Life Change Stories

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Change Begins Here

We were a ragtag group, high on passion, learning as we went. It was a crazy, full, exciting, at times exasperating week. Five Fun Days; our 8th annual camp for kids from the local communities. This is surely what Paradise must be like I said to whoever at the moment was standing next to me. Every colour, race, religion imaginable; and laughter, activity and noise in abundance!

“Start somewhere. Start right here. Start now!”

Sure there are weaknesses and gaps everywhere – in many areas we could have and properly should have done better, but no one said that the process towards change would be perfect – no one said that it would be cosy, neat and clean.

Fatema our new Burmese friend. Tiny in stature but amazingly strong, talented with a truly gorgeous smile led her group of kids with skill and stature.
Esther, our summer student from Dalhousie coordinated it all. One minute would catch her in serious contemplation of the next decision, the next laughing uproariously at something that grabbed her attention.
Jerry, from Rwanda, quietly and deliberately took his charges through the day, being abundantly patient with one little girl who exhibited serious emotional issues. Full marks for persevering.
Dean’s magic trick which were not magic at all, but who cared, they were funny and the kids sniffing out a fraud howled with derision.
Christy directing traffic in ways that only a mother of 3 is able, seeking cooperation from reluctant teens, at times exasperated, but always laughing and always life giving.
Kristi, mother of two , our registrar, ever vigilant, firm but gentle, wrapping her arms around each as we showed up for a day’s work.

This is our camp – 5 fun days. – five days of the summer where our community comes together to build memories, give kids an enjoyable experience and declare in the loudest possible manner to each and every single person matters and is valued. It might be a tiny step. It might all appear small and insignificant, but we feel it is a step towards change. Change that takes place one action at a time.

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Change

I recently read a book whose by-line was “everything must change.” Really? Everything?

Life Change would agree that change is necessary for vast portions of our world. But ‘everything’ is paralysing. And I am not even sure I agree: a beautiful sunset? A fabulous painting? A wonderful symphony… does that need to change?

But truth be told there are just too many people in our world suffering, too many people struggling with immense poverty, too many desperate to  care for their loved ones, too many with their lives in peril, too many discouraged and depressed, too many doing jail time.  YES, change is necessary. Real, sustainable, life giving change. We can’t quibble with that.

How does it happen?

This is the kind of change that Life Change Adventures has set out to pursue:

  • We seek to turn discouragement and despair into hope and purpose.
  • Conflict and hurting into compassion and care
  • Loneliness and isolation into relationships and community
  • Feeling small and insignificant into strong self-worth and value
  • Confinement and powerlessness into strength and freedom.

 

A tall order indeed! But we do it step by step, person by person.

We create and lead programs that emphasize beauty, justice and compassion. And at the core of what we do will always be a strong commitment to see and celebrate the worth and value of each and every person we encounter, the powerful and healthy respect for relationships and the relentless pursuit of real and lasting transformation. We recognise that this will not just happen because we want it, but will require commitment and personal cost — A cost we are ready for when it’s necessary.

Why, you ask?

Simple.

We believe that this is the way that life is meant to be lived and is best lived — and people, no matter what they may think of themselves, are worth it.

That smile.

scilla for websiteMother Teresa once said that even a smile can be a powerful agent of change. I was sceptical until I met my friend and co-worker Priscilla. Life Change has many fabulous people who work with us. Few have made a more significant contribution than Scilla. She has taught many of us the power of the smile. When she walks into a room with her smile the entire tone of the place changes. But when she dances and begins to move to the music and her entire face lights up, her wonderful smile radiates joy and delight. She has taught me that a smile makes people feel warm and open. That a smile draws people forward and invites them to be real and vulnerable.

Every person has a stake in making this world a better place. Each person has a contribution Scilla againto make. Scilla brings joy to others through the delight she projects with her dance and music. I think she makes the choice to smile even when smiling might be hard. This is her contribution, this is her delight. And I know of no one who doesn’t like being in a room that she is in. There is certainly a lot more to this woman beyond her smile, but it is her smile that is the door opener and proof positive that a simple smile can be the catalyst for change!

The Smallest Person at Camp is a Giant!

face to use

“There is no ‘can’t’ in my vocabulary”

Let me introduce you to my friend Meaghan; “Meaghan never-underestimate-me Sheppard.” At least that’s the name I have affectionately pinned on her. It started-surprise, surprise, -when I assumed that because she hasn’t any hands, (or lower legs), that she would not be able to text. Boy! Was I wrong! Meaghan put me in my place, as within seconds she whipped off a perfect sentence. Dropping the phone into my hand she exclaimed firmly, “Never underestimate me!” A year later I did. I regretted it.

Last week Meaghan co-led our annual ‘Five Days of Fun’ camp for kids from our expanded neighbourhood. 120 kids were registered, more than 30 teens contributed to leadership. Meaghan and a few older youth lead the whole program. What an amazing crazy, full and exciting week!

Halfway through the week Meaghan addressed the entire camp… all 3 feet of her, (she had left her legs at home). The kids were captivated. Meaghan spoke with the courage and tenacity of a giant. She later sang with a powerful voice.

“Can’t is not a word in my vocabulary”, she said firmly. “I refuse to accept that I am unable to do something. It may take me longer, but I can do almost everything you can do.”

“Each of us has challenges or hurdles”, I said following. “The challenges that Meaghan must deal with are very clear. But we all have struggles and each of us can rise above them and make a difference in this world. Just like Meaghan is doing.”

We are giants not because we are excessively big or tall. We are giants’ when we choose to go beyond our assumed limitations. Giants are people who resist compromise and make change happen. Each of us can be a giant or a hero to another. Meaghan is a hero to me.

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One month later…

It feels like only moments ago, I was under the Ghanaian sun, surrounded by dozens of giggling children, all eager to hold my hand and learn my name. Close to my memory, are all the late night conversations I had with my team members on topics like justice, identity and faith. Even though it happened one month ago, I find I am still grappling with the experiences I had, and struggling to figure out what it means to live out the lessons I learned.

In countries like Ghana, the needs abound. The problems the country faces seem very visible, from power outages, to poverty, to traffic congestion. It was all a little overwhelming for me. It wasn’t until I witnessed the people and the school in Lolito, that I began to understand how change happens. It’s not about solving all the problems. It’s about using your gifts to address the needs in your own community.

It’s a good lesson to learn, but I’ve found it challenging to apply to life in Canada. The issues seems far less obvious here, and even more so in my wealthy, small town of Elmira. It has forced me to step back and take a critical look at my community and the people I interact with. What are the hidden needs and what is my role in addressing them?

In my reflection, I’ve noticed the need for genuine relationships that go beyond the surface. Relationships built on trust, openness and encouragement. To be a part of the solution, requires a great deal of intentionality on my end. This summer, I will have numerous opportunities to interact with those who may not have these kinds of relationships. Whether it’s the children from the summer camps, the youth from Sunnydale Connect, or my fellow leaders and friends. I must go beyond the “programming” by being an example of openness and encouragement and by intentionally starting conversations of greater importance.

I know it’s a lot easier said than done. It takes extra effort, a certain amount of patience, and sometimes it’s downright awkward. But this is how I start taking the lessons I’ve learned from across the ocean and bringing them into the context I know best, my home.

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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!