Involvements

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A Small Closed Wooden Box

 

It was the last place I wanted to be.

Whenever it had come up in conversation, I would always tell people that I had never had to spend a night in the hospital. I would say it with that false sense of pride that comes with believing it had more to do with some exaggerated inner strength than just simple luck.

And yet there I was, in a hospital bed with an I.V drip in my arm, right where I had been for the past four nights. That false sense of pride finally, and rightfully, shattered.

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Running and Reading meets The Korirs

23327022886_ce7df209ec_oThe people involved with Life Change work hard to help others establish greater hope and vitality in their lives.  Along the way, we encounter a wide variety of significant challenges, so it is always an immense encouragement when we encounter others seeking to invest in this process of change.

Last week Tara and Wesley Korir joined us for the launch of one of our after school programs. First, we sat in the gym and they encouraged our kids to take seriously the importance of running and literacy. After, everyone went out on the field and ran together. What a thrill to watch our kids gallop beside this very neat couple.

I watched Wesley’s feet flow effortlessly over the blades of grass. This man who won the 2012 Boston Marathon and last week finished 6th in Chicago, demonstrated for me a chief characteristic of a leader; he slowed his pace so that he stayed a few paces ahead of the kids, all the time smiling and encouraging them to push harder and to stay in touch with him.  It is a good picture of what LCA attempts to do; enable those we serve to go a little further, believe more and strive for a better future.

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Beyond the Fun: How LCA is transforming lives and communities

The summer sun hangs overhead, mercilessly beating down upon plant and pavement alike. The thermometer reads somewhere in the high 20s, but it feels twice that. In the open parking lot, it’s swelteringly hot, but no one seems to mind. All around, kids are running with paper airplanes, playing tug-of-war, getting sprayed with water guns and carefully tie-dying t-shirts. It’s the first day of Life Change Adventures’ 5 Fun Days camp, and this eighth annual iteration is already living up to its name.
article cover picture From August 17-21, Life Change Adventures, a project of the Navigators dedicated to transforming communities by helping individuals discover their potential, brought 25 youth leaders and nearly 100 kids together for a week of fun activities in Waterloo, ON. These participants come from LCA’s area of focus, which includes the Sunnydale community as well as residential complexes near and on Albert and High streets.

In putting on this camp, however, the goal is more than simply having a fun time. “It directs children into the idea that you can do more than you think you can,” says Courtney Curzon, a senior youth leader who has been involved with LCA for the past nine years. “When they see us, the leaders and youth leaders, the kids look up to us as role models and sometimes that can change their whole idea of who they are and what they want to do.”

The youth leaders she mentions come from a group called Sunnydale Connect, an LCA program that runs out of the Sunnydale Community Centre for those in Grade 7 to 12 who want to get more involved in the community. This was where Jeremy Horne, LCA’s founder, first started his involvement in Sunnydale and is also how Courtney and Meaghan Sheppard, another senior youth leader, first became involved with the 5 Fun Days camp.
Having the Sunnydale Connect youth take on leadership roles in the camp has a dual purpose. In addition to teaching them valuable leadership skills, they develop relationships with the younger children that serve to strengthen the bond of community within their neighbourhoods. “If [the children] see [the youth leaders] walking down the street, they can go up to them and talk about issues they’re having at home or other things like that,” says Meaghan.

Priscilla Owusu-Amoah, an LCA team member, echoes this sentiment, saying she’s noticed the kids realizing that “this program is not available just so they can bring all their friends to make the group bigger. It’s available so the youth volunteers can spend time with each kid and get to know them. They know they are not just another number in the LCA books, but they are a person worth getting to know.”second within article

Meaghan and Courtney are both youth who have experienced LCA as campers and as leaders. Meaghan says that as a result of the love she was shown and the value she was given, “you go through it and you want to help the leaders who helped you and help the kids you’ve seen grow up with you.”

Speaking from what she has seen, Priscilla says that “when the kids come through all these programs, it doesn’t just end there. They take on responsibility and then give back to their community, so it’s this same investment in youth and youth development, which you don’t usually see. What we have is a kind of recycling of people, where our kids are coming back and leading the things that they went through.”

