Saturday, December 20, 2008

Meet Michael of Sankofa

As I tumbled out of a taxi onto the street of Eguafo, Ghana for a day of teaching at Sankofa, I felt tired. Maybe part of it was that the whole cram-six-people-into-Kojo's-taxi-for-an-hour stint was getting a little old; I love my husband, but sitting half on his lap and half on the metal wire sticking out of the taxi seat was not my idea of quality couple time. Glancing back at the other volunteers extracting themselves from the car, I could tell they were a little sick of it too.

After paying Kojo, we all began to troup down the street toward the trail that would lead us into the village and thence to school. While kicking up orange dust and shouldering my backpack, I was hissed at by a man nearby. Don't worry; hissing is simply a way of getting attention in Ghana. I once saw a Ghanaian man do it at the New York airport. He got pretty frustrated when the airline attendant didn't seem to pay any attention to his obvious efforts to get help.

But I digress. I turned my head to the hissing man, who held the hand of a tiny, chubby-faced child. He spoke to me in Fante, then tried to pass the child's hand to me. I looked at him blankly until he managed to say, "School. You take."

I smiled and nodded, reaching for the little fingers. They were yanked away and I was given a glower all the more impressive considering the giver was maybe three years old. I tried to comfort him by saying, "Bra. Yeko skool." (Come on, let's go to school.) Giving a half-angry, half-fearful squawk, he shrank against his guardian's legs. When I squatted down and held out my hand again, the little man bravely stepped forward, waved a hand at me, and declared loudly, "Ko!"

I began to laugh. He was telling me in no uncertain terms to go away and I couldn't help but admire his tenacity. His guardian shrugged and grinned, taking the little hand again and following us to school.
That wasn't the last time I saw Michael, as I learned he was called. His cheerful, determined little demeanor was very endearing and he became my favorite of the younger children. My husband also came to enjoy the little one. Here he is playing with Michael, in the red and white, before the PTA meeting.

It seems I am destined to love little boys named Michael. I have a little one at each orphanage now, though New Life's Michael is grown to a young man of 14 and doing well in junior high school. Sankofa's little Michael still has many years ahead of him. Please donate to save Sankofa today, and help Michael to be a young man who goes on to get a good education.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Donate to Save Sankofa School!

The future for the children at Sankofa has become uncertain, and we need your help!

Unless Sankofa can build an actual school building, school board officials will shut down the school and the children of Eguafo will have few chances for lifting themselves out of poverty.
Currently, classes at Sankofa are held under rudimentary bamboo roofs that offer little protection from the elements. However, the children are out of the streets and gaining knowledge, the only thing that promises to give them a future. Without Sankofa, most of these children cannot afford to go to the government school nearby, and they will return to spending their days on the streets or working a farm.

Several volunteers are working with an organization called Children’s Helpers Worldwide to raise money to save Sankofa. If you can help me by donating, you can help preserve the future for these children I have come to love. Our goal is to raise $5,000 for the building and materials as soon as we can! Even if you can only part with a few dollars, it can help! If you find you cannot, please help me by letting as many of your friends and contacts know as you can and encouraging them to donate.

To donate using a credit or debit card through PayPal, please go to and click Donate. Please indicate that it is for Sankofa. PayPal donations can be securely made even if you don’t have a PayPal account. Information on paying by check is there as well.

If you are an American and wish to donate by check, please send an email to familiesforchildren[at]gmail[dot]com for more information. Because Children’s Helpers Worldwide is a British organization, checks cannot be sent there from the U.S. Unfortunately, this means tax deductions in the U.S. are also unavailable. For more information about Sankofa, please visit, or view our video and other posts below. Please email any questions to the address above.

Please donate soon to help save Sankofa and provide a future for the children of Eguafo!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Impressions of Ghana #2: The African Family

Just a few from the family, Efutu village, 2005
In the Western world, our families tend to be small and focused on the nuclear family. In Ghana, families are larger, and extended family members are close. In fact, cousins are often referred to as brothers or sisters, which can cause confusion for us obrunis. Large families often live together in one compound, with adults from several generations in one household. Here is Michael (far right, back) from New Life. His mother Grace is next to him, and her brother is next to her. Grace is a widow, and her brother helps care for the family. The other children here were introduced to me as Michael's "brothers."
Best Friends and Brothers, 2005
Here is Michael again, on the left, with his brother Amos. They are actual biological brothers. Amos lives at the orphanage, while Michael lives at home with his mother. A sad fact of Ghanaian life is that not all parents can afford to feed and care for all of their children. Many times, some of the children of a family are sent to live with better-off relatives, or to live at orphanages.
Hard Workin' Mamas, 2005
It is not uncommon to see women working with their babies on their backs. Babysitters are an unheardof concept in Ghana, and mothers can't afford not to work. Often, if the family is very poor, the children must stay out of school to work the farms, or hawk things in the street to help the family survive.

