Saturday, December 29, 2007

Issues Affecting African Children #2 Followup

Sorry it's been so long; what with Christmas, illness, and the like, I haven't had time to sit down and blog. And now that I do, I find I've a post to write that is not an easy one.

When I was in Ghana, I went to a performance of a dance/drumming troup called African Footprint (a really amazing organization!). They did a musical play that, at first, I found a bit shocking. It was very funny at parts, which I found to be almost outrageous due to the subject matter-- HIV/AIDS. It was about a young girl who's father spent all the money for her school fees to get drunk, and she had to go out selling water to pay for her fees. While out, she was gang raped and contracted HIV. At first, the people of her village shunned her and her family. However, the doctor treating the girl taught the people about the disease, and eventually succeeded in bringing awareness as well as unity to his village.

I was slightly appalled at the humorous approach. Such a serious matter, that surely was being played out in real life at that very moment all across the continent, and it was being treated so lightly! Slowly, however, I came to realize that this was a form of radical outreach. Addison Square Garden, the venue of the performance, was packed that night. The dancers had come up with a way to teach people, using their own traditional types of dancing and storytelling, about HIV/AIDS.

The fact that the victim in this case was a young girl is heartbreaking, though sadly common. Just as with this fictional girl, many others contract the disease daily as they desperately attempt to survive. Often, they have already lost both parents to AIDS, and are heading their own households. Some of them, and their siblings, may already have the disease-- spread to them by their unsuspecting parents.

This, of course, was the focus of the article from Namibia. I was very impressed, when I read this article, with the brave and resourceful people who planned it and carried it out. Those children now have a chance at their lives-- whatever they may be. They may end up orphans themselves, maybe eventually raising their siblings. So might it not be more prudent to focus on treating the mothers with ARV's? Or focusing on awareness campaigns or research? Maybe. But a few resourceful people spent the last little while bringing hope and life to a few precious children. African Footprint is working on awareness in their area. Doctors around the world are researching. Bono's (RED) is raising money. ARV’s are being distributed for free in various clinics. Some are small projects, some are much larger, but all are doing their part to help in one of the world’s largest epidemics. And to each person helped, to each life prolonged, a difference is made.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Issues Affecting African Children #2- Namibian Babies and HIV/AIDS

This week, I came across an article about a Namibian project that attempted to stop the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child. Women were given a breast milk supplement to feed to their new babies, since breast milk is one of the most common ways for the disease to transfer to children. Out of 152 babies born to HIV positive mothers, only 8 tested positive for the disease at the end of 12 months.

We hear a great deal about children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS, and this is certainly a discussion for another post. Yet, more and more children are not only orphaned by the disease, they carry it as well. This project, which sadly has come to an end, may be a start to help reduce those numbers. Is it worth it to spend the money on formula so children are not infected, or is this even an avenue to pursue? Should more focus be given to Anti-Retroviral Treatments, research, or HIV/AIDS prevention? If you can, read the article and post your thoughts on these questions or the article in general.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Letters from Ghana-- The Orphans Speak

I have received a few letters, as I'm sure many of the volunteers have, over the last few years from the children at New Life International. I have transcribed a few below to show the children's personalities, and especially the love they hold for so many people.

"Dear my lovely Shally,

I am very happy to write you this letter. How are you? I hope you are fine by the grace of God almighty. Shally I am very happy you write us letter. Shally I pray for you every day. I am 12 years old and I am in class six. My favorite food is rice and chicken and my favorite colours are red, yellow, green, black, purple, and orange. My favorite game is ampa. My friend's names are Dora, Grace, Mary, Pernal, John, and Small Elizabeth. I was born on 3rd August 1996 that is my birth day. Please I want to write a song for you.

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

in the believers ear's. It soothes his sorrow

heals wounds and drives away his fear.

This is all I have for you. I love you very much.

Your Friend,

Elizabeth Mensah"

Elizabeth mends a hole in her school jumper.

"My Lovely Shalee,

I am very glad to write you this letter how are you I hope you are fine by the grace of God Almighty. I have miss you so much. I hope you are come back. Thank you very much for your letter it was very grateful. Did you have wonderful wedding on 7th May...I love you so much. Thank you for teach us song Christ Jesus Help Me! May God bless you and your family everything is going fine...God is your havenly father, he loves you and care about you to have faith in him and pray to him any time any where, he hope you will keep the coment [commandments] of Jesus Christ. He has given you the gift of the holy ghost. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

Love love love from Belinda. Good lot of love. bye."

Belinda sneaks a snack of kube-- coconut.

