Wednesday, July 21, 2010

All over Ghana!

Hi everyone,

It has been a while since I've updated you. So this may be a long update . . . I promise, it will be a good read . . .

The last time I wrote we were on our way to Damongo. And yes, the road continues to be a washboard ride for about two hours from Tamale to Damongo. I was so exhausted that I was able to sleep through most of it. The good news is that we made it without any flat tires or engine trouble.

Abraham, the director of the Redemption Children's Home has made some progress in helping the 49 orphans that he cares for. He has been able to enroll older children in schools. That is huge! The children remembered me - sister Janae (they were close on saying my name). It was SO touching. When we arrived at the orphanage, Abraham assigned us duties with the children. The cook, Fatama, asked for help so I decided to help her. I couldn't imagine how tiring it must be to fix 3 meals a day for about 50 people. Cooking with Fatama in the make-shift kitchen was tough. We build a fire and place a humongous pot on three big rocks to balance it over the fire. Then we added oil and onions and some kind of seasoning. Next came the rice and water. We stirred the rice every now and then as it cooked. I was scolded once because I was stirring it too much! I had lots to learn on cooking rice in Ghana!

Fatama and I had wonderful conversations as we sat by the fire watching the rice cook. She has 4 daughters that she cares for after she leaves Challenging Heights. She works from 7:00am to 5:00pm 7 days a week. Her husband doesn't have much work, but here most men do not do any housework. Much of Fatama's life is cooking and doing housework. And I discovered that they do not have "pot holders" to handle the hot pots. They use their bare hands when handling the pot! I tried it but had to use my skirt to hold onto it. I helped peel yams (which are very different here) and when Fatama told me that I was a good worker, I knew that she was giving me a huge compliment. I miss her already. . . she is a strong woman!

At times children sleep on the cement floor with flies buzzing around them. I just want to pick them up and put them in their beds - but this is how they take naps sometimes. The children are so incredibly kind to each other (even though some spats break out every now and then). The older children help care for the younger children. They continue to be one big family!

Sunday service with Abraham and the children was very touching. A few of the children sang a song on their own - their voices were so moving that it brought tears to my eyes. They sang from the very depth of their souls - it was beautiful. Abraham knows every child in this home. He watches each one so that he can see their talents and strengths to help them develop. He helps those who struggle as well. They just had a set of twin girls come to the home. They were about 8 months old - they did not look that old because they were much smaller. They were so incredibly beautiful!

We videotaped Abraham about his goals for his children and the village of Damongo. We want to share this with everyone back home to see if there is a way to create a partnership with Abraham. He has a dream that will create sustainable ways for the orphanage to become more financially stable (instead of depending on donations for survival) and connect with the community of Damongo. He is the only orphanage that does not have a wall around the area. He does this because he invites all the children in Damongo to be a part of his home. He does not believe in separating the children from the community like other orphanages do. He is an incredible person. He is literally a prince because some day he will be the chief of Damongo.

We also took a day trip to the village of Larabunga and the Mole National Park. We were able to see about 6 elephants in the park. The staff live in the park so there are small villages throughout the park. We watched a group of elephants begin to wonder through one of the villages - everyone just gets out of their way so they can mozy on by. The baboons and wart hogs were fun to watch again. It's very different to be walking through a forest with wild animals.

Larabunga is a village in much need for clean water. They have 3 bore holes but only one works. World Vision has worked with them in the past. From what I understand, World Vision worked with the village to help them with some of their needs and then the people in the village were responsible to finish the project. And the project was never finished. We learned from Abraham that many villages want others to come in and take care of them instead of taking more responsibility in projects. Two of the members of the village presented us with a proposal for the repair of the one bore hole and how they would have an income to pay for the electricity and repairs. It would take more than 10 years to accomplish what they proposed. I think that if they had guidance and training from an organization, they may be able to better the lives of the people who live in the village.