Playtime for Mother and Daughter, 2005
Here, my host mother Mama Vic plays a hand-clap game with her daughter Nana Esi. Whether gripped by poverty or not, families still find time to play together in Ghana. This can be through simple games, songs, or stories.

Brothers by Love, 2005
Here, Frank and Abraham show their brotherly love at New Life International Orphanage. They are not biologically related at all, but the bonds forged through love are often as strong as those made by blood. The children in the orphanages may be there because they have no families, but they often find a family in each other.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Second Ghana Movie- Sankofa!

Watch Hope for the Future, our short video about Sankofa!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We're Moving!

Prayers from Africa was set up initially for New Life International Orphanage. Now that we're reporting from multiple orphanages, it's time for a little change! Starting on November 29, we will be moving to Come see us there!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

News from the Continent #4

Education moving forward in Liberia

No more excuses for gender violence

Paracetamol kills 25 children

One million children get life-saving mosquito nets

Check out these articles for more information. As always, has the latest news from across the continent.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Learning to Lead

When I asked my husband in August of 2007 if he'd go to Ghana with me if we arranged a group of us to go, I had no idea what I was getting into.

I had been to Ghana. I had sent three other volunteers to Ghana. I had been working on the advisory board of a non-profit organization for two years. I had minored in African studies and read voraciously anything on Africa, development, and non-profits I could get my hands on. I knew what I was doing, right?

Yeah, right.

Ready to leave Accra for Cape Coast.

For nearly a year after that, I found out exactly how much I didn't know. From recruiting the volunteers to holding monthly meetings to fundraising to flights to arranging for us to volunteer in a brand new orphanage I'd never been was insane. There was so much stress involved in arranging for 14 people to travel to and volunteer in a foreign country, much that I hadn't anticipated. Luckily, I had a lot of help from my dear hubby, as well as Jessica, a girl I'd previously sent to Ghana who agreed to be the coordinator for one of the groups.
Hanging with the monkeys at Boabeng Fiema Monkey Forest.

It wasn't til we left that I really started to feel the weight of what I was doing.

I had been to Ghana, yes. But I had been alone. I was all I had to worry about until I got over myself and started worrying for and loving the New Life kids more. This time, it was different. I was mama duck to five little ducklings who were in a whole new world. Yes, they'd had training, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. The weight of responsibility was incredible, especially considering we were hosted in three separate locations. We were in a third world country, and I had taken responsibility for their well-being, health, and to see that we accomplished our volunteering goals. Were they getting enough water? Did they know the way to the bank? Did they know how to catch a taxi and then go back home? Were they getting overwhelmed with culture shock and homesickness? Were they getting overwhelmed with the responsibilities of teaching? Did they feel like they were doing enough work, or had too much? I was constantly focused on making sure they were taken care of, and it was so much more taxing than I ever would have thought.

Saying goodbye to Green Turtle Lodge.

And yet, they were wonderful. They were responsible. They all quickly rose to the occasion, worked with the slight chaos and unstability that is a third world country, and came out on top. They learned to take taxis on their own. They learned their way around town. I eventually felt comfortable enough to take every other day to go to New Life, trusting that they knew what they were doing. Even then, though, I was constantly focused on making sure they were doing okay. I had carefully planned how I wanted things to go in Ghana before I left-- the things I wanted to get done while there. Almost none of it happened. Yet, in the end, that was okay.

Teaching them how to read.

Because we still got great work done. A few kids learned their ABC's. Some learned that letters have sounds. Still others learned that sounds could be pieced together to make words. And six people who left the USA as practically strangers returned as friends, teachers, and people changed for the better. In some ways, it was so much harder than my first trip, yet I am so grateful I had the chance to lead those people out there, and to learn a bit more myself.

Last day at Sankofa with David and a few of the teachers and kids.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Issues Affecting African Children #6: Aid Issues in Africa

Jane, Felicia, Sara, and a friend.

The first time I met Sara, she did an uncharacteristic thing-- shetried to keep me from being cheated. I was buying bofroot, a fried ball of dough, from her mother.

"Thousand cedis," Jane declared. I raised an eyebrow, but before I could open my mouth to say I knew it was half that, Sara leaped up from the stoop where she'd been sitting.

"No, no!" she exclaimed. "She is trying to cheat you! It is 500!"