These children have very little, but they have love unending-- especially for the Lord.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Issues # 1 Followup-- Chadian Children

I was hoping for a comment or two before I posted my thoughts, but maybe this will promote a few. :)

This is a difficult issue for many; I've read different reactions from different blogs over the last week or so. A lot of comments come around to the idea of international adoption. In and of itself, I think the situation with Zoe's Ark was completely unacceptable. I see the point that these children are in danger-- just this week, I read They Poured Fire on us From the Sky, a moving account by three of the Sudanese "Lost Boys" who survived genocide similar to that in Darfur right now. The stark reality of the situation portrayed in the book is beyond horrifying. No child, no human being, should have to endure such things-- indeed, I marveled at how many were able to. It made me realize more than ever that action must be taken, especially in regions like Darfur, Uganda, and the Congo where war is tearing lives apart. This action, however, must involve the people it affects. An army of UN soldiers can go in and help, sure. But things will not change unless the people themselves are given the opportunity and the power to change their own world.

For this reason, I cannot condone the actions of Zoe's Ark. To go in and effectually kidnap children-- many of them Chadian children with families-- to send them to a "better place" is not going to change anything. Of course, here my heart tears as I think of the children who are killed, and scarred, and maimed, and I can see how these French volunteers might have come by this idea. But snatching children from their families and shipping them in droves to a foreign country, language, and culture is never right! True change for the children and adults who remain will never take place with this approach.

That being said, let it be known that I am not opposed to legal, ethical adoption. I understand the qualms some people have about removing children from their home land; I lived in the homeland of some of these children, and came to love it. I hope most of the children there can grow to be functional, happy adults who can contribute to the betterment of their own society. They truly are the future of their land. However, I have a firm belief that children should be in a family if at all possible. Even in a place where extended family ties are strong, the enormity of the orphan crisis is overpowering many. If a few of these children can be given families, even outside their own nation, I believe it is a worthy cause.

So, there's a few thoughts for you. For even more thoughts, check out my buddy-by-blog's recent entries one and two. Anita's family was built by international adoption, and she has some interesting thoughts. If you care to add your two cents, please do-- but keep it kind, please!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Issues Affecting African Children #1: Trafficking Children-- or Protecting Them?

A scandle has erupted in Chad, central Africa, over the past week. Members of a French charity called L'Arche de Zoe (Zoe's Ark) have been arrested on charges of child trafficking. Reportedly, they took nearly 100 children from the Chad/Sudan border, dressed them to look injured, and attempted to smuggle them to France, where numerous families waited to take them in. These families had paid several thousand dollars to Zoe's Ark, though most have claimed they were to be hosts, not adoptive parents. Not only were the children all in relatively good health, but many of them were not actually orphans. The children never left the country, and efforts are being made to reunite them with their families. The arrested charity members claim they were saving the children's lives by taking them away from a potentially volatile situation near Sudan. (For more information, click here.)

The question I'd like to ask is this: was this simply a case of greed and child trafficking-- or an attempt at mercy? These children were stolen away from their families, the charity members even (according to BBC's Africa Today podcast) lying to the parents to get the children. Families in France paid large sums of money, essentially adopting these children illegaly. And yet, the people under arrest claim they were doing everything they could to save these children from a possible violent, painful death. On the border between Chad and Sudan, these likelihood must be realized.

So, all you blog lurkers out there, I'm asking you to make yourselves finally known. What do you think: trafficking or protection? Any thoughts on this issue are welcome, as long as no one attacks anyone else. I'll post my own thoughts in a few days, after a few of you have posted responses. This is an issue that comes up across Africa, not just in Chad. Let's try for an intelligent, thoughtful dialogue on this issue.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sankofa Mbofra Fie

Sorry, it's been a while since I posted! I've been very busy getting the volunteer groups together, and working out all the details. But now, I've got a minute, so I thought I'd post about one of the orphanages we're going to be helping. They are called Sankofa Mbofra Fie (Return to your Roots Children's Home), and they are located in Eguafo, near El Mina and Cape Coast. It's a fairly new orphanage, within the last few years. Here's what their Facebook page says about them:
"Sankofa Mbofra Fie is a children's home established in 2006 by David Kwesi Acquah and Helen Martin. Located in rural Ghana the organisation provides free education, meals and shelter to 200-250 children whose families may have otherwise no other option but to turn them out onto the streets. It is also hoped that Sankofa Mbofra Fie can also function as an agent of social change in the village promoting women's and children's rights. Here goes!"

Both Helen and David are wonderful, caring people, and we're excited to be working with them next year! I'll give some updates on our projects after our first volunteer orientation tonight! Here's some pictures, too!

From the top: SMF children getting lunch. The nursery class meets in a church building. Class in session in the bamboo school house. The bamboo school David built in Eguafo when the church got too small; this is now also too small. An SMF student enjoys school.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Missing Them-- A Volunteer's Perspective

One of the difficult things about being a volunteer is that, eventually, you have to come home.

It's been over two years since I've returned from my 4 months in Ghana. My life has gone on; I've graduated from college, gotten married, and have a steady job. My life is good, and I love it. And yet, the part of my heart that will always belong to my children still beats a little more painfully than the rest. Some days, it's so painful that the rest of my heart feels it too.

