For most residents of Accra, Ghana, life seemed like any other day on Nov. 11, 2011 … the people, accustomed to the hot and humid fall weather, buzzed around the sprawling city. Although, for Akwasi Ageyman-Prempeh, it was anything but normal — it was filled with excitement and hope.
As he drove down familiar roads, he knew his life was about to change. Ageyman-Prempeh was armed with a scholarship for higher education, and his thoughts were consumed by the dream of a grander life. He had earned the $10,000 scholarship to study abroad through the Jump Scholarship Program by scoring well on a math, English and science exam. It offered him a chance to travel to the United States and a start to a new and exciting life.
Boarding his flight and taking his seat, his legs bounced in anticipation of the new opportunities ahead of him. Yet, a pang of regret cut through it all; while he knew he was doing this for his newborn son, Kofi, the thought of leaving behind his family and friends left plenty of doubts.
Eight years later, he still reflects on his life-changing opportunity.
“It was a tough decision to go to the United States without my son and his mother,” said Senior Airman Akwasi Ageyman-Prempeh, 56th Force Support Squadron storeroom apprentice.
“I had that back in my mind that I had a son,” he said. “I had to be a better person so that he could look up to me, and that I would bring him here one day.”
Unfortunately, Ageyman-Prempeh’s new beginning was not an easy one.
“The scholarship dried out, so I had to find another way of living in the United States,” he said. Additionally, due to the long distance, his relationship with Kofi’s mother didn’t last.
Struggling to get by, Ageyman-Prempeh held several jobs while fighting to remain in America. During this struggle, something unexpected occurred.
While attending a party at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2013, he met a female student named Shaye. They married in the same year, and had two children: Adrienne and James. This new development added another dimension to his challenges.
“I had to think about a smarter way to go to school, but also have money for my family,” said Ageyman-Prempeh.
While researching the options, he caught a glimpse of what would be his future — the opportunity to join the Air Force.
“I thought it was a good choice. They were going to give me health insurance, education support and benefits,” said Ageyman-Prempeh. He joined the Air Force in 2017.
As an Airman, he had the resources necessary to provide support and security for his family. His dream was nearly complete.
However, he said his life would not be whole without reuniting with the son he had left in Ghana.
“My connection with my son was poor,” said Ageyman-Prempeh. “The time-difference between us was hard since we weren’t able to talk to each other as much. It was hard and it broke my heart because in my mind I thought I had to get him here, because I missed out on most of his life. I was really eager to see him again.”
Though he tried his hardest to develop a relationship, it proved to more challenging than he thought. Since 2016, when Kofi turned 5, Ageyman-Prempeh called him frequently, to ensure his son knew his voice.
“Any time we talked it felt like he was quick to get off the phone because he didn’t know who his dad was,” said Ageyman-Prempeh.
While he tried to maintain the relationship, Ageyman-Prempeh also wanted Kofi to build a relationship with Adrienne and James. Separated by thousands of miles, their only means of communication was through FaceTime calls.
Ageyman-Prempeh said the time difference and young age of his children made it difficult for the siblings to connect. Nonetheless, as time passed, their relationship grew.
As Ageyman-Prempeh’s life in the U.S. stabilized, he worked diligently on the process to reunite with his son.
“They wanted so much from me and of course he’s my son so I was going to do everything that I could. I sent paperwork, and they would tell me that it’s not enough proof, so I had to add even more documents to support it. That was the hardest part.
“The process was tedious,” said Ageyman-Prempeh. “You’d never think it would be so difficult to get your own blood son into the U.S. It was a two year process.”
While wading through the process, Ageyman-Prempeh resolve to reunite with his son solidified even more when he learned that Kofi’s mother was neglecting their son.
“My friends called me saying they saw my son unattended and the mother had gone [away],” said Ageyman-Prempeh. “My dad confirmed that she wasn’t taking good care of my son, so he had to take custody of him.”
With Kofi now in a loving and supportive environment, he could finish the process of getting his son into the United States, and that’s exactly what he did.
On March 4, 2019, with his wife and kids in tow, Ageyman-Prempeh traveled to Ghana to reunite with Kofi.
“It’s been eight years and I was ready to get my son,” said Ageyman-Prempeh. “I was thinking ‘What is he going to think about me’ because he only knew me from the phone, so I was nervous.”
No matter how prepared he thought he was, he said the sheer amount of emotions he felt when he saw Kofi again was overwhelming, but he didn’t care because he finally had his son back.
“I sat for a little bit and I thought ‘wow, it’s been a long time’, and he’s grown, he’s taller.” said Ageyman-Prempeh. “I was emotional because seeing him that big reminded me of the last time I saw him when he was so little.”
The family spent a month in Accra visiting parks, riding horses and exploring the city getting to know one another. But, Ageyman-Prempeh said he knew life in the U.S. would be challenging for Kofi, his wife and his other children.
“My wife has handled it tremendously, she’s really doing a good job and of course there are days where there isn’t a connection there,” said Ageyman-Prempeh.
Shaye did everything she could to provide a loving family for Kofi.
“I thought I did everything to prepare for Kofi’s arrival,” said Shaye. “But just like any other kid or baby once they get here, all of that is out the window and you adjust to being what they need you to be.”
Since his return to the U.S., Kofi retained some of the pain of being “abandoned.”
“Sometimes my son would ask, ‘Daddy why did you abandon me, or why didn’t you bring me to the United States when I was a baby,’” said Ageyman-Prempeh. “I had to … tell him that I didn’t want to leave him and, it wasn’t as easy to bring him to the here.”
Over time, Kofi grew to understand the incredibly hard choice his father had to make.
Even though they are burdened by the hardships they endured, Ageyman-Prempeh is grateful for the help he received.
“I’m being honest, without the Air Force I don’t think the process would have been any smoother,” he said. “I had to get citizenship to petition for my son, which I was able to receive by joining the U.S. Air Force.”
With the help of the Air Force, his family in Ghana, wife and younger children, he finally accomplished his ultimate dream.
“I sit down and I think about the whole thing and I’m like ‘wow, it was so worth it’ and I look at him and I’m I can’t believe what I had to go through just to get him,” said Ageyman-Prempeh. “I look at my life, how I envision my life and my family together, and I think it’s complete.”