Karli McMurray didn’t intend to start a nonprofit when she traveled to Ghana in the summer of 2009.
A graduating law student at Oklahoma City University, she participated in a summer law program through New York’s Fordham University School of Law that took her to Accra, Ghana’s capital. That’s where she met Simon Adjei, and her plans changed.
“While I was working for (a judge), I was staying at a hotel in the city where I became friends with Simon,” she said. “I traveled with him to his father’s village in the northern region of Ghana and saw the situation was pretty serious.”
That village, Teacher Mante, and her friendship with Adjei became the starting point for One Love Worldwide.
“Our friendship has evolved into this organization,” she said. “The organization was built as a result of us going there.”
Back at OCU after her life-changing summer in Africa, McMurray got to work on her new organization. She began with fundraisers and an effort to get the word out to fellow OCU students and the people of her hometown in New Mexico. OCU law student Katy Jones helped with a yard sale, and McMurray raised enough funds with a bake sale to buy mosquito nets.
There, she met Bill Conger, OCU’s general counsel and a professor in the law school.
“I told her I was very moved by what she had done and how serendipitous it was,” Conger said. “She goes over for a summer law program and comes back being a true servant-leader, which is what we try to teach here.”
Conger, who had been a senior partner in a metro law firm before joining the university, offered to help set up One Love Worldwide as a nonprofit with pro-bono work through his former firm, but his relationship with McMurray has grown beyond that.
“I’ve become a mentor to Karli; we’ve worked together on this,” he said. “It’s tough being a law student. It’s tougher being a law student when you’ve been given a service like she’s given. As a person who’s been a lawyer for 40 years, when I see young people like this that are giving to their society, that’s what I think we’re all supposed to be about.”
McMurray said Conger’s help has been echoed in the many supportive OCU organizations and professors.
“OCU has definitely advocated on behalf of what I’m doing, and I’m very grateful for that,” McMurray said.
Agreed Conger, “In general, the school is very nurturing about all student projects. We have so many organizations that are doing things for the greater good and providing services, and our faculty is very supportive of it.”
With funding secured and Adjei relocated to Teacher Mante to help run One Love Worldwide from that side of the ocean, the organization got to work on its first big project: a water well.
“When I first went (to Teacher Mante), it was all about Simon wanting me to meet these orphans,” McMurray said. “He wanted to immediately build an orphanage and a school for the kids.”
But the more research she did, the more she realized the heart of the issue in the impoverished village was water.
“You don’t have clean water, your people are drinking this disgusting water, and they’re getting sick and not getting to a doctor,” she said. “We put in order of importance what we wanted to do there, and No. 1 was ‘Let’s get water.’ No. 2 was ‘Let’s get a farm, let’s get animals, let’s get you resources to allow this village to become self-sustainable.’” Last summer, One Love Worldwide drilled a well in Teacher Mante. And the well promptly stopped working.
“We had this huge ceremony to open up the water system,” McMurray said, “and about four days after I got back, Simon called to tell me the water system wasn’t working.”
So it was back to fundraising and figuring out how to get the well drilled successfully. Through a fundraiser with OCU’s Student Bar Association and donations from a friend’s family, they were ready to drill again.
In January, the organization drilled a second well and hit water at 50 feet, providing reliable, clean water to the village.
McMurray hopes that is just the beginning. Her goal is to make the village self-sustainable, and then take that same mission to other villages globally an inspiration she said she draws from World Neighbors, another local nonprofit.
“I don’t want my work to be limited to Ghana,” she said. “I feel like this is project No. 1, and that others will come about.”
Conger said he is proud of every thing McMurray has accomplished so far, especially as a student.
“I’m proud of the fact that she’s got a student body that is supporting her,” he said. “I’m excited for the future of Karli and Katy and the other people that are part of it. As a teacher, I don’t think that any teacher could ask more than to see students that are doing good works and they’re doing them not because we tell them to — it’s self-initiated. The story is so serendipitous to me. She’s going over there and ends up coming back and doing what’s so important, and that’s touching other people’s lives and solving problems.”
And, he believes McMurray can take her organization anywhere she wants.
“Her dream is not just limited to Ghana,” he said. “It starts out that way, but it can be anywhere. To me, that just excites me.”
For McMurray, although there have been setbacks, she is reminded why she started One Love Worldwide whenever she’s on the phone with Adjei.
“There are a lot of things that Simon and I don’t understand about each other, and our cultures are different, but that was just something we always said to each other: ‘This is One Love,’” she said. “When we’re on the phone, that’s the last thing we say. Yeah, this is difficult and things are rough right now, but it’s One Love, and we’re working together to try to make a difference, to come together and unite.”