Article by Georgina Cammayo | Owl Staff
It was about four in the morning in Silver Spring, Maryland, when Peggielene Bartels was awakened by an overseas call from Ghana. “Congratulations!” cried the voice, “You are the new king of Otuam!” Assuming it was a prank, she almost hung up on the call that would change her life forever.
Bartels soon learned that upon her late uncle’s death, she was chosen to take over as king to her ancestral town in Africa. Days later, she accepted the role while continuing her work as a secretary in the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, D.C. In seeking to improve the lives of 7,000 people, her two worlds as an American secretary and an African king merged into one.
Never in the history of Otuam had there been a woman in charge. Bartels took on the title of king instead of queen to be taken seriously by a traditional group of elders in a male-dominated town.
In a recent visit to HCC, Bartels shared her incredible journey in the book, King Peggy, which details her struggles and triumphs as king of Otuam.
Upon agreeing to take over the royal seat in the small fishing village, King Peggy inherited the town’s problems with running water, healthcare, education, abuse of women, a run down royal palace, and a council ridden with several corrupt elders.
Determined to succeed, King Peggy strived to become an effective leader by finding a balance between modern politics and ancient traditions. She used her secretarial skills and strong personality to overturn negative notions of her rule, which eventually led to her becoming the source of hope in the impoverished town.
She kept her unwavering faith amidst the difficulties and found renewed hope with the help of generous donors who aided the town in moving forward.
Under her leadership, a bank was established in the village, corruption declined, women were empowered, boreholes were built, the royal palace was restored, healthcare and education are making progress, and other improvements are in the works.
By accepting the role of king to a poor fishing village, Bartels witnessed the transformation of a town and of herself. By restoring hope in her people, she too, found new meaning to her life. Substantiated by her personal testimony, King Peggy demonstrates the importance of fulfilling your roles in society and doing your part for the greater good.
In a brief but powerful statement, she imparted a striking message to her HCC audience: “In this world, we all have a calling. You may get yours earlier, you may get yours late. When it comes…receive it because we’re all on this earth for a reason.”