Jane laughed, and I paid the 500. It was actually the start of a wonderful friendship with her and her daughters Sara and little Felicia.

The difference in price, for me, was about five cents. I could have just bought it at the higher price and dealt with it, but I refused to be knowingly cheated simply because I was an obruni. Jane was a good woman, and had nothing personal against me, but because I was white, she supposed two things: 1) I had more than enough money to spare, and 2) I probably didn't know the right price anyway.

Such is the attitude of many Ghanaians toward foreigners and their money. In a way, it's our own fault. For decades, the Western idea of aid was to walk in to a country and fling about cash like confetti. Here, we cried, feed your children, build your homes, go to school! And sometimes it worked that way. Much of the time, governments whisked it off into the anonymity of off-shore bank accounts. When it did reach the people, some began to develop the idea that foreigners equal money-- and they just love giving it away! That idea has become ingrained in many psyche's across the nation.

I had a friend email me a few weeks back. He had been asked to leave school because he couldn't pay his tuition. He begged me to send money so he could return to school. A conundrum was born. It was his education-- possibly the most important investment of his entire life, one that would save him from abject poverty. And yet, I myself am poor by American standards. My husband's own tuition was due, and there was barely enough to pay that. In addition, was I helping or hurting by simply handing out money whenever I was asked? Eventually, I had to tell him I couldn't send the money, but I suggested he try to find a temporary job to help him earn his tuition. This was a novel idea for him, and he thanked me almost as much for it as he would have for the money. It's strange that this idea had not occured to him; but really, was it all that strange considering the ideas he grew up with? White people = money, and he knew a white person! His problems would be solved.
Of course, there are some who do not have this attitude. Sara, with her determination that I not be cheated. My friend Dawood, who my husband and I are voluntarily helping through university. The only thing he ever asked for was for help buying a computer; not for us to buy it for him, but for him to send us the money he had earned so we could purchase it in the U.S. where used computers are cheaper.
Africans are a strong people, and their culture and society did fabulously well for centuries. They don't need us continuing to rule over them with aid as we did with colonialism. Of course, that area of the world is in desperate need of help. We should help others if we are able, if only because we all belong to the race of mankind. Many organizations are formed to give people an opportunity for just that. For one fabulous example in Africa, take a look at Care for Life. They focus on strengthening families and communities, helping people learn to rely on themselves and their community. And that is what aid should really be about.
**Disclaimer: This is not a slam against anyone or any organization that sends money to impoverished areas! There are some areas of the world that are simply too ravaged by poverty, war and disease to be able to become self-sufficient at the moment, and direct monetary aid is often, in those cases, the best and only course of action.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Elizabeth- A Virtuoso Pianist in the Making

One of the things I wanted to do on this most recent trip to Ghana was to teach the children to use the keyboard I knew another volunteer had left. I spoke with my old piano teacher, bought the beginner books she recommended, and had high hopes of eager and proficient students. I'm always an idealist.

Of course, things never work out the way you think they well-- especially in Ghana. It wasn't until my last day at New Life I actually managed to find time to pull out the books, bring in the batteries, and dig up the keyboard. I knew there wasn't much time, but maybe, I thought, I can at least teach them enough that they can use the books to teach themselves.

Most of the kids were either too busy or not interested to sit in on the lessons. Belinda, Elizabeth, and Ophelia were the most interested. I taught them about the different beats each note gets. We clapped through several sections, trying to get the timing right. To my surprise, Elizabeth could clap out each pattern almost flawlessly.

And that wasn't all. As I began to teach them which keys were which note, she began to zip through the songs that labeled each note. She wasn't actually reading the music, but she was able to read the labeled notes and remember exactly which ones were which on the keyboard. And she kept perfect time. Belinda and Ophelia did pretty good too, but whenever they got the timing or note wrong, Elizabeth immediately corrected them. I was astounded. She was a natural.

Belinda, Elizabeth, and Ophelia check out the next song in the book.

We played through some more songs, and I let them look at the part that began to explain the actual reading of music. Elizabeth was fascinated, and delighted with herself for being good at something naturally. We weren't able to get far, but far enough that Elizabeth at least would be able to follow the simple instructions in the book to continue learning. I don't know if she will, or if the others will either. There are many things they need to do with their time, but I hope Elizabeth and any others who desire are able to keep learning. If any volunteers go back who know how to play, see if you can pull out that keyboard, pull up the piano books I left, and give it a go!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Videos from Sankofa

These videos from YouTube are from a dance and drum troup called FanFa Kids. They visited Sankofa this August!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New Video-- The Return to New Life

There is a new video from this June's trip to Ghana! This one focuses on New Life; I'll be posting another in a few months on Sankofa. There were many wonderful things happening at New Life.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Worship and Assembly in Ghanaian Schools

One reason most schools in Ghana are very different from schools in the United States is that they are usually very focused on religion. Religious and Moral Education (RME) is a required subject in the Ghanaian school system, where children learn about belief systems of all types-- at least those that are common in Ghana. Both Christian and Muslim schools exist, and students who may be of another religious belief (such as my host siblings, who are Buddhist) still attend a religiously oriented school. No one seems to mind, so long as their children are in a good school.

