Reviewed by Kimberly Luyckx for Reader Views (10/17)
“A Silent Heritage” is an impressive story of one woman’s quest to reach out of her humble surroundings to become a global advocate for the planet’s most valuable resource, water. Letitia Obeng writes an uplifting, personal tale that stays positive despite the challenges of time and place. It is a wonderful mixture of scientific exploration, travel, family and passion for the environment. Simply put, it is a galvanizing account of living life to its fullest.
Letitia Obeng’s appreciation and reverence for the environment stems from her general sense of respect for family and education. As the first Ghanaian woman to receive a Ph.D. in Science, Ms. Obeng descends from a matrilineal inheritance whose ancestors trace back to the Anum Guans, a segment of migrators that settled near Western Africa’s Volta River in the early 1700’s. The Volta has remained crucial to her people’s survival over the years and the impetus that spurs her to research waterborne diseases.
The influence of European missionaries in her town of Anum granted Ms. Obeng the opportunity for education and exposure to the field of science. In her story, she attends one of the first co-ed colleges in the world during the period of WWII and Ghana’s drive to independence. It is during these tumultuous years that our author studies, builds her family and begins her life’s work; advocating for the environment. At the age of 34, her husband abruptly dies leaving her with three young children. Faced with a major dilemma, to pursue her graduate education or remain connected to her extended family, she stays true to her passion. This brave decision will forever alter the lives of her family and her relationship with the world.
Initially, I felt as though I were reading the history of Ghana. I was transported through time with traditions, stories and personalities that filled my imagination. It is a long (569 page) read, but necessary to establish the author’s setting, upbringing and exposure to a land threatened by waterborne disease and contamination.
There are very well written accounts of how she shares her passion with her children and the skillful ways she combines her graduate work with raising them. Throughout, the single mother remains grateful for the inspiration that her children provide along the way. Although I realize and appreciate that she is a proud mother who is thankful for each and every accomplishment, the sections that describe their achievements are a little too detailed for my interest. Yet, I find it remarkable that her dedication for family and work could be so finely meshed.
Ms. Obeng’s final chapters are some of my favorites. It is where she reflects and sums up her life’s work and what has affected her love of country and living along the way. They explain how her vast experiences have led her to observe the actions and attitudes of many cultures. Ultimately, I came away with a great appreciation for this humble stateswoman who never lost respect for humankind and the small pleasures of a life. It was amazing to me that despite all of her accolades and awards, she considers it her greatest honor to have witnessed the total eclipse of the sun.
This is a story for all concerned about the human environment, what Letitia Obeng refers to as our silent heritage. But I would also say that this is a piece that can be a specific inspiration to women. Throughout the book, the author never describes herself as “living in a man’s world.” She views her situation as “our world” and, I think, that is why she is so successful. For a woman in Letitia Obeng’s time and place to accomplish what she has in her lifetime is motivation for us all. Her book should not only be a text for students of the environment but for everyone who is interested in the preservation of humanity.
Although Letitia Obeng’s story, “A Silent Heritage,” begins in her home country of Ghana, it expands outward to encompass the globe where she experiences, first hand, the politics and fate of our world’s water system. Despite her position as a black woman working in the mid 1900s with three children to raise in Africa’s harsh environment, she manages to make tremendous contributions to generate awareness to the fragility of our most precious natural resource. Her status as a leading researcher and representative of several global organizations has given her the platform to champion our planet’s safe management and its protection for the success of future generations.