Throughout our time in Ghana, Nikki and TK have shown us the realities of their communities and country, whether hopeful or challenging. They have shown us their work in the streets with children and youth, they’ve shown us their work in the village of Lolito, and the work they do mentoring university students. Through their time leading us here it has become apparent to me that commitment and consistency are what change and transform people as well as communities.
In Nikki and TK’s work, this commitment and consistency come out of a deep love they have for the people they work with. Each child they interact with on the streets or in Lolito, each university student they invest in, they acknowledge the importance and value of each one of them and make it a point for them to know that they are loved and that they too can make a difference in their own community.
Back home in Canada, if a police officer identified a child to be homeless, they would likely be taken to shelter and provided for and through our child services system eventually placed into some kind of home. But here in Ghana the government does not intervene and the police are probably your enemy.
As we set out this evening into the streets, our guide Desmond, a young and dedicated Future of Africa leader took us through a modern shopping mall that wouldn’t have looked much different from the mall back home. Yet just a short walk from what looks like a developed and modern area you can find many children who struggle to survive on the streets. In this case, the children we met literally slept on the street atop a 3 ft tall median dividing a highway with fast moving traffic.
Desmond said to us “ok were going to do something kind of dangerous now” so we jumped onto the median and stood on top of it where the kids sleeping arrangements were sprawled out. Unbelievably this was where these children slept. Only a few rolls in one’s sleep and a child could be rolling off the median and into oncoming traffic, never mind trying to sleep with the noise. As if that wasn’t hard enough, two young girls, both under 15, told me how police would come and tell them to move, and beat them. But where are they to go? I had to wonder.
Yet despite these horrendous circumstances there were still smiling faces and mine was one of them. After we moved off the median and onto the side of the highway, we joined the kids in some games. Many of these games involved singing and dancing, of which I did not know the words or the moves. All the same, I was inspired by the way the kids joined together and found joy in the middle of a highway that is their home here in Ghana.
The children were happy to teach us their games and we somewhat awkwardly became their students. But I can honestly say being with this group of Ghanaian children was probably the most fun I’ve had with a group of people for a while. I mean the mission immersion team is alright but these kids were a blast. I don’t dance for just anyone.
Also along for the fun was team member Harry, who got himself into a bit of a “hairy” situation. Having longer hair that is different from most Africans hair, the kids naturally wanted to touch it. His nicely styled hair was soon messed up by half a dozen pairs of little hands. Harry also brought his ukulele which helped us to engage with the kids.
All in all, the evening was such a mix of emotions and experiences from the sadness of hearing about the circumstances of their lives to being inspired by the joy they still have and shared with us. But I would say I feel richer and privileged to have spent time with these kids.
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.
We seldom hear from them. They provide immense insight, vision, effective strategies, investment and even perspectives from all angles. Who are these people? They are simply the ones who work behind the scenes. In other cultures, their name varies but in our context, their title is board director.
In this Championing Change entry, we will focus on David Marshall, CEO of MarshallZehr Real Estate Capital and also a member of the Board for Life Change Adventures (LCA).
David, a man of Faith, alluded to the fact that he is fortunate to not only be able to incite change on the economic foundational landscape at both the micro and macro levels but also in the lives of people, students in particular. “The change I am focus on is using my abilities to work with students and developing a personal faith in Jesus Christ while learning how to use their faith in whatever field they choose. We live in a time where students from diverse backgrounds come to Canada to study and we can meet, interact and build relationships with these people.” A part from his work with Life Change Adventures, David also invests his time, knowledge, and wisdom in providing mentorship as he believes that mentorship can significantly aid character development especially when centered on scripture and its teachings. A recipient of high quality mentorship himself, Dave admitted that he does not see people as projects, “I just want to be their friends. It’s all about relationships.”
In response to the question about his views on what LCA has accomplished and could do going forward, Dave did not hold back. He noted that the selfless approach of the volunteers and staff can be attributed to the Christian faith roots of LCA which are taken from scripture; to serve others and care for the needy is commendable and has replicable qualities. He feels that the efforts of the organization could be maximized if more funding was possible and so, acknowledged the operational need for the division of LCA into two facets which would improve funding access.