Saying the Lord's Prayer at Sankofa

In addition to RME, the students start and end each day with Assembly. They line up in their classes, say the Lord's Prayer, sing a song that is usually religious in nature, say the Pledge, and then march while singing to their classes. Closing assembly is much the same.

Children at New Life pray during assembly

In many schools, a certain period one day a week is set aside for Worship. At New Life, this consists of singing, dancing, praying, reading from the Bible, and sometimes a competition to see who can best answer religious trivia. At Sankofa, the children gathered into the bamboo school house for a similar ceremony-- singing, praying, and telling of Bible stories.

A child shushes someone during worship at Sankofa

While some people find these enterprises a waste of time, I think it is a beautiful thing that they try so hard to keep their strong feelings of religion in all the aspects of their lives. To hear the children singing songs about Jesus can't help but make you smile.

Danny and Patrick join the kids at Sankofa for Worship.

Website Correction

Just a quick correction on the last post-- Sarah let me know that there were some previous volunteers who put together the content for the website, while Sarah and her father were responsible for getting the domain name and putting the site online. I'm not sure who put together the content, but if you're out there, thank you!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Good News for Sankofa-- and Lucky Hill!

Great news for Sankofa Mbofra Fie-- there's now a website! Go here to see the initial stages! Many thanks go to Sarah for her great work on this! We're very excited that they now have an internet presence!

We'd also like to announce a revised website and a new Yahoo group for Lucky Hill! Many parents are now starting to adopt from Lucky Hill. We're happy for them as well!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Impressions of Ghana #1: Sons and Daughters of Africa

I will be posting more updates from our trip througout the coming weeks; however, today's post is the beginning of a new series: Impressions of Ghana. These are pictures from my 2005 and 2008 trips that I have collected into photo essays. Enjoy!

Sons of Drumming
Music, especially drumming, is an important part of Ghanaian culture. Djembe drums (as you see on the left) are one popular type of drum. The children at New Life have learned this part of their culture well. 2005.

Son of Football
Proudly sporting a Fifa World Cup 2006 baseball cap, Agekow is hard at work. Football is not just a popular sport in Ghana. Since their participation in the 2006 World Cup and the hosting of the 2008 Cup of African Nations in Ghana, football has become a great unifier for people all around the country. New Life International Orphanage, 2005.

Son of Poverty

I have no words for this picture; it speaks on its own. Larabanga, 2005.

Son of Hawkers

This young man is emblematic of the throngs of people hawking their goods on the streets of Ghana. They are at the tro tro stations; the toll booths; the bus stops; they are everywhere they can possibly make a profit. Some are mere children, desperate to take home a few pesewas (pennies) for school fees, clothing, and food. Cape Coast, 2005.

Son of Weavers

Kente cloth is the beautiful, hand-woven fabric made throughout Ghana. Traditionally worn by chiefs, the fabric is woven in scarf-like strips that are then sewn together to make clothing. The weaving of the cloth is an intricate and complicated process. 2005.

Sons of the Sea

Along the coast of Ghana, fishing is an enormous part of the economy. Everyday, fisherman go out in their small boats, often using only sails, oars, and teamwork to cast their nets. These young men are hauling in a net full of fish. If only the still image could capture the harmony of the rhythmic chanting that helps them stay in sync. Cape Coast 2005

Daughter of Dance

Traditional dance is yet another important part of Ghanaian heritage. Belinda at New Life is only one of the many children taught this beautiful part of their culture. 2005.

Daughter of Education

For many in Ghana, an education is something of which they can only dream. Madam Grace, former caregiver and headmistress of New Life, gave every part of herself to teach and care for the children there. 2005.

Daughters of the Market

The markets in Ghana are throbbing centers of commerce. It is primarily women who work here, selling everything from fish to snails to fabric. These women work hard to provide for themselves and their families. Kejetia Market, Kumasi, 2005.

Daughters of Royalty

In Ghana, villages and cities are still headed in part by chiefs. However, the chief has a counterpart in Ghana that many don't know about-- the Queen Mother. She is not always the chief's mother, or even a relative, but she is there to help provide council and direction along with the chief. These women are dressed as a Queen Mother would be at a festival or celebration. Shama 2005.

