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While talking with my husband the other night he questioned why I needed to be in Ghana two weeks before my team arrives to run the Reading Camp. Well, a lot has to do with online vs in line shopping. There is no online shopping here in Ghana, so everything is in line or the queue. With a list of things to do and purchase as long as my arm, traffic jams that make New York City look like a country road, and crowded, maze-like markets, it is a wonder that I only need two weeks.
Today Mercia and I needed to purchase eight dozen t-shirts. We use 12 dozen for Reading Camp but thankfully Ascension Episcopal Church, Westminster, MD, sent four dozen with me. The t-shirt shop is deep in Makola Market in Accra. This is the market for locals, however, after 13 years of shopping there, everybody knows my name.
The queue at the shop consists of a long bench and two plastic chairs. I waited for 90 minutes, moving along the bench to the chairs to get closer to being served. Finally, it was my turn. I chose red, orange, yellow and lime green shirts for the children. Of course the ones I wanted were on the top shelf so the shopkeeper had to get a long ladder, climb to the top and throw them down. Once the eight dozen t-shirts were packed in a large plastic bag, I couldn’t even lift it. We employed Gladys, one of the market porters who couldn’t weigh 90 pounds soaking wet, to carry the load: 30 umbrellas, my eight dozen t-shits, two dozen t-shirts Mercia bought and I think a pot or two. The 30 umbrellas belong to a totally different story.
I truly am in awe at what these girls can carry. Once those items were safely in our car, we turned our attention to fabric. One of the reasons I shop online at home is so I am not tempted to buy more than I need. Fabrics are both mine and Mercia’s weakness. How can I choose just one? Luckily for me I was buying for a friend and I needed to pick out four fabrics. Plus I needed one for the team, maybe one or two more? Imagine miles of fabrics.
Okay, ten fabrics, a coconut, some pineapple, grilled plantains and small bag of ground nuts later, we had spent four hours shopping for fabric. Since it was now after 5 o’clock, our drive home would test our nerves, but for sure, we will be returning to the market tomorrow and many other days. If only amazon could deliver the 200 pounds of rice we need to buy directly to the villages.
By Deborah Albert
At the start of my second year at university I was determined to do something life-changing, I didn’t know exactly what that would entail but I definitely wanted to challenge myself and the skills set I thought I had already. Little did I know that this trip be so character building and invaluable.
The purpose of my trip was to travel to villages in Ghana as a promoter and educator of health and good sanitation. Upon arriving, I met the Health Team I would be working with for the first time. I arrived in Ghana on the 15th of July and remember feeling so overwhelmed and excited. This had been my first time in Ghana, or any West African country at that, and I was excited to explore the different landmarks, understand the culture, meet new people, try new foods, and of course carry out the mission I had been planning for so many months – all of which I did successfully!
Being a West African, Nigerian, 20 year old myself, I knew it was a long time coming. I was just hoping that my hotel had some form of wifi because as shallow as it may sound, I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like to go two weeks without any form of social media interaction because that was my main form of communication in London. In retrospect, this was a very minor sacrifice and was well worth it!
Before the first team briefing, I was required to help wash 120 buckets needed for the program. I found this to be more enjoyable than it sounded. I remember it being really hot at mid-day so the fact that I was standing with my feet bare foot under the tap when I was washing up made it a bearable task. I found that the most overwhelming part of working at the first Ada village was getting on the small wooden boat as I had a strong fear of water but I somehow managed to conquer it as I kept the mothers who would need my help in mind.
Later in the week the team travelled by bus for nine hours on dirt roads to a northern, mountainous area of the Volta Region. We stayed in that region for two nights. The remote village of Sabram houses 3 communities. Heavy rain occurred throughout the day. There was large attendance by villagers in a very small building with a tin roof. I persevered even when the monsoon like rain pelted the tin roof making it impossible to hear, it was a very challenging yet rewarding experience.
This was definitely a life changing experience and am glad I had the support of the my friends and family. I would definitely recommend everyone embark on a mission to give back to those that most need care!
By Kimberley Langston
It was February and I sat in Sunday services at Christ Church for the first time since probably Christmas. Adding a third child to our already young family, along with my husband’s aggressive travel schedule, had hit me hard and we simply hadn’t made it to church in more than a month. Despite being a “single mom” that weekend with my husband gone again, I felt an urge to load up the kids and get to church, so I did.
We had guest speakers that day – Debi and Mercia – who were speaking about the Ghanaian Mother’s Hope mission, how we could join the mission team, and for those less adventurous, how we make a difference by sponsoring a child. I had heard the sponsorship message before. Our parish was already sponsoring a Ghanaian child and I had added to collection box many times. That seemed like enough.
