SOUTH BEND – For eight days in June, Maurice Crum Jr. looked outside a van window and watched people walking on clay roads, and everything Crum took for granted living in the United States disappeared.
The 2 1/2 -hour drive from Accra, Ghana, to the orphanage and Ghanaian countryside he visited gave him a new appreciation of how good he has it at Notre Dame.
Where Crum went, being an inside linebacker at Notre Dame meant nothing. In Ghana, Crum was just another volunteer trying to make a difference in a country desperately needing it.
Crum was part of a pilot program called Students Bridging the Information Gap, a charity committed to creating computer labs and libraries for orphanages and schools in Ghana. There were 14 people in the group – nine from the U.S. and five from Ghana – who made the trip.
“Being able to look out the window, like you see stuff on TV but seeing it firsthand is just unbelievable,” Crum said. “Just watching that and taking it all in for what it’s worth.”
Crum became involved with SBIG because of circumstances occurring in South Bend before the program existed. When he was a freshman, Crum became friends with linebacker Abdel Banda, who was born in Ghana but grew up in New Jersey. Part of Banda’s family still lives in Ghana.
Banda, who suffered a career-ending injury before the 2006 season, secured a summer internship at the investment firm Sandler O’Neill + Partners in New York City.
The next summer, he was hired by the company.
Meanwhile, Tom Killian met with the head of the Delbarton School in New Jersey, where his son is a student. Killian said he wanted to do something to help the children of Ghana, where his brother, Richard, works. The head of Delbarton told him he should contact a Delbarton graduate who should be involved.
That former student was Banda.
Killian, an investment banker, didn’t know Banda, but they worked at the same company.
“I’m like ‘Wow,’ ” Killian said. “You can’t make that up in terms of the connection.”
The plan in place, the two needed fundraising help. Killian contacted one of his friends, Tripp Smith. Banda figured Crum would want to become involved because of things Crum did at Notre Dame, like Crum collecting his teammates’ used cleats after every season and sending them to his high school coach at Tampa Bay (Fla.) Tech for players who couldn’t afford cleats.
Crum and Terrail Lambert went to New York during spring break to help raise the $50,000 needed to pay for the computers and other necessary items. Killian’s son, Thomas, organized a book drive at Delbarton and received almost 2,000 books to build a library.
“In six months, it was really miraculous,” Banda said. “To start a charity in January and within six months meet lofty fundraising projections and be able to get IRS designation as a 501(c)(3), that was really impressive, and everything went smoothly on the other end in Ghana.
“In six months, everything fell into place. Sometime in April, Mo (Crum) expressed an interest in wanting to go on the trip, and it was very fitting since he’d been part of it from the start.”
Crum had never been out of the country, let alone a place with limited resources, dirt roads and a poverty rate of 33.4 percent in 2005.
Ghana, according to the World Bank Web site, is one of the most improved countries in Africa, but like almost every other African nation, it still needs assistance.
After a lengthy selection process, SBIG chose to help the Baptist School Complex and Orphanage, which has 105 orphans and 292 students.
Crum, Killian, Banda and the rest of the group brought 14 computers, two printers, an LCD projector and seats for 24 students. They had furniture built in Ghana for two rooms and books for a 16-seat library. The need for electricity spanned more than just the orphanage. It allowed, according to the SBIG Web site, seven communities and almost 5,000 people access to electrical power.
“The biggest thing for me is that once we opened up the computer lab, the kids were standing outside the door, just itching to get in,” Crum said. “A lot of them had never even seen a computer but once they got in and got comfortable, they were typing 12 words a minute and had never typed before.
“They just kept getting better and better and seeing that, just seeing kids that excited about education and seeing the smiles on their faces waiting to get into a library or in a computer lab to learn how to type, it’s phenomenal.”
Crum said the dedication day stands out the most from the trip. Everyone in the SBIG party wore white polo shirts with khakis. Victor Ofori Amoah, the pastor who runs the school, thanked the group endlessly.
One child from each grade dressed in traditional Ghanaian clothing and gave a thank-you speech. Ghanaian media covered the event. The SBIG group, including Crum, played soccer against the kids.
“Being out there for that ceremony,” Crum said, “It was one of the happiest days of my life.”
Crum returned to Notre Dame and the life he had grown accustomed to, trying to win games for the Irish and trying to make the NFL.
SBIG began forming goals to improve lives for as many people as possible. Killian said the goal is to remain in Ghana and find a second orphanage next summer.
They’ve also heard from other charities that want to duplicate their success. A man who collected 600 shoes wants SBIG to help find a place to donate them.
Others in Banda’s sphere want to help. Crum wants to remain involved as does Lambert, who wants to make a future trip. Banda said former Notre Dame tight end John Carlson, now a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks, and wide receiver Maurice Stovall of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expressed interest to help the charity.
“At this point, it’s our little big charity,” Banda said. “It has a very narrow focus, and we do it and do it well, and it’s manageable.”
Crum isn’t sure whether he’ll be able to make a second trip to Ghana in June. But he said he’ll remain involved with SBIG and one day wants to open up his own charity to help.
“To be able to change some young kids’ lives,” Crum said. “That’s phenomenal.”