders, deliver financial education and raise funds.

“I’m an attorney – I make my money fighting issues,” she said. “If a bank or a charity calls me up and says, ‘Let’s hold a meeting and give you our financial information,’ then that’s a good idea to do.”

Hunsicker changed careers and went to graduate school for accounting to earn her JD at New York University.

“Afterward, I was one of very few graduates of NYU’s legal education program who went into something that wasn’t law,” she said.

This past June, she and her family packed up their life in New York, sold everything, and left for Ghana.

“It was the hardest decision that we’ve ever made,” Hunsicker said. “I didn’t want to leave my friends and my family and the career that I’d worked hard to build – but we felt like we had to make this change for our children.”

Before they left, she asked her three sons what they wanted to do.

“George asked if we could take a cruise because he was going to go to Florida,” she said. “My youngest, Wesley, wasn’t much happier – he wanted to go play football. Christopher had an idea. He wanted to build schools. He asked his father if he could go down to Ghana to learn building, sanitation and teaching principles to our children.”

Soon after they boarded their plane, the family joined a school tour of Bristol

School of Ghana, a newly formed NGO.

“The boys saw their plans in front of them: the buildings – already being built – were clearly out of order,” Hunsicker said. “But it was so empowering to them to see. They worked with engineers and architects, started looking for materials, got physical plans. Now the boys are planning their own.

“The school has only been operating for about six weeks. The director of the school hasn’t been paid yet. But the boys were very excited to show us the progress they’d made – even though it was a big mess. They saw the faces of the children as they started to move books, desks and other educational supplies into the school.

“From the moment they started talking about their vision for the school, they were ready to start building.”

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