When he was a child, 28-year-old Shadrack Frimpong sold gum on the streets of Accra, Ghana, and nearly lost his life to an infection. Now, he’s a student in the Yale School of Public Health’s Advanced Professional Program, and is a recipient of the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for his work founding and operating the non-profit organization Cocoa360.
“Feels pretty crazy,” Frimpong told NPR. “Because here we have a kid who grew up in the middle of the forest in rural Ghana being compared to someone who really was the greatest of all time.”
The Muhammed Ali Humanitarian Award is given to only six people per year – people who embody the most admirable qualities of the world-famous boxer. According to the Ali Center’s website, the award is given to advocates, activists, and role models under the age of 30, who are “transforming communities and bringing about positive change in the world.”
As a little boy, Frimpong sold gum and helped his parents with their cocoa farm in a remote village. He grew up in a mud hut without electricity and running water, and his mother sold coal to make a bit of extra money.
Then, when he was 9-years-old, Frimpong contracted an infection after swimming in a river near his home. Unable to afford treatment, his parents had to use their farm as collateral to borrow money so Frimpong could go to a hospital five hours away. Not only did Frimpong nearly lose his legs, he came close to losing his life.
“I had developed boils on both legs that spread all the way up my body,” Frimpong told NPR. “The doctor looked at my legs and said to my mother, ‘No way is your son going to keep these legs.’ I remember saying if I can keep these legs, then I will use them and work to help other people.”
Frimpong’s mother begged for an antibiotic treatment that ultimately saved both Frimpong’s life and limbs.
Years later, Frimpong would attend the University of Pennsylvania and earn an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s degree in non-profit management. One of his classes was called “The Biology of Food.” In it, he learned that Ghana earns about $2 billion a year in revenue from cocoa exports, and he became angry that his parents were working so hard on the cocoa farm but had no money, no education, and no health care.
That’s when Frimpong decided to start a non-profit called Cocoa360. According to the organization’s website, Cocoa360’s mission is “driven by the understanding that education is an entry point to both improve health and elevate livelihoods.” Frimpong and his colleagues have invested cocoa farming revenue in a tuition-free all-girls school, as well as a health clinic that provides subsidized care to seven villages.
According to Yale Daily News, the all-girls school “boasts over 100 students” and “provides lessons on sexual health to help combat teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.”
The folks at the Ali Center took notice of Frimpong’s hard work and dedication.
“I have just all-around incredible gratitude for the Ali family for recognizing the work that myself and my team do,” Frimpong told Yale Daily News. “It’s always amazing when the hard work that people are doing gets recognized.”
According to Face2Face Africa, Frimpong is also the co-founder of The African Research Academies for Women Inc, “a joint effort to bridge the wide gap between male and female scientists in Africa through annual summer research internships and institutes.”
In addition, Frimpong is the founder and Board Chair for Students for A Healthy Africa, “a coalition of motivated young Africans who tackle health-related issues within their own communities.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Face2Face Africa says Frimpong has received a number of other accolades on top of the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award. They include the Queen’s Young Leader Award and the John Boyer Scholarship. Frimpong was also named one of Forbes‘ 30 Under 30.