Daughter of God

Religion is an incredible force in Ghana. Whether Christian, Muslim, Traditionalist, or other, Ghanaians are devout in their faith. At Christian schools, such as Sankofa, the children say the Lord's Prayer each morning and afternoon. Eguafo 2008.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Return to New Life International Orphanage

New Life International Orphanage is where I spent my first four months in Ghana. In early 2005, it consisted of one and a half buildings-- a half-finished school and one building containing one classroom, two bedrooms (one for girls, one for boys), two rooms for the caretakers, and a storage area. Almost 50 children were housed there, and 5 school classes. My own nursery classroom was held on the veranda. There was no place to eat, they cooked outside, and there were no toilets.
New Life in 2005. The brown building to the left is the unfinished school.

Three years, later, I was astounded as I walked down the hill to see the changes that had taken place. I had seen pictures since I left, but nothing can change your own mental image of a place except seeing it again in person. The school building is now complete, meaning there's more sleeping room in the home, there are mosquito nets for all the children, a store to earn money, an enormous farm, a playground, a dining area, a kitchen, toilets, and a new home being built so the children have more room to live and play. The buildings were painted pink and brown, and flowers housed in pots made of tires decorated the land in front of the home.
View from the playground-- the school building. To the right is the dining area and home.

Of course, it was the children I really wanted to see. Danny and I had come late into the afternoon, and for a moment it seemed no one was around. Then Emmanuel came out of the house. My throat tightened as I hugged him for the first time in three years, and we both laughed. He told me all the older ones were working on the farm, behind the new house, and he would take me there. Then Ophelia came dashing out, her beautiful face glowing with a smile I remembered well. More laughing, hugging, crying, talking. She was taller.

The little ones came around as we headed to the farm, swarming me. With a start, I recognized one of the taller, chatty boys. "Benjie!" I cried. He grinned up at me, but I knew he didn't remember me. Though I taught him for four months, he had been only two and a half at the time. I hugged him anyway. There were many clustered around him that I didn't recognize-- new faces since three years ago. One girl, seven years old and small for her age, like they all were, giggled as the little ones started chanting my name: "Shallee, Shallee..." They pronounced it "Shelly," like always, and I had to smile as they dragged her over. "Shallee, Shallee!" they cried, pointing at her. Her name was Shallee, or "Shelly" too. Still giggly, but shy, she pulled away to the back of the crowd.

As we walked, I picked up little Domenic, also named for a previous volunteer, and carried him Ghana-style on my back. More faces that I knew, more joyful hugs: Frank, Angelina, Comfort, Dorcas, Mary...some shy, some not, some that probably didn't remember me well. I talked with them out in the field, and they sang me a song they remembered that I taught them: La Bamba. They still pronounced the Spanish words perfectly.
Drumming Time!

That day remains now in my memory as very sweet-- yet also a little bitter. For three years, I had held these children in my heart and called them mine. I held fiercely to the idea that they were my children. Coming back, I realized the truth. I love them, as many volunteers since my time have loved them. They have grown, and changed, and though I still love them and some of them still remember and perhaps love me, they are not mine. They belong not to me, but to each other and to their full-time caregivers. That is their family. That is their life. I came for a short time only, and though I have shared my heart and my hands, that did not make them as wholly mine as I had so long thought. My heart had to break a little that day in order to open up and let "my children" go. That was the bitterness. The sweetness was feeling the love I still hold for them, and being able to physically hold them in my arms again.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tales from the Trip-- Sankofa School

As already mentioned, our trip to Ghana was incredible. I'll start with a little bit of info about Sankofa Children's Home, where we spent most of our time. There were a total of 6 people in our group, and there was plenty to do! Sankofa has only been around for about a year and a half, so there is a lot they still need. The orphanage itself currently only houses 5 kids. We were able to help paint the rooms while we were there, and saw the coming of actual beds (they had been sleeping on mattresses on the floor). We were also able to help prepare some of the bamboo to build a new schoolhouse.Danny and Patrick, two of our volunteers, helping the kids prepare the bamboo for building.

The school is for kids from preschool to third grade-- preschool and kindergarten kids have school in a rented church, the others in a bamboo schoolhouse built by the director and teachers. Many of the kids still have a rough time in school, since they may not have attended school previously. The age ranges in the classes are a lot wider than they are in the US (i.e. 8-12 year olds in third grade). We were able to work out a system with the teachers where we took the children struggling in English and taught them phonics and basic English each day during their English periods. We were also able to buy some great new English books that the Ghana Education Department has put out. It was so incredible to see how the kids progressed. Some started to grasp the concept that each letter actually has certain sounds associated with it. Some of them went from not being able to read at all to being able to sound out words. And some, of course, didn't seem to make much improvement at all...but I suppose that's how it goes.
Class 2 hard at work in their classroom.