After spending 9 days in Damongo, we traveled to Winneba. We have the most wonderful hostel! Emmanuel and his wife Comfort own the hostel with James Fraser (from Britain). We cook a lot with Emmanuel and Comfort. They made the best RedRed and FuFu that I have ever tasted! They are such an incredible couple - they have become a part of our family. We call this hostel our second home. It is like a small cottage with beautiful foliage and a bamboo fence around the yard for privacy. There are additional outdoor showers in the back yard with palm trees behind them. It is gorgeous.

We have been working with Challenging Heights again. William (the coordinator for programs) took us to one of the areas on Lake Volta where they rescue trafficked children in the fishing industry. It is one thing to read about it and another to see it. We were in the boat traveling across the lake to go to a village where there are trafficked children. As we were going across the lake, we stopped by a boat where a fishermen had two young boys. I wanted so badly to take those boys with us. But they don't have the resources that we have back home. William told me that there is no place to take them. They don't have resources like we have at home for abused children. It broke my heart to pull away from the two boys whose lives consist of 12 hour days of fishing. We have pictures and will post them when we return.

We are able to talk with the fishermen like this because James has worked with the police to enforce laws again child trafficking. They are finally helping James as he rescues children. So the fishermen know this and lie to James and William when they ask questions about the children working with them. They say that they are the children's uncle and that their parents are dead. So in order to rescue the children, they have to find the parents. They can then approach the fishermen and return the children to the parents.

When we walked through one of the villages, William explained that the children are told that they should hide from white people because they will do horrible things to them. I will never forgot one scene in the village . . . some children were being schooled next to a trafficked girl who was taking fish out of the nets. The trafficked girl probably doesn't even know what has happened to her. We saw another boy who looked so sad as he was working with fishing nets. He was trafficked as well. What is so infuriating on top of all of this abuse, is that fishermen send their children away so they are not trafficked as they traffic other children. I don't have words to describe this . . . .

We spoke with the chief of this village and asked him about the trafficked children. He told us that they still go to school. The fishermen let them go to school - *!!%%*** lie. William told us that when they see James or William coming to the village, they quickly take the children to an area where they supposedly teach them to show how they are caring for the children. So James and William dock their boat further down the lake and dress like villagers so that they can catch them lying. It is a way to let the fishermen know that they are being watched.

Since the law is helping James rescue children, the fishermen take the children further north in remote areas so it becomes more difficult to find them. It is overwhelming at times . . .

James and Cynthia's (his wife) lives revolve around caring for the trafficked children. They have developed programs for parents and children for rehabilitation, skills training, micro-financing, schools, and so much more. I am excited that he is coming to GVSU.

One week from today we will begin our journey home. Annie, Ross, and Uma have accomplished so much during their stay in Ghana. It is amazing what they are doing and the relationships they are building for future programs. It's been quite the trip . . . and it's not finished yet!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tamale and Damongo

We are in Tamale waiting for the van's air conditioner to be fixed. It was so good to see Abraham again. He told us that the children and staff at the Redemption Children's Home were SO excited that Ghana won the game against USA. He said that we will get teased alot. When the Dutch won the game against Ghana, the children did not want to be with the Dutch volunteers. So we are prepared to be teased! We will watch Friday night's game at Abraham's house. It will be another exciting game in the World Cup.

It feels so good to be in a more quiet area. No hectic traffic . . .more chickens . . . more goats . . . . and today it is cloudy and rainy. It feels good.

I am not looking forward to the ride from Tamale to Damongo. It is like riding in a ditch dodging holes and the washboard effect is not fun at all. It will be a good time to sing.

I am hoping that we can get clean water to Damongo and Larabunga sometime. Maybe that can be our next project.

We will be meeting with the Chief of Damongo, working with the children at the Redemption Children's Home, and teach in one of the schools. One of the children who lived at the home was selected from his region for a soccer team. This is very cool . . . . no wonder he ran circles around the students last summer during soccer!

