African-American Businessman Funds Girls School in Ghana and Makes a Difference

Felder stands with graduate Mary Sassa,  Credit: Gwendolyn Glenn WYPR

Felder stands with graduate Mary Sassa,
Credit: Gwendolyn Glenn WYPR

Don Felder, a wealthy New Jersey African-American businessman, has paid to build and equip schools in rural areas of Ghana.

He’s given some students scholarships to attend those schools and funded water and other projects throughout the West African country. Much of that work has gone unnoticed by the general public, but his generosity has had a significant impact on the lives of those he’s helped.

There’s Mary Sassa, a tall, soft-spoken woman, who’s about to complete a master’s degree in human resources next July. Sassa, 28, grew up in the remote town of Obodan, where getting a high school diploma was an unusual accomplishment for a girl, let alone an advanced degree. “I’ve not seen any girl who has achieved where I am now. None have graduated from college,” Sassa said. “Some of them are willing to climb higher, but the money is a problem.”

In Obodan, surrounded by lush mountains and abundant pineapple farms, there was no high school for girls until Felder came along in 2001. At that time, many families, whose incomes were barely a few thousand dollars a year, sent their sons away to school. Their daughters stayed home and helped on the farms.

Felder, the founder of a successful international telecommunications company in New Jersey, contributed about $30,000 to assist Obodan officials in building the Diaspora Girls’ Senior High School, a private boarding school. Sassa was in that first class of students.

Felder and his wife, Denise, met Sassa, the youngest of six children, shortly after she graduated from junior high school. “We met Mary and were just impressed with her drive and ambition to have an education,” Felder said.

Sassa had been offered scholarships to attend high schools in other cities, but had to turn them down because she had no place to stay. Her life growing up in Obodan was hard and she had always seen education as the key to lifting her family out of the poverty that held them all back. “My dad married three wives. He had two rooms for my mom. All of us were using one room and one room was for my mom. My dad died when I was three months or so. My mom was there but she was not all that strong.”

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