For some reason that day, my heart was curiously stirred by the message. But still, I did nothing more. I took my kids back to our warm home, fed them healthy food and water abundantly, then sent them to amazing schools and daycares on Monday. But the Lord nudged me saying, ‘That’s not enough. You have more to offer. You have more than enough.’
Still, I did nothing more. But my heart remained curious and unsettled. Finally, in April, at the 11th hour, I joined that year’s GMH mission team. I did no fundraising. I did no research. I didn’t even know where Ghana was on the map until a day or two before I boarded the plane. I simply wrote a check and packed my bags, and I could do that because as God had told me, I had more than enough.
Fast forward and I’m on a rickety bus full of supplies bouncing precariously down a pothole-laden road to a village on the outskirts of Accra, Ghana in West Africa. It’s Saturday and our mission team is heading out to set-up for a 5-day reading camp that we will host the following week.
We have to drive through “town” to reach the school. As soon as our bus appears within site of the first shanty homes, there is a virtual rally call from the local children and they begin to run alongside of our bus, following us all the way to the school. Every home we pass, we gain more and more of them, until there is a throng of dusty faces screaming with excitement. Their enthusiastic welcome brings tears to my eyes (even as I write this, four years later). They’ve come without their parents. They’ve come carrying younger siblings on their back. They lucky ones wear worn out flip-flops; the rest are barefoot. My favorite little boy looks to be maybe 18mos old, the same age as my youngest daughter. He wears a onesie, with the snaps hanging down loose, and no underwear. The mother in me is shaken to the core. Suddenly I want to feed, cloth, and hug them all.
The children stay with us all day, watching us work and playing with us. We begin to notice this trio of girls, total Divas, around 3 years old – the same age as my other daughter. They want to play with my hair, look at the pictures I’ve taken of them on my camera, and especially model my sunglasses while they strut and dance around the playground together. These girls, I learn, are too young to attend the reading camp. They won’t be eligible until they are 5 years old, but they are the age we target for sponsorship.
You see, because the government offers education beginning at age 5, GMH targets preschool aged children for sponsorships because it fosters the importance of schooling early. It creates a habit, an expectation, a foundation that both child and parent can continue once public education is available. It prevents girls from becoming primary caregivers to their siblings and missing out on their chance to go to school at the same pace with their male counterparts. It’s targeted, early intervention and just like early diagnosis of a disease significantly increases the probability of recovery, sponsoring a GMH child into preschool significantly increases his and her chance to continue their education because it’s already begun.
That week, our trio of Divas were like mascots in the school yard. Too young to officially attend Reading Camp formally, they, along with a gaggle of other children too young to attend, peered into the windows, sang along with our songs, and played with us during recess. At times it was almost too much heartache, seeing how many more children needed us, so desperate that they just wanted to be near.
By Thursday, the Sponsorship Lead for our team had compiled a list of the young children who needed sponsors. Their parents had been informed of the requirements and also of the familial support they would be given (mostly additional food rations) if they allowed their younger children to attend preschool as a sponsored child. They were told who would be supporting them and how they would be monitored.
That night, our team sat at a table after dinner and selected whom we would each sponsor. You see, by that point it wasn’t a matter of IF we wanted to sponsor a child – there was simply no way you could spend a week hugging these children, playing with them, looking into their bright eyes everyday and choose NOT to sponsor one.
That week I had team-taught in one of the classrooms with a high school sophomore, Maggie. She and I decided to co-sponsor one of the Divas, Deborah, because Maggie wanted desperately to be a sponsor but could not afford the full monthly amount as a student. For us, it was a wonderful way for us to continue the bond we had forged that week for two more years.
On Friday afternoon, after dismissal, our little girl sat in our laps, took a photo with us, got two huge bear hugs and a bag full of goodies to take home. And so did every other eligible child we had identified throughout the week. It was magical and I finally understood the life-changing gift we were giving. (Incidentally, I was able to surprise one of the girls from my class with another special gift that I blogged about here [insert like to the blog about the baby doll].)
Two years later, my Deborah graduated from preschool. Debi sent me a picture and I was as proud of her as I had been of my own children. That summer Debi and Becki found me a new little girl to sponsor, Michele, and I hope to hug her this summer. And if I can’t hug her in person, I know the money I send to sponsor her is my virtual hug because God reminds me always that I have more than enough to share. I can’t wait to see her graduate from preschool in a few years too!