Sankofa is really an incredible place. David, the director, is only in his 20's, and is amazing! He lived on the streets a lot as a kid, and though he did attend school, he paid little attention. He finished the ninth grade at age 18 being unable to read and write. When he realized how much this could affect his life, he did the incredible-- he went back to the fifth grade at age 18, and went back through the ninth grade again. He now speaks, reads, and writes English very well. His desire was to ensure that other children would have this opportunity, and that is when Sankofa began. The teachers who work there are just as amazing-- they live on a salary of $20 a month and some walk miles to be there everyday to offer free education to impoverished children. Shallee and her husband Danny with David.

We had such an amazing time there, and felt so privileged to meet the children and the incredible people who run Sankofa.

McKenzie, one of our volunteers, playing a game with Monica (in the green) and another child.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Return from Ghana-- Photos of New Life and Sankofa

Our second team of volunteers has returned from Ghana! We had an incredible time, and were able to do a lot. Stories and information will be forthcoming; in the meantime, here are a few pictures! For even more pictures, see
Shallee teaching piano at New Life to Belinda and Elizabeth.

Abigail, Monica, and Philomena at Sankofa.

Katie, a volunteer, learning to play Ampe at Sankofa.

Painting the orphanage at Sankofa.

Shallee playing on the new playground with the kids at New Life.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Updates from Sankofa and New Life

Things have been wonderfully busy here in Ghana! The work at Sankofa is going well. Each day, we take the slower children from each English class to work on catching them up with their peers. Each volunteer takes 2 to 4 children, so they can get more specialized attention. The hope is that they will be able to grasp concepts like phonics while we're here, so that their English reading skills will be closer to where the rest of the class is when we leave. So far, the children have shown amazing progress. Some just needed a little bit more understanding of basic concepts and have really taken off. Others are still a little slower, but hopefully after we leave other volunteers will be able to do the same with the things we're leaving behind.

The teachers at Sankofa are truly wonderful. They give up so much of their own time for very little pay to help these children who would otherwise have no education at all. Though they learn under a bamboo roof with a dirt floor, the key is that they are learning.

New Life has grown in leaps and bounds since my last trip three years ago! The new building is nearly complete, and a new classroom is being built for the nursery children. At the moment, nursery, KG (kindergarten) 1, and KG 2, and class 1 are all in the same classroom-- this is obviously chaotic. There is not enough room for the children to properly learn, and there is far too much noise. The new classroom is going up quickly, however! It's a joy to watch the children play on the playground and to see the progression of those who are now three years ahead of when I last taught them.

We will be coming home in a week, and what a trip it has been! Pictures and video will be up when I get some time after coming home, and I'll post snippets and stories about the children and volunteers as well!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

We're in Ghana!

Our second group is here in Ghana! We arrived in Cape Coast on Monday night, and things have gone well so far.

Yesterday, we went out to Eguafo to meet David, Sankofa's director. We waited for him for a while, and played with some of the children. Today was the start of our project. We were able to observe the teachers for classes 1, 2, and 3 and spoke with another volunteer named Sara who has been arranging for assessments to be given to the children. Our volunteers will take the slower learners and help them get up to speed as much as possible while we're here. Tomorrow we will help paint the orphanage while the assessments are given. The children are adorable, as all Ghanaian children are. As we get to know them we will post more about them.

We have not made it to New Life yet, but hope to do that tomorrow! I will update when I can, though internet is very slow here in Ghana. Even so, it's great to be here!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Good things Happening at Sankofa

Our volunteers in Ghana have had a great time! This is their last week, so here are some updates that have come through:

Most of the girls are at Sankofa. They have been helping build an addition to the bamboo school house, as well as helping teach the children. There have done rotations with the 80 children in the nursery class, as well as doing arts and crafts and some PE games with the older children. Classes 1, 2, and 3 had no books, and so were difficult to teach. After the volunteers provided them with books, they were able to do a great deal more teaching with the older kids!

Some of the children at Sankofa

Not much news from New Life yet, though word is they have gotten two new children in the last week.

We are so grateful for these volunteers and all they are doing! We wish them a safe journey home, and wish our June group a safe and successful trip as they prepare to leave!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

News from the Continent #3

Story 1: Child Prostitutes are Children First-- A look into child prostitution and the controversial proposal to legalize prostitution to protect girls young and old.

