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Archive for April, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012 – Today we visited the Kumasi Children’s Home, which is a local orphanage here in Kumasi. This was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to emotionally endure. The conditions of the place were unlike any orphanage then I had ever seen, then again the conditions of Ghana in general are unlike I’ve ever seen, so I guess that was to be expected, except this is nothing you can prepare for. The first stop we made was in the boys building. We met several little boys, about 5 or 6, who were aged from, I’m purely guessing, 18months to about 5 or 6 years old. A few of the boys were eager for company, ready to mingle with the Abrunees (white people, or to some this included black Americans), however there were two little boys, who looked to be the youngest two, who simply sat there and stared curiously. I picked one of the boys up and began holding and rocking him and he seemed quite content, it wasn’t until we were told we were moving on to the next building and I went to put him down did the issue occur. I leaned to place him down and he began to cry, however the cry wasn’t one of what you would normally hear just when you put a child down and they want to be held, the cry was, and of course this is simply based on feelings and emotions, a cry of pure desperation. A child desperate not to be abandoned again. His cry clung to every emotion I owned and I couldn’t help but to cry along with him, for there was nothing I could do for him at that moment but hold him just a moment longer. 

We couldn’t take pictures where the children slept, but the mental images are there. The boys were laying on these thin, plastic mats in a room that wasn’t really a room at all, but more like a hallway. There were only 2 mats down and about 5 or 6 boys in that area, so I assume they sleep sharing mats. The windows had wiring and I’m sure did not open. I didn’t see many toys, except the ones that were lock behind a cage. Lets just say the conditions these children were staying left A LOT to be desired. 

The girls building was a little better but not by much, only in the fact that there were “beds” there, of course there were also more girls and not nearly enough beds for all of them, at least I didn’t see them. We also saw a baby who was only one day old. According to the lady working, her mother had given birth yesterday (March 23) and dropped the baby off today. She left the child there at the orphanage because she couldn’t take care of a child and continue to work and if she didn’t work, she didn’t eat. The fact that this woman had to make the decision of whether to work and provide for herself or take care of her child and starve, hit me hard. We’re faced with many decision, some that we’d label as the hardest decision that we’ll make, however I think I can safely say that no decision I have ever been faced with or that I see coming, has even been a tenth of this on the scale of difficulty. I just can’t even fathom what she must have felt making that decision.

Because adoption is not common here, most of these children are here until they grow up and leave, which is not necessarily at age 18. I believe we were told that the oldest person there is 31 because they also look after mentally ill children and they often do not leave. We asked whether the children are moved to another facility or if there is a certain age when they are no long permitted to stay there and one of the house mother’s answered “No, this is there home”. Its so profound, but no matter the conditions, no matter the ages, no matter what is going on around them, the home seems to prove some sense of just that, home. I guess its because they know that it is not likely for the children to be adopted so this is the only opportunity they have to actually be a part of a family.

We were able to leave donations of items like toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, blankets, and a few other things, which was great but not nearly enough. I’m sure this is one place that will be burned into our memory; I’m sure I’ll carry this with me everyday.

 

J. Nichole TuckerImage

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Mix Emotions

As I have settled back into my American my lifestyle (rather nicely I might add) and I reflect upon my experience’s in Ghana, it’s hard to find words that accurately captivate my emotions during those 12 days. PRIVILEGED is a good place to start. Living in the United States and living a more carefree life, it’s become rather easy to over look your priorities. After visiting the children of the orphanages, seeing the girls at the Kumasi market, and dealing with all the street hawkers who refuse to take No for an answer, I definitively can say I feel privileged. The struggles and hardships that these people face day in and day out are struggles and hardships that I could never imagine. Image

HUMBLE, as we often take things for granted after this experience its hard not to feel somewhat humble. I don’t know if it was the children at the school who had to cook their own lunch and had to use the restroom in the middle of the yard, or if it was the people at the refugee camp who were focused to sleep in tents in order to escape the implications of war. 

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RESPECTFUL, the people and culture of Ghana definitively consume you and I definitively have the upmost respect for them and their lifestyles. Many work every long hours’ in the African heat for every little. Children focused to drop out of school and work in order to support their families at young ages. Students attending school with no restrooms, power, and water in order to obtain mediocrity education at best.  All of these people that I encountered I don’t think I once heard anyone of them complain. 

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UNABLE, during the trip I continued to have this overwhelming feeling of my inability to help. 12 days and 5,000 dollars doesn’t go every far in a country with every little, and although I am proud of our efforts and contribution I cannot help but feel that we could of or perhaps should of done more. 

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And finally AWARE, I have always heard about the hardships and struggles that some people in the world face, and it’s easy to say you are aware of what is going on and its also easy to fall right back into our carefree lifestyles and turn an eye to our neighbor who has fallen victim to extreme poverty. But after this trip I can now say I am aware, and the first step towards change is awareness.

Neal Stanifer  

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Over the past 48 hours, while I have attempted to re-cooperate from our journey home, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the once in a lifetime experience of traveling to Ghana. Admittedly, before we left the U.S. I was quite nervous about what to expect. Venturing to a foreign country with no true understanding of the culture is a scary thing; however, once we touched down in Accra, and later Kumasi, I began to feel right at home. Taking in the scenery on our drive from the Kumasi airport to KNUST I felt as if we had been infused into a scene from Slumdog Millionaire. One of the main things that stood out for me however was the number of people; there were people EVERYWHERE! And it seemed as if each of them had something on top of their head in their bowl that they wanted to sell to you: bags of water, plantain, tangerines, bread, cookies, and coconuts. And the energy? The energy of the people was contagious! After being in Kumasi for only a few hours, I knew that it would be a memorable trip.