My husband came home from work one day to find me sitting quietly on the couch. For some reason, that day was a missing day. I can never tell when those days will come, or why, but they do come. He sat down and asked me if something was wrong, and I began to cry. He thought something had happened until I explained why I was crying. I missed them. I missed them so much that it felt like my heart was seizing.

Strangely, I even miss the ones I never knew, I think just for the fact that I never knew them. I receive pictures from other volunteers who have recently returned, and I don't recognize many of the New Life crew anymore. The ones I do recognize have changed. Adjoa has gotten so tall. Benjie is speaking English like a pro. They are growing and changing, and I miss being there for that.

As a volunteer, you give and serve and sacrifice for the children until you have given them everything that is in you. In return, they give you their love. You feel like they have become yours, like you are the mother of 50-odd children. And you know that dozens of other volunteers feel the same way, and that really, you were only there for so short a time and sometimes feel like you've done so little. Yet you still miss them; the mother you've become regardless of how many others came or how little time you spent cries out to hold your children.

Sometimes you get letters that tell you they still remember you, that they still sing the songs you taught, and you are happy. And it only makes you miss them more. I would never give up the feeling of missing them. If I didn't miss them, it means I didn't love them, and if I never loved them, my heart would never know what that love feels like. And that thought hurts more than missing them ever could.
Comfort, Small Elizabeth (Adjoa), Shallee, and Elizabeth

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Volunteer at an Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa!

I am very excited to announce that next summer, Families for Children International, who has partnered with New Life International Orphanage in the past, is sending two volunteer groups to Ghana! If you would like to volunteer abroad, volunteer where you are, or donate, please visit and follow the directions on the main page.

Volunteers will be volunteering at Families for Children's new orphanage/school, Sankofa Mbofra Fie Orphanage, and possibly New Life International! Please note that this is not sponsored by NLI, but will hopefully do much to help the children there and at the other orphanages.

This is an incredible opportunity to do what you can to help children in need. Even if you can't volunteer abroad, we will gladly accept any and all offers to help, or donations toward the projects we will be doing while abroad. Until then, I'll leave you with this video of my own host family, as a taste of the experience you could have!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Love you Forever

I dream about Ghana fairly frequently. Usually, I dream about going back, like last night. Sometimes it's a good
Michael, appx. age 12/13, summer 2006
dream, and sometimes a bad one. Last night, I dreamed about my Michael, but despite that, it was not a good dream.

Like most of the volunteers, I came back calling the kids "my kids." After loving them so much, I couldn't help but feel they were a part of me enough to call them mine. But more than any other, Michael is my Michael. He was only 10 when I was there, and at the time, he didn't live at the orphanage. He lived with his mother and came to school at the orphanage. I never really knew him until the day he began throwing up at school. He asked for a cup of water, which he used to pour over his feverish head, then promptly proceeded to shiver uncontrollably. With help from a local villager named Patrick, I took Michael home. Michael was so ill, Patrick had to carry him on his back most of the way. I swallowed as I ran through the symptoms of malaria in my head.

I had heard stories from others about poverty, and even seen bits of it my self up to this point in Ghana. But Michael lived in poverty; to him, it wasn't a word spoken with disgust on the tongues of those who may or may not understand it. It wasn't poverty for Michael, it was life. I stared mutely around the mud shack, barely as big as my bedroom, glancing up at the sky through the bamboo roof. There was no furniture but a low stool. Patrick to laid Michael down on the concrete floor in the half of the room shielded by hanging clothes: the bedroom. Michael's mother, Grace, didn't speak much English, nor did her brother, who had helped take care of the family since Michael's father had died. Patrick was my translator, as I explained how he had gotten sick and gave them clean water. Then, I took a deep breath and asked if I could pray for Michael.

He was roused to sit on the one stool, looking ready to fall over as soon as he sat. I began to pray as Michael's small family stood over me. As I prayed for Michael to get well, listening to the gently murmured "amens" coming from his mother and uncle, I suddenly felt the greatest outpouring of love I had ever felt for this small boy. It was as though I was feeling God's love for him, and I knew that, whatever happened, everything would be alright.

When I returned to check on him the next day, I saw the first miracle of my life: Michael's beaming face as he peered outside, then ran to give me a hug. From that day, I loved Michael as deeply as though he truly were mine. We played together, read Love you Forever together, and loved each other. I helped his family buy food, and gave them money to start a small business selling banku. But then I had to leave.

Michael (far right) with his mother, uncle, and cousins.

As I stood crying the day at the tro-tro stop on my last day, Michael held my hand and cried too. The tro-tro came, and I knelt to hug my Michael.

"I love you," I whispered.

"Forever," he whispered back.

Since that day, I have had a constant subtle ache in my heart that reminds me to pray for my Michael daily. Not too long ago, I received a letter from him through another volunteer, asking me to help his mother build a house. Having just married and needing to get my husband through school, I had no money to send, and my heart broke trying to explain to Michael through a letter that I could not build a house for his family then.