We are doing good so far . . . no worries. Jason and Ben - what do you want from Ghana!!??
Love, Mom/Janaan

Monday, June 28, 2010

World Cup!

More about Winneba . . .

Annie and Fred gave the students a brief orientation to the culture in Winneba and Challenging Heights. Annie has done an amazing job in getting things ready for the water filters. It will be good to meet the Ghanaians that she is working with.

Annie and Fred had a birthday celebration for everyone born in June. Part of the celebration was watching the World Cup on a huge screen at a place called the Cottage with many people. And what a celebration it was when Ghana won. Winneba was alive with loud music, dancing, and honking horns through most of the night.

I will write more soon . . .

June 29th: hello from Ghana

Hello everyone,

The last few days have brought many experiences. The city of Accra is very, very busy and noisy. Very hectic. I will be glad to be in Damongo and Winneba. Our flight to Damongo leaves at 6:00am on Wednesday morning - we will probably travel most of the day to get there.

During our first day at Avienda Hotel (the first hotel in Accra) I met a man who was a refugee in Germany for 12 years. He escaped during the time that the government was in turmoil. He was a minister in the parliament at the time and began to speak out against the government. I am hoping to meet him again and hear his story about how he escaped. He now speaks at different churches and local organizations to encourage people to become involved and learn about the government's decisions so that they understand how these decisions affect them. He shared that people wait for the government to improve their lives. He encourages them to do things for themselves and take responsibility for changing their own lives. I will see if we can meet him again when Leena and Beth are with us. They arrive tonight at about 10:30pm.

We went to Winneba on Saturday to see Annie and Uma. We stayed with Fred Dadzie's family (Fred worked with Challenging Heights last year). I helped Isaak cook rice for Red Red. He makes the most delicious Red Red. We are going to see if we can find the red oil that they use for cooking it. Isaak is Fred's brother. His wife died a year ago and now he is struggling to be healthy. He has asked for our prayers to help him feel better. He is very thin.

Ross met us in Winneba - it is good to spend time with him and hear his stories about working with Dr. Sam. I am excited about meeting him.

We meet Mrs. Aworti, the Director for Science Education, this afternoon at 2:00. I will share Annie and Uma's clean water initiative with her. Maybe she can provide some kind of help for us???

The meeting at the University of Ghana in Accra was an awesome meeting. We met with Prof. Justice who teaches a course on Ghanaian history, culture, and NGO's. He spent about 2-3 hours talking with us about the options in teaching this course and connecting it with service learning. They already have a similar program with Challenging Heights. They also know James Annan with the Free the Slaves Organization. They have students who take a course and then go work with Challenging Heights for about 6 weeks. It is a perfect fit!

We also met with the Director of International Education and the Assistant Registrar for the logistics of making such a course work for us. Dr. J - I will be calling you after the 4th of July to ask you a few questions so that they can begin the approval process so that such a course will be ready for summer 2011.

Everyone at the university were so incredibly accommodating and friendly. When Prof. Justice was showing us the campus, a previous student from Canada was running. We stopped to chat with her because she developed an NGO from Prof. Justice's class and it has been in place for 3 years now. We have her contact information so that we can stay in touch with her.

For our group, we are learning about each other and how to communicate with each other. We have had our misunderstandings and are beginning to learn how to support each other.

Jason and Ben - I miss you guys!

To all my family back in Iowa - I am doing well.

Tammy - Thank you SO much for putting together our site! You are a computer whiz!

For everyone at GVSU who has given us support in this endeavor - thank you!

I will write in Damongo - hopefully!

Love to everyone! Janaan

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hi everyone!

It is countdown time for Ghana! I am excited about meeting everyone that Annie has been working with. It will be good to see Samuel and his family, the children in Damongo, and everyone at Challenging Heights. I hope to have internet access shortly after our arrival so that I can share stories.