Interacting with children from Our Lady of Apostles’ School the first day was heart-warming. From teaching the 3 & 4 year old classes the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”; to signing our “A,B,C’s” and giving each table of children a set of the alphabets that we collected during our fundraiser; to feeling like an absolute ROCK STAR once the children saw us approaching; it was a wonderful experience. When we went into the older classrooms and began to talk with the students about what they wanted to be when they became adults, I was shocked by the number of students that wanted to be engineers and doctors. Out of the 60-plus students that were asked what they wanted to be, only ONE said that he wanted to be a football (soccer) player. What a difference an 11-hour flight can make in the attitude of a young person! Amidst all of the happy memories however was the reality that these children did not have access to many of the common staples that American children have in their schools. Some of the children went without food because their parents could not afford to send them to school with a lunch in addition to paying their school fees. Some of the children sat two to a desk. Many did not have writing instruments and there was not a library available for them to utilize to expand their mind. Simple things that we have (and take for granted here in America) would mean the world to some of these children.

On Saturday we visited the market. Before we could park the bus however, we saw a baby boy (about one year old) and a little girl (about 6 years old) sitting in front of a church. This little girl, we would come to learn, had been “given” to various people (some family members, others complete strangers) and she now was responsible for taking care of this baby boy. During the week she was able to find refuge from the street at the Street Girls Center; however, because the day we saw her was a Saturday, she was on the street…alone. Her name was Maria. To look in that little girl’s face and see the innocence of her childhood fading as she picked up the little boy and wrapped him on her back touched me deeply.

What could I do?

How could I help?

Unbeknownst to us, Maria was just a small sample of what we would see and learn that day.

Once we got inside the market area and met some of the Kaykayei girls. These are girls that work in the market carrying items for other people. Many of these girls are sent to Kumasi from the northern areas of Ghana by their families to make money. There were at least 60 girls in one area that we went to. Many of them had babies or small children that they cared for. At first I was unsure on how to approach the girls. In one regard I did not want to essentially “buy” a girl to carry my things through the market area, yet in another regard I wanted to help the girls…even if it was only one. When we began shopping the group that I was with decided that we would carry all of our items ourselves. Eventually that became too much and we had to seek additional assistance. We got one of the kaykayei girls to assist us with carry the excess amount of toilet paper that we purchased to donate to the various orphanages and refugee camp that we planned to visit. When we got back to the bus, each of us gave her 10-15 cedi (the Ghanaian dollar); she walked away with an excess of 60 cedi. She bowed and I could sense tears in her eyes. We would later learn that this was the largest amount of money that she had ever seen in her life. We also learned that she was pregnant. For the kaykayei girls, if they made 1 cedi a week they were doing well, the 60 cedi that we paid to this girl was equivalent to the amount of money that she would make in a year.

Our first two full days in Kumasi were rewarding, educational, and humbling. Little did we know, things would get even more rewarding, educational and very humbling as we spent time at a government-run orphanage, a privately-owned orphanage, and then at a UNHCR refugee camp. Those reflections will be posted soon.

Humbly,

JCD

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Jeffery Walker

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George Will once said “childhood is frequently a solemn business for those inside it,” and I never understood that quote.  Nor did I want to understand it.  I’d like to think, since my childhood was fairly carefree, that everyone’s childhood was comparable to mine.  However, that’d be my optimism and naivete shining through rather brightly.  Now I’m not saying my childhood was entirely peachy keen but it certainly was not like anything I witnessed at the outdoor market in Kumasi.  The most accurate words fail me in describing the emotions I felt watching the Kayayei street girls working in and around the market.  The market itself was essentially a swap meet on steroids, or even some sort of labyrinth.  It was a big ball of Ghanaian confusion, hundreds of people going to and fro at record speed, bartering for what could very well have been their family’s next meal.  Everything from toilet tissue and laundry detergent to rotting meat and the service of the street girls was exchanged for cedis, pesewas, and even Michael Jordan apparel.  The hustle of the street girls was actually admirable, but it broke my heart at the same time.  I can’t ever imagine having to part with my adolescence to do everything in my power to ensure that my family and I were cared for.  The street girls carried their burdens atop their heads just as they did their merchandise, but they always seemed to walk upright.  And while that was certainly a testament to their bearing, a testament to how strong they had to appear in order to obtain work, I’m sure their inner workings were quite shattered.  For these girls, these children, they were in the solemn business of childhood, and for once in my life I understood that quote by George Will.  Age means nothing; school means nothing when an entire family’s well-being is dependent on a daughter’s (or a sister’s) meager earnings from selling or carrying a basketful of items on top of her head.  Despite it all, though, there’s no way these girls can be pessimistic and survive in their line of “work”.  They are the young saviors of their familial units, the people who hold destinies in their hands.  They’re independent and are learning much more about the world than most girls their age.  These are the realities and experiences that push some of the Kayayei girls forward.  And hopefully the drive they use to maneuver merchandise in and out of the market and up and down the city streets will be used to escape the slippery slope of street girl life.

– Shanae Auguste

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