As an example of this, Priscilla and Meaghan both point to Courtney. “She has about five or six siblings,” says Priscilla, “and she started out doing things like Running and Reading and doing 5 Fun Days [as a participant] with us. Now she has the opportunity to lead her little siblings through that same thing. She has spent countless hours coming up with little outlines of pictures and themes to go into our programming so that it’s the best experience for her and her siblings as well.”

Courtney says her experience with LCA has also helped shape her career path, guiding her towards studying Early Childhood Education, which she will begin this September. She says her experiences working with kids in the 5 Fun Days camps helped to affirm this direction and gave her the confidence to know this was what she wanted to do.
third within article In Meaghan’s case, leadership and learning to be a leader among those her own age have been two significant areas of growth. Especially because she was born with a condition that has left her without fully developed limbs. She says her experiences with LCA have “given me the ability to talk to kids about it a little easier. It used to be a lot harder for me because I couldn’t wrap my brain around why kids wouldn’t understand when I said I was born this way. They just kind of looked at me like, ‘what does that mean?’ Having those leadership opportunities has given me a little bit of an easier time to explain to kids and [helping them] to understand it a bit better.”

Over the years, LCA has had a significant impact on the communities these kids live in. It’s to a point now, says Courtney, where the kids and youth leaders are asking in January about when the next 5 Fun Days will be. The answer, as always, is late August. Based on what she has seen, she also says that “when the kids in that community make friends at the camp, they’ll go home and hang out with each other, and the parents will see and you won’t have to worry as much whether it’s an unsafe community. It feels more welcoming.”

Courtney says her experience with LCA has also helped shape her career path, guiding her towards studying Early Childhood Education, which she will begin this September. She says her experiences working with kids in the 5 Fun Days camps helped to affirm this direction and gave her the confidence to know this was what she wanted to do.

“They know they are not just another number in the LCA books, but they are a person worth getting to know.”

In Meaghan’s case, leadership and learning to be a leader among those her own age have been two significant areas of growth. Especially because she was born with a condition that has left her without fully developed limbs. She says her experiences with LCA have “given me the ability to talk to kids about it a little easier. It used to be a lot harder for me because I couldn’t wrap my brain around why kids wouldn’t understand when I said I was born this way. They just kind of looked at me like, ‘what does that mean?’ Having those leadership opportunities has given me a little bit of an easier time to explain to kids and [helping them] to understand it a bit better.”

Over the years, LCA has had a significant impact on the communities these kids live in. It’s to a point now, says Courtney, where the kids and youth leaders are asking in January about when the next 5 Fun Days will be. The answer, as always, is late August. Based on what she has seen, she also says that “when the kids in that community make friends at the camp, they’ll go home and hang out with each other, and the parents will see and you won’t have to worry as much whether it’s an unsafe community. It feels more welcoming.”
fourth within article In addition, 5 Fun Days also provides opportunities for LCA team members to provide support to the families in the neighbourhoods they focus on. Priscilla says this can be in a variety of ways, such as running programs like 5 Fun Days, meeting people in their struggles and helping immigrant families, most of who are refugees from North Africa, adapt to Canadian society. “I think that’s what really makes a difference,” she says, “We go beyond what is expected and really get to know people and really get to do life with them.”

Ultimately though, in everything they do, Life Change Adventures works to be exactly what their name implies. “It gives us the opportunity to have those adventures that can change anybody’s life, for the better,” Meaghan says. “Everything we do in LCA strives to change children’s lives, in order to help them have a better family life and a better life overall and give them the opportunities they need to succeed in life.”

5 Fun Days 2015

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Day 15: Born equal, grown to be unequal

They say all good things must come to an end and indeed it is true. One would be led to believe that sight seeing primarily involves viewing illustrious buildings, environments and to some extent people. However, today being the penultimate day, we journeyed through Sodom and Gomorrah and Chokor- two places immensely punctuated by abject poverty, promiscuity, a high crime rate and an inadequate sewage system.