And so, the source of my dream. In it, I was playing with some of the children when I saw Michael. Bitterly, he upbraided me for forgetting him, for not helping him. In his voice I heard anger, and his sweet face looked full of hate and loss. I woke up and wanted to cry, and have not been able to stop thinking about it all day.

There has to be a way to help my Michael. God made a way for him to be healed. God can make a way for him to soar out of his poverty. And I will find that way, because he is my Michael, and I love him forever.

Me with Michael, May 2005

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Photo Updates on New Life International Orphanage!

As mentioned earlier, some volunteers returned from NLI in July having had great success with several projects! Below are a few pictures from Andrea, who went with a team this summer.

The beginnings of the square foot garden! These gardens bring in more crops in less space with less water.

Volunteers handing out supplies.

Keyboarding! The boys especially loved this one.
Pernel is showing off some of the books made by students in America to add to NLI's library.

More musical stars! Daniel, Belinda, and Frank show off their new recorders.

The beginnings of soap making!

Dorcas proudly displays the finished soap. There is enough to use and to sell, so it's an income possibility too!
Other volunteers have posted some updated pictures on the Yahoo group. To see more, join by clicking the botton to the right!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Education for a Former Teacher

NOTE: The orphanage directors have asked me to make note that this is not a sponsorship in the name of the orphanage. It was posted here because Nana formerly taught there, and a former NLI volunteer is helping. However, this is a private sponsorship, and is not connected with NLI itself.

Over the last little while at New Life International orphanage, a young man named Nana has been helping teach the children. Now, in return for his help in educating the little ones, one volunteer is helping him achieve his own education. Please read the letter from Emily below, and if you feel inclined to help, feel free to email her for more information.

"Dear all,
I volunteered at New Life last year and then went back again for a week just before Christmas - to take presents for the children.
Do you all remember Nana - the guy working at New Life? Great guy. Well I am kind of writing to you on his behalf. My parents are paying him to go to university from September this year, which is fantastic news as I am sure you will all agree. He is so so happy and grateful and it is just fantastic knowing that his life will be completely changed and he will now have so many prospects now. Anyway, for his studies, he needs a digital camera and a laptop computer, apparently. He has found prices for these although it seems quite extortionate, especially by Ghanaian standards. If any of you think you can help out in any way, please do get in touch with me and I can either put you in touch with Nana (who will be more than happy to give you his bank details) or I can try to sort something.

Hope to hear from some of you soon.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Updates from New Life International!

Hi all! It's been a while since I catches up sometimes. However, last month a group of volunteers returned from Ghana, and they had some great info about the kids! I'm going to quote Andrea, who's been there three times now, on what went down last month!

"Last year we ended by having all the kids write a wish list. The three things that the majority of kids wrote were: food, soap and book bags. We hope we helped to accomplished all three this year. We taught the orphans and the staff about Square Foot Gardening. This is an easier and more efficient way to produce healthier crops. Our further goal is to have them grow enough veggies not only for themselves, but enough to sell. (We also taught the professors at Cape Coast University, they plan on going into the villages and teaching others about SFG. This is a 3 year project, funded by the LDS church. The University will check on New Life to make sure they are maintaining the SFG and to assist them in anyway.) Next, we taught them how to make soap. We bought them the supplies needed to turn this into a business. They will be able to make enough soap for themselves and still be able to sell enough to balance out the cost of the supplies. New Life has already bought the supplies to build a shop!!! We then bought them a sewing machine. Madame Jackie has many years of sewing experience so she plans of teaching the kids how to sew. With the sewing machine, we left material, needles and thread, so they can immediately begin to sew. We also gave all the kids book bags with our theme "CTR". Every year we give them something that has "Choose the Right" on it.

We went this year with 5 other volunteers, 4 of us are teachers. We each brought over a suitcase of teaching supplies. We were able to bring leveled books, pencils, markers, crayons, colored papers, crafts, recorders, chimes, keyboard, Cd's, sheet music (for all the instruments). and much more. I think the keyboard was the biggest hit, especially for the older boys. We also brought containers to organize all their supplies and books. We put it in the cabinets the other volunteers brought.

One fun thing we do every year, along with the CTR theme, we bring published books that our students write from America. We thought this was a good way to unit the kids in America and the kids in Ghana. This year we decided to have New Life write books. I will send them to the publisher in April so they will be ready by May. I am so excited and so are the kids to see their work get PUBLISHED!!!!

Next, we donated money that our schools raised to New Life. This money will go towards their Birth Certificates and Health Insurance. We hope to raise money each year to help pay for their Health Insurance.

Finally, we are saving money to go towards their High School or Vocational education. Our goal is to have enough money to allow the kids to go to best school they can. I am still trying to figure out how they can also have ownership in it. If any of you have ideas, let me know. Also, if you would like to help raise money for their education, that would be wonderful :). New Life now has a "Master" who is trying to get the right books and curriculum so the kids will be prepared to take the test!!!!"

So many wonderful happenings! We're so glad for that the children we love are more comfortable and happy than ever. Let's keep it going ya'll!