I could not resist but ask what was unique about the way LCA does things. There are thousands of charitable organizations which share similar principles so what makes this one special? I thought. “I think it is the people that have brought LCA together; it’s a very grass-root. There is a unique theme is a very specific community and they truly care for everyone in that community. Despite the facts that the leaders have Christian based principles, they are well respected and everyone knows that there is deep care. It’s different from other organizations that jump in, do an event then leave. It’s that this organization has become a part of the DNA of the Sunnydale community. Schools see tremendous value. It’s not about money. You know something is successful when so many people wanting to volunteer. Another thing, it’s not about the leadership which is unique. It’s there to train and equip youth leaders and just provide help when they need it. That’s how you let a leader lead.”
Introspectively, Dave went on to state, “As a student, I was mentored by the leadership of LCA. I believe so much of what they are doing to now. It’s a part of my life. The whole DNA of equipping youth people in their own context is what happened to me. I am still mentored by Jeremy and I value him. That mentorship allowed me to mentor others which is like the passing of the torch per se.”
As it is my natural proclivity, I inquired about his thoughts, ideas and advice to youth with potential. He made it concise, digestible and lucid. “Go to people doing a very good job and ask how you can be involved, learn, be equipped and find your vision.”
David Marshall, member of the LCA Board and a firm proponent of mentorship.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of good and simple honesty. When people are lucky enough to hear stories of inspiration and/or meet individuals who are creating a beneficial pathway for others; one of the pivotal points of curiosity is, “How did you start doing this?” I do not know about you but I want unfiltered, unpurified and uncontaminated probity. Is it that you were born with the intrinsic desire to help others or is there something else?
I was greatly appreciative when she said how she started out which confirmed my theory, that she is human like you and I. She was told that after graduation, the best way to get a good paying job in her developed country is to go to a developing nation, get some experience and then return. That was the original, untouched intent and so she did. However, there was a twist to her story; a factor she never considered and as a consequence, there was a clear shift in motive, perspectives and life direction.
In this Championing Change Series, we will see mission through the eyes of Nikki Horne. To sweeten the pot, her experience took place in the Spanish corner of the Caribbean, Ecuador where she spent over 8 years.
The factor which flipped her world is what we call, “relationships”. She summed it up perfectly while at the same time acknowledging the selfishness in her original intent. “If you go into a context to sincerely try to serve the people and meet their needs, it becomes hard to leave. It’s terrible to think that I could go there, ride on their back and return to get a great job! When you develop relationships with people, you then really want to cheer for them and before long you become part of their family.”
In Ecuador, Nikki walked along side people in marginalized contexts. These people are usually under very oppressive systems. Kids cannot go to school, health care is limited, food is in short supply and the lure of criminal activities becomes more enticing with each passing day. “I worked in a school which offered free education and learnt that free education has to be coupled with other opportunities to be of any help. I got into health care, counseling and soon found myself acting as a bridge so they can access basic human rights.” Nikki said her job was identifying individual needs and tackling them. This individual based approach is effective but its reach debatable which she consciously acknowledged. People are made up differently and as a result, their situations and requirements are unique. This is the basis of the approach of the Onzole River Project Co-Founder.
I do not know about you, but I want unfiltered, unpurified and uncontaminated probity. Is it that you were born with the intrinsic desire to help others or is there something else?
It is Nikki’s belief that it is our responsibility as humanity to look at other people, share our time, resources and efforts. She spoke passionately about not wanting to be the center of her efforts, as it’s not supposed to benefit her. “To see people step into their true potential, children graduating, and parents finally being able to provide for their families are the only benefits I will accept as I find seeing all these things extremely fulfilling. I believe I am privileged as I get the opportunity to go serve in these communities.”
With regards to amplifying her efforts, Nikki noted skill sharing as being the most valuable resource to development. “People are hungry for skills. We set up vocational training centers so we can professionally develop our community leaders and in turn they can teach others. To give skills require you to give of your time, sacrifice leaving your family, and find funds to travel. People are sadly not willing to embark on this journey of selflessness,” she lamented.
