LT alumnus betters Ghanaian community

Rebecca Kuntz ‘11 brings home daughter after six years volunteering work in Ghana

LT alumnus betters Ghanaian community

Pilar Valdes, Assistant Pulse Editor

Less than 24 hours after graduating from LT, Rebecca Kuntz ‘11 was on a plane to Ghana, Africa, to volunteer with Light for Children, a nonprofit organization based in Ghana that focuses on education, orphan prevention and health for children.

Throughout her tenure at LT, Kuntz was involved in LTTV as both a director and a filmmaker, advisor Bill Allan said. During her senior year, she became interested in documentary filmmaking.

At the same time, she interned at a documentary film company, What Took You So Long, which worked with Light for Children and produced documentaries about Africa. This inspired her to go to Africa herself and help in the local communities with the nonprofit, she said.

“[Kuntz] was really moved by that,” Allan said. “I think a lot of people were, but Rebecca especially. Something clicked.”

The summer before college, Kuntz spent three months in Ghana, working with Light for Children, Kuntz said. She spent the summer volunteering and working with children through the non profit.

“I was just really interested and wanted to go and see it for myself,” Kuntz said.

Kuntz returned home to begin her freshman year at Savannah College of Art and Design, but did not feel satisfied with her time at the film school, Allan said.

She decided to take another trip to Africa through Carpe Diem Education, an organization that runs gap semesters focused on volunteering, Kuntz said. She spent three months in East Africa and went to Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania and volunteered at local nonprofits.

“We would really just be the hands and feet of whatever they needed done there,” she said.

After permanently leaving SCAD, Kuntz enrolled in DePaul University and continued to work towards her degree in peace justice and conflict resolution online, she said. For the next three years, she continued to go to Africa every three to six months and stay there for months at a time volunteering at Light for Children in Ghana.

“At LT I was always involved in leadership and interested in volunteering and giving back,” Kuntz said. “I knew that my life passion was working with kids.”

While in Ghana, she saw the dire need for an education center for children, Allan said. She began to raise funds with the help of the LT community to build a multipurpose education center in Ghana.

LT’s Student Council and other community organizations adopted Kuntz’s cause and raised money to help her build an education center with a computer lab, art center and library, she said.

“She had this dream, she wanted to do this,” Allan said.  “Today, there’s a [building] in Africa that this kid built just by sheer will, generosity, relationships that she has and the generosity of other people. [Her dream] became a real thing, which is just astounding.”

After the education center was solely directed by Ghanaian staff, Kuntz began to learn about the plight of special needs children in Ghana. She decided to build a foster home to help mentally and physically challenged children in Africa—who are commonly mistreated in their homes—receive the appropriate medical care they need. According to Enliven Mama Africa, a nonprofit based in Ghana, mentally and physically disabled children in Ghana are often ostracized and viewed as cursed or possessed by the devil.

“She wanted to do more,” Allan said. “She recognized culturally that there was this group of people who were essentially abandoned.”

After moving to Ghana permanently in 2014, Kuntz decided to build a foster home for mentally and physically challenged children and develop a medical sponsorship program to get special needs children appropriate aid.

“When I would go and work in the villages, I would learn the different aspects regarding [how special needs children are treated in Africa], and I knew that I could do something,” Kuntz said. “One person can make an impact. Putting one kid into school or getting one child treated for malaria is enough to change their entire life.”

The foster home that she built, which Ghanaian staff also runs, would go into villages, and evaluate the homes of children with special needs, Kuntz said. If they were being mistreated in their homes, or were unable to be properly cared for, the foster home would take them in and give the children all the medical attention they could give.

“It’s incredibly inspiring, because a lot of kids in high school have these lofty dreams to go out and save the world and I think [Kuntz] really did,” Allan said.

During this time, Kuntz came in contact with a baby who had cerebral palsy, microcephaly, and club foot, she said. It was best for the child to be removed from her family, and Kuntz decided to personally foster Ellie Grace. After a long and complicated process with the Ghanaian government, Kuntz was able to officially adopt her.

After the adoption process, Kuntz continued to live in Ghana with her daughter, but decided to return to the United States to get Ellie the health care that she needs.

“She urgently needed medical care in the United States, but the process took about three years,” Kuntz said.

This past October, Rebecca and Ellie returned home. They are now living in Western Springs with Kuntz’s parents. The foster home and education center are still up and running in Ghana, supervised by Ghanaian staff.

“[The community] rallied around our projects to provide the best care for special needs children in Ghana,” Kuntz said. “It’s a really hard job, and everything that I’ve done would not be possible without them.”

Now living in America, Ellie is 4 years old. Shriner’s Children Hospital has taken on her case as a charity, meaning that she receives free medical care for her disabilities for her entire life, Kuntz said.

“[Ellie has] bettered my life way more than I’ve bettered hers,” Kuntz said. “She is the most resilient kid I’ve ever met. When I got her, she was 16 months old and five pounds and could fit in the palm of my hand. Everybody needs an Ellie in their life to show them how strong the human spirit is. She has overcome so much; she teaches me so much more than I could ever teach her.”

Ellie has done much more than just inspire Kuntz. Their story has been shared across various social media platforms and continues to inspire people today, Allan said.

“Sometimes, in our society it can be overwhelming with the amount of media that we’re saturated with negative things,” Allan said. “It can be overwhelming, depressing and anxiety inducing when you look at the amount of negative things that go on in the world. I think Rebecca’s story shows that you can do something. You can do a lot. She was a kid with nothing and just by sharing her passion, she achieved so much in such a short amount of time. I hope that she will be an example for people, or maybe just give them a little bit of hope in what can be a very dark world.”