The smell was unbearable, houses were crammed together and the smoke from burning garbage persisted incessantly. The entire community was located within the heart of land solely designated for sewage and garbage. How people manage to live there remains a mystery. The grim image was very disheartening and a profound contrast was soon created when we saw visited one of the richest estates in Ghana shortly after. This area was well decorated with affluence and to some of the persons on the team, it appeared as if the estate was independent of the nation.

The portrait of black and white, riches versus poverty, aroma versus stench, perfection versus imperfection clearly showed the contrast.

The experience left the team reflecting on the quotation, “We were all born equal but grew to be unequal” and wondering how we could truly be agents of change…

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Day 14: Markets, museums and making plans

Our last few days in Ghana will be spent in Accra, doing some sight seeing and a lot of reflecting. Today we began our morning debrief with a discussion on justice. We explored the reasons why many of us are hesitant to stand up against injustices and tried to rationalize when it would be appropriate to intervene in situations. It was quickly identified that interventions in regards to injustices are always easier said than done. Conviction and passion were brought up as possible driving forces to allow for us to make interventions when we observe them.

The afternoon was spent touring the city. We visited a museum dedicated to the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and spent a few hours at a market, learning to bargain and navigate the numerous rows of colorful stalls.

Grandma Dogbe, the principal of Smile Child Academy, travelled up from Lolito and joined us for supper. Aunt Nunya also joined us to thank us for our efforts and also discuss our time in the community and the observations we had made. It was a time of brain storming for the school, talking about things like curriculum, training and next steps. As if we have not been given enough already, we were presented with scarves as a small token of appreciation. The day has been full, leaving all of us tired. But the conversations we are having continued to challenge us and dig deeper into the things we have experienced on this trip.

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Day 13: Saying goodbye to Lolito

And we’re back! Since we spent most of the day driving back to Accra from Lolito and settling in, we thought we’d take today’s blog post as an opportunity to reflect on our favourite memories from our time in the village.

As we collected the stories, it immediately became apparent that getting to know the people of Lolito was quite simply a load of fun. Jeremy’s highlight was sitting down with one 84-year-old villager and his wife and just listening to them talk about their dreams for the future, both for their family in particular and for the village as a whole. As Scilla pointed out, getting to know the children of the community was often particularly rewarding, as we spent the most time with them and so got to learn about their stories and passions throughout the week. For Tarique, it was his conversation with Christian, a local teenager from a broken home who dreams of one day working in the IT world, that stood out the most. Several other team members had fond memories of a local 3-year-old named “Korshitse” (Korshi for short). TK recalled his boundless energy and enthusiasm as he ran around the village, while Van reminisced about the time Korshi danced freely to the music amongst a crowd of volunteers and older kids. All in all, we felt incredibly privileged to get to know each of these individuals and share a small piece of their lives, even if it was only for a week.

The other strong theme of our time in Lolito that came to mind was how impressed we were at the way the community came together into a single and effective unit. For Dana, this was embodied in the way the community received our team with open arms, while Nik remembered feeling humbled by the willingness of the kids to pitch in and help move the cement bricks needed to build the new washrooms for their school. Esther summed up the whole experience by simply stating that the highlight of her trip was witnessing a community have a dream and put in the effort to make it a reality.

Though our time in Lolito is now over, we won’t soon forget all the amazing experiences we had and the exceptional people we met during our week there.

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Day 12: “Riiiinngg!, Assembly time please!”

We rise early to observe as the kids come to their first day of school from a three-week break. All hands are on deck; everyone from kindergarten to form 2 (grade eight) is doing something. The compound is swept and chairs and desks are moved into classrooms to prepare for the day. As 7:45 rolls around, the children line up according to grade and sing the national anthem, morning and marching songs. With great enthusiasm they march to their classrooms while we begin our day of work. Final touches are added to the project as some heap up shovelfuls of sand, while others clean around the construction zone. The students are ecstatic at the progress, on their break period some even venture to use the urinal before it’s open to the public! We then spend some more time training students on the Khan academy software on the computers.