Here's last summer's pick of CTR headbands!
(photo and updates courtesy of Andrea; find more on our Yahoo Group!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Sounds of Music: Bonding with an African Orphan

One day, I took my host brother and sister, Kofi and Nana Esi, to the orphanage to play. While the children played, I came to the shocking realization that Kofi and Nana Esi were much bigger than the orphans around their age. As they played, I took this picture of Nana Esi and Adjoa, one of my preschoolers. Nana Esi, on the left, is four in this picture. Adjoa is three, maybe four. There were no birth records to confirm a date.

Adjoa Elizabeth Eghan was shy; at least towards the volunteers, anyway. I tried not to sit her next to Ruby during class, because the two of them never shut up. For such a small person, she could certainly laugh and talk up a storm. She was never naughty, though, never violent and didn't throw temper tantrums. Though some of the kids, even Benjie, who was younger than she was, picked up on English very quickly, Adjoa never really seemed to care about learning it. However, she did good work in class-- at least, most of the time she tried to. She loved dancing, and grinned with delight whenever she joined the other girls in an impromptu dance fest. And as time went by, I learned a funny little truth about her.

Every day as we pulled out our workbooks, Adjoa would sing.

She sang all the songs I taught the kids-- Three Speckled Frogs, I'm a Nut, Love You Forever, Amazing Grace, and others-- as well as songs I assume she'd been taught by other volunteers. However, her favorite by far was La Bamba, the first song I taught them. Despite her seemingly stubborn refusal to learn English, she mastered the Spanish words and mumbled them to herself as she colored, traced letters, and played with puzzles. Sometimes, her classmates would join in, but often, Adjoa sang to herself. She seemed to do it purely out of the joy of singing, and I smiled every time I heard her innocent three-year-old voice begin to hum.

Adjoa sang with the other children, she sang to herself, and occaisionally sang with me and the other teachers, but I couldn't understand why she never seemed to care about being near the volunteers. Most of the children loved to get hugs, play with us, and talk to us, but Adjoa was usually casually indifferent, as though her songs were all she really needed. I never understood it until the day I found out where Adjoa came from.

As near as I could tell from the somewhat confused, short summary in the orphan's profiles, Adjoa was born when her mentally retarded mother was raped. She was abandoned by her mother to be raised by her grandmother, and the old lady was simply unable to care for her properly. Only a year or two later, Adjoa was brought to the orphanage, small and malnourished. In a few short sentences, I saw a history of abandonnement, and realized that may have been why she refused to bond with the volunteers. We came in and left after only a few months, and she had been through the pain of torn bonds before.

Near the end of my stay, I was playing with some of the children on the shady verandah during break time. Adjoa had pulled herself onto the verandah wall with the help of some of the older children, and I was surprised when she raised a small hand and waived at me to come to her.

"Do you need something, sweetie?" I asked as I came and stood in front of her.

Without a word, she put out her skinny little arms and wrapped them around my neck, laying her head on my shoulder.

I was so surprised, it took a moment before I returned her tight embrace. I began to rub her back, humming the tune of the song "Godspeed" that I often sang to the children when they were especially upset, tired, or just cuddly. Every few minutes, she would sit up, look around the verandah or into my face, then lay her head on my shoulder again. I began to cry as I hummed.

Adjoa was my friend after that. She would give me hugs every day, hold my hand, and was willing to play with me. I never figured out why she suddenly attached to me, and my closest guess is because of the songs. I sang often in class, and taught the children dozens of new songs, and perhaps it was our fondness for music that brought Adjoa to give me that first hug. It broke my heart that I had to leave so soon, in a sense abandonning her too. Now that I am home, I miss Adjoa, but I hope she doesn't miss me. I hope she doesn't even remember me, because I would hate for her to have another sense of loss in her short life. She was a happy little girl, and I'm sure she still is. I want the memories she keeps to be happy ones, worthy of the dance she dances and the songs she sings.

Adjoa, far right, with Sara and Ruby.

Adjoa and I balancing cups. Despite looks to the contrary, she was actually a lot better than me.

The day Adjoa gave me my first hug.

Friday, June 29, 2007

What is Africa to Me?

Countee Cullen once asked, "Copper sun and scarlet sea, What is Africa to me?" I don't remember what Africa was to him; I read the poem a long time ago. But I know what Africa is to me.
Africa is Fanta in 300 ml glass bottles for 3000 cedis.
Africa is cold bucket showers.
Africa is my blue backpack filled with teaching tools.
Africa is sharing the streets-- not only with throngs of Ghanaians, but with goats, chickens, and taxis that seem ready to run over you if you don't make way.
Africa is sharing taxis with six other people and laughing at how squished you are.
Africa is handing Benjie a "color" (crayon), and hearing his tiny voice cheerfully say, "Thank you, and God bless you!"
Africa is Adjoa singing while she works-- all day.
Africa is Precious and her black backpack that is practically glued to her.
Africa is Kobi's mischevious fake cry just to trick you into thinking it's real.
Africa is Elizabeth wanting to play the hand-clap game "Mister Mister," and wanting it "sharp sharp!" or very fast.
Africa is calling "Ansapatu" to the mate (or money taker) on the tro tro (minibus) and walking down the orange dirt hill to the orphanage.
Africa is plantain, pineapple, oranges, jollof rice, red red, fish, and chicken.
Africa is Ghana, and Ghanaians, and my children.
To me, Africa is heaven.

