Mission Immersion

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Going to Ghana was not just about what I could do in Ghana but really it was more about learning from the work that is already being done there and seeing what I can do here in my community. In Ghana we saw the grave injustices of kids who are forced to live on the street. I experienced first-hand children who slept on a hard concrete median in the middle of a highway, kids who lacked basic nourishment, shelter and healthcare.
The kid in the picture, Patrick, used to be one of those kids. Today thanks to Future of Africa he has a home and is going to school and is working hard to make a better life for himself and those around him. Some stranger’s choice to walk alongside him when no one else would has dramatically impacted his life.
Yet I find there are those in similar situations who live amongst us in Canada but often go unnoticed. I have friends who have been homeless and slept in tents or truck trailers who have also lacked basic nourishment and healthcare. I have seen those who simply due to a mental illness beyond their control are left without support and ignored by society, much like these street children were.
I wonder what might happen if more of us were to come alongside the forgotten and ignored people in our communities. I hope that by what I learned from the examples of those working in Ghana I might start to impact the lives of the forgotten in my own community.
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How They Do It

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.

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Waterloo to Accra

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.

-Roland Fleming

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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.