Story 2: Reports of Widespread Violence in Zimbabwe-- As Mugabe desperately attempts to maintain his rule, intimidation violence spreads.

Story 3: Southern Africa Urges Small-Scale Farming-- To help combat rising food costs around the globe, small-scale farming has been recommended. (Anyone but me thinking Square Foot Gardening?)

Story 4: A Fresh Approach to Street Children-- A look into what Burkina Faso is doing for her children on the streets

They Have Arrived!

Our first group of volunteers has begun their three-and-a-half-week journey in Ghana! The group of eight volunteers arrived earlier this week, and have been getting oriented to Ghana, visiting a few sites, and dropping off several suitcases worth of donations to Lucky Hill Orphanage on their way out of Accra! Jessica, our group coordinator, has been in the country for an extra week preparing for their arrival.

The girls will be at Sankofa on Monday to begin teaching. Jessica will be at New Life, teaching and giving the square foot gardening a boost! More information will be coming soon as the girls begin their volunteering. We wish them all the best of luck!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cape Coast-- A Small Sampling

Our first group to Ghana leaves a week from tomorrow! We are excited to hear how their trip will go. In the meantime, I'll post an exerpt from the book I'm writing. Perhaps our volunteers will become a part of this very scene.

"I close my eyes, sometimes, when I’m alone, and call up pictures in my mind of my favorite places in Ghana. Kotokuraba market. I see a flurry of color and motion, of heat and noise. Set in the center triangle created by three crossing streets, it is a place of commerce, confusion, and commotion. Taxis, tro tros, and a few private cars crowd the streets around it. Both taxis and tro tros, or small vans, function as mini buses, with people crammed in with their goods and the occasional goat. Across from the market is the “station,” where I would take a tro tro every day to the orphanage. Dozens of little VW vans crowded the area, all painted to proclaim the driver’s belief in Jesus. “The Lord will provide,” or “Gye Nyame”—except for God. Apparently, this proclaimed belief precluded a need for seatbelts. The drivers stood near their tros, calling out their destination. “Takoradi, Takoradi,” and “Jukwa Jukwa Jukwa Jukwa Jukwa!” Women and children wandered around, adding their own voices, like that of so many birds, proclaiming the wares atop their heads—water, bread, cookies. “Aeeees water,” “paaaanoo,” and “beeescuits!” One man marched through the area daily, holding an umbrella over his head that dangled with handkerchiefs of numerous colors and designs. Set in a large circle, surrounded by shops and flocking with hawkers, and only one way in or out, the station became a joyful place for me.

I became a common fixture there as well, a part of the pulsing mobs. After taking a taxi from my house to town, I “dropped” at Kotokuraba and found whoever was proclaiming “Jukwa!” that day. I always took a moment to buy “pure water” from one of the ladies or girls. Though it came in a plastic sachet like “ice water,” pure water was purified, its bag carefully sealed in a bloated square, and stamped with blue ink. I stuffed a few in my dirtier-by-the-day backpack and climbed aboard the tro tro. Somewhere between two and thirty minutes later, the tro pulled out—they only left when they were full. The ride took me through Cape Coast and into the suburb of Adisadel, then past Pedu Junction and to Abura, the suburb where my host’s sister, Mama Joyce, lived. After Abura came scattered jungle, a secluded hotel on a small crocodile pond called Hans Cottage, past the barren earth where women crushed rocks under small thatched shelters, and on to the tiny hamlet of Ansapatu—just short of the larger village of Efutu.

I called to the mate, the young boy who took passenger’s money, and the tro tro stopped. People in the aisle seats stood to fold their seats up and step out so I could crouch past, then piled back in again and headed on up to the town of Jukwa. I turned to Ansapatu, which consisted of a few small houses, a tiny shop, a school, and New Life International Orphanage. Smiling and waving at the women who sat among the enormous pile of greenish-yellow oranges they were selling, I headed down the red dirt hill, anxious to get to my children.

The orphanage was across the little lane from the orange and brown government junior secondary school (JSS), set nearly at the edge of the rainforest. It was painted a bland white with blue trim, and an unfinished three-room schoolhouse hunched next to it. A small orange tree stood near the front gate to the left, a palm tree further down. The refuse pile and laundry lines sat away from the school, near the large, overgrown area referred to as the garden. The cement basins where the children bathed were farther away, near the bushes where the “bathroom” was—a large pit crossed with wooden beams. A rickety wooden fence made a pitiful attempt to keep the goats out of the garden, and a painted sign declared it to be “New Life International Orphanage Home/School for orphaned, abandoned, and needy children.”"

Copyright Shallee M. 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

News from the Continent #2

Here's a few stories from the African continent!

