From Ashaiman To Maryland Via Spelling Bee

From the beginning of the competition, she was given no chance and to make matters worse, she comes from a town not associated with academic excellence or anything good for that matter – Ashaiman.

Lily Ama Tugbah, the winner of the 10th edition of the Spelling Bee competition, proved all doubters wrong when she correctly spelt the championship word, ‘Baculiform’ to emerge as the most unexpected winner of the educative, informative, exciting and most competitive competition.

After more than eight hours of gruelling competition, through seven rounds, from morning to evening, parents, guardians, colleagues, teachers, judges, organisers, dignitaries from USA, and sponsors stood up and gave Lily a standing ovation for her achievement.

“Most of the time people think because you are from Ashaiman you cannot make it this far. I am going to use myself as an example that nobody is too big or small, neither is anybody better than anybody. If you are serious and stay focused, you can make it,” she said in an interview with the B&FT after her victory.

To underscore the weight of her victory, Lily, –a JHS 1 student of Solidarity International School, Ashaiman– is following in the footsteps of Rohit Sahijwani, Vishal Thakwani and Afua Ansah, students from Delhi Public International School and Ridge Church School, all in Accra.

She receives an all-expense paid trip to the United States to represent Ghana at the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee, a GH¢10,000 scholarship from Indomie, GH¢10,000 Ecobank Junior Savers account, a trophy, Merriam Webster dictionary and a DStv decoder with free subscription.

Gabriella Ellis, 12-year-old student of the Delhi Public School International was the first runner up and 13-year-old Ewoenam Afetsi of the SOS Hermann Gmeiner was the second runner-up on the night. They will both be travelling to the MultiChoice head office in Johannesburg, South Africa and will also receive other prizes from sponsors.

Each of the 10 best spellers got iLearn tablets and each of the participating spellers received certificates of participation and some products from sponsors. The event was sponsored by Multichoice Ghana, South Africa Airways, Ecobank, and Indomine.

Born in Tema but brought up in Ashaiman, Lily’s story is that of perseverance, determination and the will to achieve what looks beyond reach.

Her journey to the top of the Spelling Bee Championship started four years ago when her English teacher in Classes 4 and 5, Naab Jude Aawulenaa, established the spelling club at the school. At the first attempt, no one from Solidarity could reach even the regional competition.

But, according to Mr. Aawulenaa, perseverance has been a key factor in reaching where the school has got too.

“When we join the Spelling Bee, the school didn’t have one speller to reach the national level but we still went to the national event to witness it and take in the atmosphere. Due to that, last year, four of my students qualified for the national competition, with Lily on board but didn’t reach the finals,” he said.

But this year, with Lily on board again, 13 spellers from Solidarity International School qualified for the national event, with Lily taking the top prize. It wasn’t surprising when she was swamped by her colleagues when she got the championship word right.

“It has been hard work, determination, and prayer. I am always firm on them because I feel sometimes you have to be firm so they will know what is at stake and work hard towards it, and now we have a national champion among us,” he said.

Now, Lily is heading to Maryland, USA, in a couple of months, to represent Ghana and is hoping to do better than last year’s representative, who reached the top 25, a first time for an African.

“I feel like I am carrying a big load on my shoulders and, at the same time, I am nervous because I am going to meet other people but I know that if I am serious and leave everything in the hands of God I can make Ghana proud,” she added.

The Spelling Bee has for the past ten years been a light-in-the-dark in an era of falling standards of education across the nation.

Organised by the Young Educators Foundation (YEF), an international NGO whose vision is to improve the lives of young people through literacy, as well as champion the course of education in Africa, the competition is transforming the lives of the children who participate in it annually.

With technology and smartphones found in the hands of everyone, these days, including teenagers, the English Language is taking a battering, with the use of phrases and words that cannot be found in any dictionary but surprisingly understood by users.

There have been reports that national examinations, including the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the West Africa Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), are recording the use of short-hands and words found only on social media.

The Spelling Bee has, therefore, become a torchbearer in the promotion of proper usage of English Language, the deepening of education, the enhancement of vocabulary and the boosting of children’s confidence. It is also instilling in students the ability to compete at the highest level.

“We strongly believe that education cannot be limited to only what is taught in the classroom; co-curricular activities must be included in the curriculum,” Eugenia Tachie-Menson, the CEO of Young Educators Foundation (YEF), said.

“For a decade, we have been at the forefront of helping to stem the tide of falling standards of the English language through literacy, as well as making a case for education being a priority.”

Lily believes she owes her rise to the top to the grace of God and the support of her family and teachers.

“The secret is studying, learning new words and taking the studies serious. I can finish a book in about two or three days. But I can’t stop thanking God and I am very grateful. My teacher was very firm on me and my team, urging me and the team to read more books whilst my mum has always helped me with words of encouragement,” she said.

To her peers from Ashaiman, Lily believes the path is now clear, adding that “I believe I have set a good pace and with seriousness they can also make it and win the Spelling Bee.”

Lily’s proud mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Tugbah, noted that the family has always known what God will do through her, adding that she has never hesitated to get Lily the books she needed.

“Last year, she didn’t do well in the vocabulary test. Even though she spelt her word correctly at the second round, she couldn’t go further but then I saw something in her and knew she could do well. I wasn’t surprised when she won.

Her teacher has been very instrumental and we give them all credit. For the books for her to read we do not hesitate to buy them,” she added.

To her mother, achieving the victory in Ghana is just a stepping stone to international successes. “We are praying that she will go to the USA and the same God who has led her up to this stage, will glorify his name. We are going to support her financially, morally and spiritually till she brings the top prize to Ghana.”

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