In 2008, Peggielene Bartels received a phone call that would change her life.
Working as a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC, Peggy was told she had been chosen King of Otuam, a fishing village of 7,000 people in Ghana, half a world away.
Born in Ghana and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Bartels had never even lived in Otuam. She had visited relatives there from time to time, but she was not prepared for the news that she had been chosen to succeed her uncle-the late king. Going back for centuries, all the kings had been men. Read More
Upon arriving for her crowning ceremony, she discovered the dire reality: there was no running water, no doctor, and no high school, and many of the village elders were stealing the town's funds. To make matters worse, her uncle (the late king) was sitting in a morgue awaiting a proper funeral in the royal palace, which was in ruins. The longer she waited to bury him, the more she risked incurring the wrath of her ancestors.
As the first female ruler of Otuam, it was clear she had her work cut out for her. She soon began to suspect that they had chosen her specifically because she lived so far away –and, as a woman, she would be weak and not able to change the legacy of corruption.
What they got instead was a headstrong, decidedly modern female king.
She set to work using funds from her own modest salary to rebuild the palace for the proper funeral. She rejuvenated her royal council to include people she trusted, and turned her attention to improving the lives of her community.
She worked to raise funds and donors to bring a water system to Otuam, where children as young as 5 years old were having to walk miles to fetch fresh water. Land fees –which had for years gone uncollected or into the wrong hands-- now go directly into an account in a rural bank they opened in her village.
The next project is to build a high school for students who have finished ninth grade.
An important part of her mission as King of Otuam is to bring empowerment to women. Peggy says, "I truly believe that the future of Africa lies in the hands of its women. Women, who nurture the children and take care of resources for the entire family, must be educated to bring these gifts to their communities. In Africa, more and more women each year are entering university, politics, and business. I hope that more women will become kings like me."
She now juggles two lives — from the palace in Otuam and from Washington, D.C., where until it recently got felled by a tree in a storm, she still drove a 1992 Honda Accord.