Don’t be fooled by his laid back demeanor – PE teacher Ibi Oubda is as passionate about education as they come.
By day, Lower School PE teacher, but by any other time, cook, tailor, sports coach, builder… and school founder: Ibi Oubda is no ordinary educator. Since hanging up his professional football boots 15 years ago, he has barely stopped, but there is one thing that has become a driving force in his life: the Bosomtwe International School in Ghana. Or more accurately, the children in it.
“Education has become my religion,” he says. “I am absolutely committed to seeing children given the opportunity to achieve everything they can. I want them to see their own potential, to recognise their own strengths, and to have the chance to make the most of them.”
“It’s wonderful to open our own students’ eyes to a wider cultural world”
It’s a passion that led Ibi, in 2004, to create from scratch a new school for children in his home Ashanti region of Ghana, making the most of the privileges of playing football at a high level – for Kotoko in Ghana, in the German Bundesliga with Hamburg and for the national Ghanaian team at the Junior World Cup. “All my adult life I had been doing small things to give something back to my local community, but after I retired from professional football my mum told me that if I wanted to really make a difference and achieve my dream, then I had to do more.”
So, with the blessing of the local chiefs, Ibi was inspired to create a new type of school, setting up under a single canopy with just 30 children to offer a different environment to the traditionally strict and restrictive government schools. “There was no life for the kids when we started, but I wanted something different. I tried to put their interests first, to work with them to learn, rather than having learning be done to them.”
Fifteen years on, and in an established school campus that he helped to build himself, the very first group of students has just graduated. He is proud to see that the children’s standards have improved massively and there is a real eagerness to learn. “Everyone sees that the children have benefited. I remember in the early days asking one boy what he would like to be when he is older, and he told me ‘car mechanic’. I asked that boy again recently and he said ‘politician’. They have had their minds opened, and it is very humbling to see.”
While Ibi spends every holiday he can back in Ghana – as well as coordinating his local support team there from his Zurich base – he’s also overseen the growing relationship between the Bosomtwe and ZIS students, now in his role as ZIS Ghana Coordinator. Each spring, a group of Grade 8 students spend time at Bosomtwe, and there is an Upper School trip each year as part of the Classroom Without Walls initiative. The students never fail to be inspired.
“It’s wonderful to open our own students’ eyes to a wider cultural world,” says Ibi. “This project is not about ‘sponsoring’ individual children, it’s all about helping children grow, both the Bosomtwe children but also our own ZIS students. I concentrate on the ‘software’ not the ‘hardware’ – it’s not about pumping money blindly into resources the Ghanaian children don’t really need, it’s about nurturing a proper relationship between cultures and demonstrating real collaboration. That is the passion that drives me on, and I’m certainly not finished yet.”
WORDS STEVE McGRATH PHOTOGRAPHY CAMILLA GREENWELL