Some people don't like it when others use the broad, continental term "Africa." Well, I know that Africa is not a country. I know that Africa has more tribes, customs, languages, and countries than almost anywhere else on the planet. But why should we not use the word Africa? I was in Ghana, yes, and that is the only part of Africa I know-- but it is still a part of Africa. It is one of the only places in the world where people are proud of being part of multiple things: their tribe, their country, and their continent. They are Ghanaian, and they are African.

Someone once asked me what it is about Africa that captures nearly everyone who goes there. I have pondered on this often, and I'm still not sure. All I know is, it captured me. Something about the people, the cultures, the very land you walk on seems captivating and majestic and somehow more real than anything else in your life has ever been.

My host father once laughed and told me, as I stood wearing a Ghanaian slit and kaba, that I was "A real African now!" I would never want to lessen the dignity or honor of being African by laying claim to the title after a paltry four months of living there. But somewhere inside me is a corner of my heart that has become African, simply out of love for Africa and her people. That is what Africa really is to me; despite the hunger, the disease, the fear, the war, and all the atrocities the continent seems capabale of, there is more love than I have ever known in my life.

Pictures from top to bottom: 1. A street in Abura, a suburb of Cape Coast. 2. Women in the Kejetia market in Kumasi. 3. Children on the street create their own toys. 4. Small Phillip and Precious, showing their love.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I Want: Dreams of Ghanaian Orphans

There is a game in Ghana called "I Want." It's very simple, and we played it at New Life all the time. The children gather in a circle, and one goes to the middle. They begin to sing, "I want...I want...I want (insert name, i.e. Gifty), I want Gifty, I want Gifty to come and dance with me." And then Gifty comes from the circle and the two in the middle bump hips and do various dance moves as the rest of the circle sings the ditty. The first child then goes back to the circle, and Gifty begins the song again. It is generally cause for a lot of laughter as the circle watches the antics of the dancers in the middle.

Of course, we all want things-- whether it be a friend, like in the game, or a new X-box, or something much more basic. Right now, I want Gifty. I want Benjie, and Michael, and Ophelia, and Pernel, and Belinda, and Emmanuel, and all my children, new and old, at New Life. I want to see them, to hug them, to dance with them. I want them to go to school, and I want them to have the things they want.

Last summer, a volunteer in Ghana asked the children what they wanted, and wrote down their replies. This is what they want-- these are their dreams. (Note: all ages given are very approximate.)

Ruth (age 7): I'd wish for a ball because I can play with a ball. I'd wish for a school bag because we need school bag to go to school.

Comfort (age 8): First, I'd wish for rice because we don't have rice. Then, I'd wish for socks. Then, I would wish for a camera because I want to take pictures.

David (age 10): I wish for a shirt. I wish for soap so I can bath.

Amos (age 8): I wish for an airplane beause I can go to America. Then I'd wish for a Bible because no Jesus no life. I wish I could be a doctor.

Belinda (age 10): First, I'd wish for my own bed because now I share a bed. I wish that I can be a bank manager.

Pernel (age 10): First I'd wish for food because I can fill my stomach. Then I'd wish for an airplane because I want to sit in an airplane.

Ophelia (age 11): I'd wish for Madame Jacklyn, Madame Ruby, and Madame Grace [the directors] to get money because they will use money to look after us. Last, I would wish for people because the people will help Madame Ruby to build a house for us.

Emmanuel (age 11): I wish that God should bless me to have a long life on the earth. Then I would wish to be a big man because I would love one to another. Last, I would wish I should be a good person and God should take me to heaven because I would be a good person.

Agnes (age 12): I would wish for shoes. Then I would wish for sugar because we need some sugar.

Mary (age 9): I'd wish for a pen and pencil because we can use it to write.

Grace (age 13): I wish for work because I want to help my country. I'd wish for work at a hospital because I want to help other people.

Abraham (age 13): I will wish to become an astronaut because I can be the first Ghanaian in space.

Michael (age 12): I'd wish for plaster [bandaids], because when people get sick I can pray so that person get well. I would wish for money because I can help people who are poor. After that, I would wish for love because when people do a bad thing I forgive him. Then I would wish for a mind because I can use my mind to help people when they are in big trouble.