The first story is a rather uplifting one about Child's Rights International setting up schools that encourage not only learning, but establish a platform for children to express their own views.

The next story discusses the progress (really, it is some progress!) in the Kenyan government.

This one is also from Kenya, discussing an outreach program for street children.

The last story focuses on children in Zimbabwe who are receiving free surgery to correct cleft lips and palates.

What with Zimbabwe's and Cameroon's failing democratic situations, Joseph Kony's failure to sign the peace deal in Uganda, and the general disheartening stories often found in African news, I decided to focus on some more positive stories today. If you want the rest, check out

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Issues Affecting African Children #5: In Ghana, Water is Life

It's been a while since the last IAAC post...the closer our teams get to leaving for Ghana, the more busy things become! We can't wait to get back to the children at New Life, and to help them and others!

Today's post is about something I take for granted more than anything else: water. It's so easy in the west to simply turn on a tap and drink straight from it. In Ghana, I had to get used to drinking only purified water-- not too much of a trial. When I was at New Life, they did not yet have running water, though it came while I was there. For the first few months, water was hauled every day from wells by the children. It was not entirely clean, and one of the children had an ulcer on his leg from it. That was the first time I really thought about water beyond something to drink, wash with, and play in. It was life.

Then I traveled to the hot, arid north. In the village of Larabanga, as I was being shown the village, I saw a deep wash-- completely dry-- covered in deep holes. We descended into it, and I discovered that in the rainy season, it was a large pond. Now, in the dry season, it was a dust bowl. Many of the men in the village went out every day to dig and dig until they managed to get a few feet of filthy water. Water was something I had never even thought of as a necessity-- it was just there. Suddenly, I was facing an entire village so desperate for every drop, they spent their days to gain such a meager bucket of muddy water. And they were grateful for it.

While I was there, I happened to see one of the sporadic arrivals of a government water truck. The village went mad. They brought barrels, buckets, anything that could hold water and formed a mob around the truck, desperate for the absolute necessity they were deprived of. A well was in the process of being built for the village, but for the moment, that water truck and the muddy water from the wash were all they had. Water was life-- and lack of it was death.

As the article linked above mentions, even in the metropolis of Accra, water is sometimes hard to come by. Damaged water works are a big problem, and many days, people went without running water. Lack of water for farmers means drought, and therefore less food. This increases prices of goods, upping inflation, a big problem in Ghana at the moment. Water is the absolute basis of life, it affects so many things, and yet so many people live without it. Here are a few places you can go to help: and

The Return

The directors are back, and the trip was a great success! All of the legal processes were completed to begin the school, and construction should be starting any day now! The directors were also lucky enough to meet Mr. Kingsley Eshun, who has started an orphanage near the Buduburam Refugee Camp. Luckyhill Children's Home was begun in 2001, and serves around 80 children, plus 300 that come to school! Mr. Kingsley has done amazing work, much of it with his own hands, to provide all that he can for the children there. They are still in need of much support, though they are getting help from several different avenues. We have hopes that we can continue our work with Mr. Kingsley and Luckhill!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

And They're Off!

FFCI's directors, Katherine and Blaine, are now in Ghana! After the scare with Blaine's health prior to their January trip, we weren't sure if they'd be able to make it, but they are now in Ghana and starting our school! I can't wait to see it (even partially finished) when we go over this summer.

In addition, I'd like to wish a belated Happy Independence Day to Ghana! March 6th was Ghana's 51st independence day, and to celebrate, the volunteers heading over this summer had a little party. Just a little fried plantain, Fanta, high life music, and a prep for Ghanaian culture, but it was fun!

We also have heard from one of our contacts that we will (most likely) be receiving a donation of 200 children's literacy books! This is very exciting for us-- we are building a school, after all!

I'll post more once the directors return on the developments-- and it's past time for another IAAC post. It's a busy time around here, but I'll get to it!

In the meantime, here's a pic to enjoy, since I haven't posted one in a while!

This is Prince, one of the students from my class at New Life in 05. He came into school from the village halfway through the school year. He spoke no English (though he liberally made up for it by chattering in Fante all through class), and it was a challenge just to get him to trace a line. However, he slowly improved (especially in school manners!) and was a playful, happy student and child. One of his favorite things was to "sew" cardboard pictures with string and hear me try to help him in Fante. "Ha? [Here?]" he would ask, pointing to a little hole in the cardboard. "Oho, ha [No, here]," I would respond, indicating the right hole. He would laugh in delight every time, occasionally calling to his classmates, "Bruni, wotse Fante! [The white lady is speaking Fante!]"