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BYU: Students film documentary featuring BYU-Pathway program in Ghana

By Rory Hill - Special to the Daily Herald | May 18, 2024
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Brigham Young University communications student Ethan Porter interviews BYU-Pathway Worldwide student Esther Gyamfuah outside her home in Ghana.
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BYU communications student Ethan Porter and staff mentor Melissa Gibbs interview Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Accra Ghana Temple.

On Feb. 16, four Brigham Young University journalism seniors — Sydni Merrill, Derek VanBuskirk, Ethan Porter and Joel Leighton — embarked on a 10-day trip to Africa for their media innovations capstone project: a documentary on BYU-Pathway Worldwide students.

BYU-Pathway Worldwide is an educational program created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The innovative program provides the opportunity for individuals around the globe to receive an educational certificate or degree. Currently, the program is available in more than 180 countries and conducted completely online.

The preparation for the students’ film project began months in advance, with the first meetings focused on choosing a topic. Eventually, the group decided on the BYU-Pathway Worldwide program.

“A big part of the preparation was the research,” Porter said. “We were thinking of maybe doing something stateside, but we ended up choosing BYU-Pathway Worldwide. The next step was to pick which country to focus on.”

Working with the communications director for BYU-Pathway Worldwide, the group was pointed toward countries in Africa. Further research led them to consider Ghana. Along with Mexico, Ghana was one of the first international locations in the Pathways program.

Staff mentor Melissa Gibbs recognized that, with 15 years of history in the program, Ghana must be full of rich and diverse stories. “I was like, ‘Bingo!’ That’s the reason we need to go there,” Gibbs said.

As preparations continued, what started as a learning experience quickly turned into much more for the students. “Usually when you travel to a place, like on vacation, there’s a level of disconnect between you and the day-to-day lives of the people who live there,” said VanBuskirk. “But when you travel for these documentaries, you have the chance to go to the places tourists wouldn’t go. You go to people’s houses, sit down with them, talk to them and learn about their lives.”

While in Ghana, the student team worked closely with local community members and learned about their experiences with the BYU-Pathway Worldwide program. Merrill opened up about her experience working with the people in Ghana.

“Each of us contacted a BYU-Pathway Worldwide student prior to the trip and worked with them throughout the whole process of filming and interviewing,” Merrill said. “I was so impressed with the people of Ghana, and the students that we interviewed, because they’re so resilient. Many of them started out poor. But after they started their online education, their lives were totally transformed. We expected to see a difference, but to hear their stories first hand — it changes you.”

While learning about the miraculous lives of the students in Ghana, the group experienced its own miracle when its members were given the opportunity to interview Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Our visas ended up coming in a week late, so we moved the whole trip a week later than we planned,” Porder said. “As a result, Elder Bednar and Elder (Patrick) Kearon (also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) were in Ghana and were at the temple on the same day we went to the temple. We were able to conduct an interview with Elder Bednar, who has worked closely with BYU-Pathway in the past.”

“Some of the people you meet will never have a reporter speak to them,” Leighton said. “Their stories will never be told to anyone other than their friends and family. Documentaries like this give people that opportunity to have their stories shared to a larger audience. I hope to do their story justice.”

The documentary, “Pathway to Education: Breaking Ground in Ghana,” premiered April 16 and is now available to watch on YouTube.

Rory Hill writes for the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications.


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