Reconnecting in Africa

Two former Grand Haven High School band members recently marched into each other's paths five time zones from their native land - all because of one Facebook post.
Kyle Moroney
Apr 16, 2012


Kase Knochenhauer, 22, of Grand Haven Township; and Kris Smeage, 22, of Spring Lake are separately working on humanitarian research projects in Ghana, West Africa. They are both 2008 GHHS graduates, but attend different colleges.

Knochenhauer, who is the son of Jay and Machelle Knochenhauer, has been living in Ghana since the end of December 2011. He is working with Grand Valley State University professor Dr. Paul Lane on a course that allows him to do humanitarian work in Ghana while incorporating business and entrepreneurship there. Knockenhauer works with several small-business owners in Atabadze, Ghana.

“The individuals I work with are incredibly dedicated to their craft — palm oil processing, cane furniture making, brick and cement block makers, and herbologists,” Knockenhauer said. “But sometimes they're trapped in their own way of thinking.”

Knockenhauer began learning several of the individual crafts and assisted them as an apprentice for about a week. After the training, he asked the Ghanaian craftsmen if they would be interested in learning from him, offering small steps of “incremental change” to become more efficient.

Smeage is the son of Larry and Tamara Smeage of Spring Lake. He arrived in Ghana in mid-January and is to return back to the states in August, he said.

The Baldwin-Wallace College student is studying international studies and political science at the University of Cape Coast in Cape Coast, Ghana. Before his trip to Ghana, Smeage was heavily involved in Baldwin-Wallace’s Model United Nations and Model African Union teams.

“It was for this experience, this opportunity to not only advance toward self-realization, but more importantly, to learn from a fundamentally different culture that I chose to study in Ghana,” he said.

After a recent Facebook post about Ghanaian food, Smeage and Knockenhauer discovered that while they were thousands of miles from their Michigan home, they were not that far from each other in Ghana.

Knockenhauer and Smeage have been able to spend some time catching up with each other in West Africa. They’ve camped in a tree house in the rainforest, canoed to a village on stilts in the middle of an inland lake and learned from a local Ghanaian boy how to climb coconut trees, Smeage said.

“Smeage and Knockenhauer each have a blog where they post photos and write about the Ghanaian culture, their travels and research. To follow their blogs go to:

Kase Knockenhauer:

Kris Smeage:

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.


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