They want necessities. They want a happy life. And they want not only to be loved, but to love others in return.

photo: from left to right: Dora, Pernel, Daniel, Ruby, Ruth, Ophelia, Grace, Doris.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

This is Real Life

Cape Coast, Ghana, 4/9/05: "For the last few weeks, I've been gaining a greater sense of reality, as though the adventure aspect and novelty [of Ghana] have given way to the dep, intrinsic knowledge that this - is - real - life. For the people that live here, it is all they know, just as, before I came, Utah was all I knew. For Michael [a student at the orphanage school, pictured above], his everyday reality is hunger and cramped quarters and sleeping on concrete and a bamboo roof that leafs in the rain and he knows nothing else. And in a month, I'll go back to my everyday reality of fast food and five bedrooms and a daybed and red brick and shingles, and I'm so afraid that I'll forget, amidst the glamour of $10 DVD deals and the pink skirt I'm dying to have, that there is a village called Efutu where a 10-year-old boy and his family are still living just where I left them. And there is a part of me that wants to forget, the same part that wants the DVD's and the pink skirt and doesn't want to think about the ones who have nothing so I can enjoy my comparative wealth in the bliss of ignorance.

So the question becomes, where do I draw the line? I can't subject myself to poverty merely to dole out money to a world that needs so much-- for Efutu is one tiny village in Ghana, and Ghana is one tiny country amidst all those suffering in poverty. I can't save the whole world, much as my idealistic heart wants to, and it makes no sense to deny myself the things I wish for others. That being the case, I can't do nothing, not when I'm in a position to give. So I suppose that means for me to choose-- choose one aspect of the world that is within my power to help bring about positive change and progression."

I wrote this in my journal as I was nearing the end of my stay in Ghana. I grew afraid of forgetting, of returning home and doing nothing further to help. But I couldn't forget, not completely. Not when I had found a love for these children so deep it felt like it couldn't come from my own small heart. And yet, sometimes, I do get caught up in the $10 DVD deals, because that is real life too. I've realized that part of my fear of forgetting was the fear that as I forgot them, I would forget why it was so horrible to forget.

Then I remember the last paragraph of that journal entry. DVD's don't mean I have forgotten my children. I can't do it all, and I can't do it all the time, but I can still choose to remember, choose to do something. I have chosen a part of the world that I have the power to help, something that I chose to love, and I give out of that love.

So choose something. Choose someone. It doesn't have to be New Life Orphanage, or Ghana, or solving world hunger. Just choose one thing, one person, and make a difference in that person's life-- because it is as real as yours.

Photo: Michael (age 10) at a volunteer's goodbye celebration.

Friday, June 8, 2007

New Life Orphanage, SOR, and FFCI-- Partnering to Help the Orphans of Ghana, West Africa

When I decided to volunteer in Africa over two years ago, I didn't realize that the continent as a whole takes hold of you once you're there. I was a teacher at New Life for the preschoolers, and was there for only a little over four months, but I developed such a deep love for Ghana and for the children I had come to know, I simply couldn't stop helping when I came home. At first, I worked on my own; I had traveled alone, and knew of no one else in my area who could help me. At the orphanage director's request, I began to set up a volunteer program, which I called SOR, a word in the Fante dialect that will be explained in a moment. As luck would have it, I met the wonderful family who runs Families for Children International-- an NPO in my city building an orphanage of their own not far from New Life. I found other volunteers through them who had traveled to New Life for 6 weeks just after I left, and a wonderful partnership has begun.

While SOR is still merely a dream under the umbrella of FFCI, many things have been done to benefit both New Life and FFCI's orphanages. Below, I have listed the missions of the organizations since all three are integral to this blog.

SOR International- Standing for Orphans Rights
No matter where I am, when I look at the sky, I feel at home. It is the one thing that is familiar wherever I am. This, to me is expressed by our motto. In the Central Region dialect of Fante, Nyame te amen beebiara (nee-AH-may tay AH-men BAY-bee-ar-a) roughly translates as “God hears amen wherever we are.” It is my belief that we are all connected together, and that whether we be in Ghana or the United States, there is someone watching over us all. That is why the name of our organization is sor, the Fante word for heavens. We are all united; the same heavens are over us all. We all have the opportunity to strengthen this unity by serving those in need. For this reason, our logo is the Ghanaian Adinkra symbol Sesa Woruban, the star within the sun. It not only symbolizes the heavens, but its meaning is “to transform or change life.” As we change the lives of others, we change ourselves as well.
SOR (Standing for Orphans Rights) is a volunteer-based student group fighting for the rights of orphans in Ghana. We believe every child has rights:
-The right to a home
-The right to a safe, healthy environment
-The right to an education
-And most importantly, a right to be loved
We support the children in Ghana, West Africa through our efforts. If you are interested in helping, whether volunteering here or in Ghana, or just in offering support, please do. These are not just faces in a picture or stories on a page to us; they are children we know and love, and we see those children in the faces of all others. Please help us stand for their rights.
FFCI is a Utah based non-profit organization dedicated to the belief that every child in the world has a right to an education, a safe environment, and love. Our mission is to provide loving care in a family setting for orphaned, abandoned, and destitute children in developing countries. We do this by:
• Nurturing the children in a family setting
• Providing education in a modern, well-equipped school
• Teaching life skills and preparing them to be productive members of their society
• Developing within them an appreciation for their heritage
Construction on an orphanage is currently underway in Elmina, near Cape Coast, Ghana. This orphanage will house children in a family setting, and provide schooling to the orphans and their peers in the surrounding community.
New Life International Orphanage
NLI provides shelter, food, education, medical care, and clothes for orphans, needy and abandoned children in the village of Ansapatu, just outside Cape Coast, in Ghana’s Central Region. The organization was established in 1997 and had been responsible for providing care and education for poor children ever since. The severity of the situation of orphans and needy and abandoned children in the rural communities is a result of poor parental control and a low standard of living due to poverty. Our objectives are:
• To increase and intensify the campaign of basic education by sponsoring more orphans and abandoned children and those who are talented and can not afford a basic education.
• To promote the rights and interest of children and to create a favorable environment in which children can realize their full potential. The preservation of children’s interest is in accordance with the UN convention on the rights of children.
• To build an ultra-modern orphanage which will be able to accommodate more children and will also have a school for the children and a vocational training center for adults
NLI currently cares for eighty-seven children. [Note: These numbers frequently change.] Forty-two of these children live in the orphanage while the other forty-five live outside the home with extended family members. They are usually living in extreme poverty and so are not able to take care of the children very well. Some of the children have to live away from the orphanage due to the size of the present orphanage building.