Nikki concurred that change can only happen if we all start working in our own communities and as long as we are working diligently in our own corners of the world, change will happen. Nikki had advice for two audiences. To the adults she insists that a greater mentorship role of the youth has to be played and to the youth she stated so beautifully,
“There will always be pressure from society but it’s important you find pleasure in abandoning everything and pursuing what makes you happy.”
Nikki Horne, the Ecuadorian in her own right, now sets her sights on transitioning to the continent of Africa where she is hoping to contribute.
There’s nothing I love more than a riveting conversation on a topic of grave interest. With that said, I have been fortunate enough to indulge scholars, students, icons and professionals in verbal discourses which at times have become quite animated to say the least. The latest one I had was with this law enforcement officer who resigned his job. My curiosity got the better of me and I inquired and what I got knocked my nice cotton socks off. He said he did not feel like he was being the best version of himself. He did not feel happy and he did not feel that his contribution was sufficient. I was not about to let the ambiguity go and so I asked, “What contribution?” and his reply, “… to the global community; my contribution to make the world a better place.” He now works fulltime at a shelter for financially devastated families; hats off to him indeed.
In this feature of Championing Change, we go back to the continent of Africa but not to Ghana. Now we are in Zambia with Marissa Izma, a Canadian who ended up spending 8 years in the Zambia and to this point is still there. What is she doing? How is she surviving? What is she like? Please do not hate me but I am a spoiler by nature however I will behave this once and only give away one answer. Marissa is very much like the fellow that I started this article talking about.
Marissa is a Laurentian University grad, from Stratford, Ontario who encountered Life Change Adventures when she joined a two week initiative to Ecuador. Soon she became a treasured and inspiring partner. Marissa, a co-founder of the organization Same World Same Chance, is currently deeply involved with another non-profit organization in the African country using tablets to teach kids Math skills. She works with students from grades 4 to 12 but is primarily in the program management domain. Marissa noted that in Zambia, it’s only the wealthy who can afford education but now she is working assiduously to counter that. She believes that education is the key. It was refreshing to hear her say that she is just trying to be herself, to be happy, to be caring, to love, for as she puts it, “What good am I if I am not doing those things?”
I asked Marissa the root reason she is living so selflessly and her answered to a very large extent mirrored that of the law enforcement officer as she said she is here because she believes the world can be a better place and we all have to do our part. She also thinks that everyone around her, family, friends, students and others, including her, benefit when she works to be the best version of herself that she possibly can be. At present, her organization is one of the fortunate ones which have excellent funding, growing at an alarming rate, reaching more kids and providing more jobs. The objective is to have a reach that is felt all across Africa.
Nearing the end of the interview, Marissa had some advice for youth beaming with potential. “Just to follow your hearts, not to let anyone think that what you’re doing is crazy or impossible, because if you truly believe in what you’re doing than it is valuable. it might not work out exactly as you dreamed it to be (as was the case with me), but if you work hard and believe in what you’re doing then good will come out of it, guaranteed”
Marissa Izma, the humanitarian who is striving to make the world a better place.
John Holmes, a 22 year old veteran of both the US Army and National Guard and also editor of the ‘Longest War’ story collection was caught saying, ““There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” This statement, although to a certain extent arguable, is rooted in selflessness, decorated in humility and laminated in love.
Personally, I am in awe when I encounter inspirational, real life people with a story that effortlessly knock the socks off my feet. Some of these people whom I have had the pleasure of meeting are either very well off and have chosen to share their resources while others; in the middle or arguably worse off than we are. Some are just ordinary people like you and I who do what they can, with the little that they have to help those who resource wise, are much more limited and thus restricted to a particular quality of life.
Some of these people are being called philanthropists, saints and even good Samaritans but the thing is, these labels matter not to them and neither should they matter to you. The key fixation is, they are doing good, coining a “Christ-like” character while elevating their fellow brothers and sisters.
In this series, ‘Championing Change’, I will be highlighting persons like you and I who are serving people in their own context. They epitomize dedication, signify aberration and demonstrate unbelievable selflessness.