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Tracing your father’s steps

Tracing your father’s steps

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/Simone Golob

Lloyd Akrong inspired by Jonathan Akrong

He led by example and showed his eight children - who all went to university - how to make something of life. Yes, it was his father who inspired Canadian researcher Lloyd Akrong the most.

His father, Jonathan Akrong, born and raised in Ghana, grew up in a lower income family with eight children. He was smart, ambitious, and worked and studied at the same time, until late in the evening, by candlelight when there was no electricity available. Around the age of 20 he managed to leave Ghana with a scholarship and went to Hamburg to study to become an engineer, during the sixties. Later he found a job in Ontario, Canada, at a company that made machinery.

“One day, my sister and I as young children heard how my father picked up the phone and talked German fluently,” says Lloyd Akrong, a PhD candidate at the department of Health, Ethics and Society (FHML). “We looked at each other in bewilderment. Then he told us his story, which stimulated me and my brothers and sisters to shape our own lives and to go and study. It was not only his story, by the way, but more so seeing him work hard every day to support his family. In our choice of study, he pushed us to do what we wanted to do most, as long it wasn’t art. He didn’t consider art a real profession. Not the same way as law or medicine.”

Lloyd studied Life Sciences at the Canadian McMaster University (whose PBL system was partly copied by Maastricht University). In 2014, after being awarded a Kootstra Talent Felllowship, he started a PhD research project at the UM. This project focuses on the growing number of clinical trials conducted in non-Western countries, in particular in Ghana and Tanzania. How do the cultural customs and traditions and the indigenous belief systems shape clinical trials?

“For example, in the West doctors and trial participants are separated and are not supposed to interact with each other. But in Africa, both are sometimes part of the same community and meet each other that same week at a wedding for instance. Researchers need to reflect on that and understand the African way of doing things.”

His father passed away in 2003. “He was a serious man when it came to school, education, health, and the situation of Africa in the world. But he was also funny. He was able to use jokes to take the tension out of a situation. He was a ‘people person’, hospitable, and gave advice and money to people who needed it.”

Lloyd has decided to trace his father’s steps in Europe. “My father travelled a lot and visited places, such as Berlin. I went there last year. I plan to go to Hamburg as well and visit some old friends of my father’s. I have some old letters from their correspondence. At places where he has been, I look forward to reflecting on what he may have experienced while there.”

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