Though we are different organizations, our mission is the same: to bring peace, happiness and fulfillment to the lives of Ghanaian orphans.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

New Life Orphanage Ghana

This is just the first post about the kids at New Life International Orphanage. I don't know how to express the reality of who they are in any other way than through my own faulty attempts at the written word, but I hope that at the very least, this blog will spread the word about kids that need help-- and love.

Agekow's Story

Last night, I dreamed about Agekow.

He was only about three or four when I taught him at New Life two years ago, but in my dream, he was maybe ten. In my dream, I had gone back to the orphanage, and as I stood talking to Madam Grace, the caretaker, Agekow came through the door. I was surprised, because Agekow no longer lives at New Life; an uncle took him in. I cried in my joy to see him, and I cried because he spoke to me in fluent English. And I cried to see that he remembered me.

In my dream, he had grown and learned. In my dream he was healthy, and his little legs were no longer little, and no longer bowed with rickets. In my dream, I hugged my Agekow and he returned it fiercely, just like he used to.

But it was only my dream.

I haven't seen Agekow in two years. I will probably never see him again. Nearly all of the volunteers that have come and gone since my time don't even know Agekow, since he left just after I did. So many children are at New Life, and so many volunteers have come, and yet only a few of us remember this child.

He was the first to fall asleep in my arms, as I sat in a chair on my first day, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. Agekow cried, and I took him in my arms and sang to him until he fell asleep. He wore a little blue shirt that day, and I almost never saw him in anything different. As I began to teach the nursery class, I found that they still had much to learn. The day I showed my yellow flashcard and Agekow cried, "yellow!" I was thrilled. He was a sweetheart, and his face would light up in his angel smile to hear his work praised. He could also throw tantrums that put the devil to shame. Sometimes it seemed more than just normal child mood swings; he was teased sometimes because of his legs, and would sink into depression. It would sometimes be days between when I saw that angel smile.

I think of him when I look at the moon. When we read Where the Wild Things Are, he would shout out "Moon, moon!" at every page. I think of him when I see butterflies. He loved to count the butterflies on the flashcards, saying, "Butterfly!" and after ten, his counting would digress from actual numbers into "fourteen, seventeen, ten-teen..." I think of him when I have dreams of Ghana and hear his voice that isn't really his voice talking to me in flowing English.

It seems sometimes like no one knows Agekow, like he has been forgotten. One day as I crammed myself into a Ghanaian taxi and was berated by the driver for not greeting him, it occured to me that this taxi driver was once a child. I had a momentary flash of a would-be day twenty years down the road when I returned to Ghana and sat in a taxi without acknowledging the driver, and when he looked at me I saw that it was Agekow, all grown up, and that I hadn't even greeted this child I had loved so long ago. That sudden glimpse of what could be shocked me as I realized that these children wouldn't always be young and innocent. As they lost that innocence, the world that seems to care so much for them wouldn't care for them at all.

I don't know what will ever become of Agekow. He is with family now, where he should be, and where I hope he is happy. He is where someone knows him and will care for him even when he has lost his child-like ways. Though he is unknown by many who come to New Life, he is still loved by me and the few other volunteers who remember him. And there is a God who still hears when Agekow whispers "amen."

Playing at a nearby football park.

Standing on my shoulders-- he loved feeling tall!

Agekow and his good friend Phillip.

Agekow shows his angel smile with volunteer Becky.

Working hard at a puzzle next to his friend Elizabeth.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Akwaaba! Welcome to the blog for New Life International Orphanage in Cape Coast, Ghana! We'll be up and running soon with information on the children, volunteers, and the orphanage itself. Nantse yie-- Walk well!