At the end of the school day, the bellboy rings the bell to release the students from class. Once again they line up and sing final songs. Our last night in Lolito was full of fond memories of the experience. With the power out once more and desperate for cool, we lay on rocks outside, bug repellent slathered all over our bodies looking up at the stars and sharing stories that unfolded during our time in Lolito.

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Day 11: Back-to-school prep

Our checklist for the day had three incredibly important tasks on it: 1. Continue our work on the washroom. 2. Educate the staff about our computer literacy project. 3. Get to know the kids more. Like a sprinter completing his last 20 metres of a 100m race, today we inched closer to the completion of the bathroom facility. We dug deep and kept grinding away in the sun as we polished the structure we often associate with hope. Tomorrow is the first official day of school at Smile Child Academy and the teachers arrived a day earlier to get the necessary training to be able to use the computer software. Words were not important as their expression made it pretty clear how sated and optimistic they were.

As the sun kept beating down our faces a few of the team took the students into the schools main classroom and facilitated arts and crafts with them. There was beauty in the comradeship that could be seen with the older children playing with the younger ones. Some of the younger ones spent coloring and showing off their finished products to others. Whereas the older girls broke into singing and dancing of traditional folk songs and aroused all the little ones to join them as well!

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Day 10: Suds and Smiles

Sunday morning consisted of a church experience very different from what many of us are accustomed to. With heavy drumbeats, energetic dancing, beautiful singing, we were quick to get into the atmosphere. To top it off, Jeremy had some very encouraging words about each individual’s value and how each one of us is greatly loved. Tarique and Esther also shared their testimonies, just as the kids have been sharing their stories with us.

After lunch we had another cultural experience: laundry. As we washed our clothes by hand, we were surrounded by the smiling faces we have now gotten to know. Our afternoon was spent dancing, singing and interacting with the kids.

We ended the night with three questions:

  1. What stories will you take home?
  2. What do you still have to offer Lolito?
  3. What have you been doing to understand more of who you are?

Despite all of us being having relatively the same experience here in Lolito, it has been interesting to hear the different lessons each team member is learning. The ultimate goal for all of us is to live out these lessons in our own context when we return home.

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Day 9: An able and capable community

As we continue to settle into Lolito, one fact we are constantly reminded of is the deep, if often untapped, potential possessed by this area and its people.

Physically, Lolito is currently unexceptional, but that is slowly changing. We started off our day with more work on the toilets for Smile Child Academy. While the individual tasks were tiring and dirty, it was rewarding to see the structure rise out of what had previously been an empty section of land. By noon, the walls had reached their final height, and we could stand back and view this little piece of the school that we (with plenty of help) had put together. We also had a chance to see the other side of the same process when we went to visit the site that will one day become a new and expanded location for Smile Child Academy. The plot of land was impressive both in the scale of its potential to serve the children of the surrounding villages and in the scale of the work that will need to be done for it to reach that potential. For the moment, it was no more than scrubland, but when TK described Future of Africa’s plans for it, each of us could see the school-to-be, capable of providing a thousand students with a quality education. The transformation of Lolito has been and will continue to be incremental, but over time it is becoming something wholly new.

Throughout the day, we also had several opportunities to interact with the young people in and around Lolito. As with each previous day, our presence at the school drew a small crowd of kids eager to play with the newcomers to town. When asked, the kids came back with dreams that would not be unusual to hear in Canada; doctor, lawyer, and soldier were all mentioned. Later in the evening, Christian, one of the local teenagers, visited us to get a lesson with the computer software we brought with us for the school. Though his computer literacy was low, when we asked what he wanted to learn about, he immediately asked to see the article on computer software. That day currently seems far away, he one day hopes to join the IT field in his own right. This, in the end, is the dream of Future of Africa: that each of these kids, despite the circumstances that they were born into, might be able to realize dreams they share with children all around world.

We recognized the parallels between the potential of the school’s growth and the potential of the children and ended the night.