Friday, June 24, 2011

Challenging Heights...growing familiar with the once unfamiliar

So we finally made it to Winneba Monday and have been busy collaborating with Challenging Heights ever since. Challenging Heights is our main partner and also the organization that donated the land to us. Their organization's primary goal is to stop and prevent child trafficking in the fishing industry. Winneba is a major source town for children to be trafficked from. Challenging Heights is purposely centered here to take at-risk children off the streets and placing them in school for a reduced price.

On Wednesday we were finally able to speak with the Director of Challenging Heights, James Annan. The meeting went extremely well and he filled in some large gaps we had in our plan. His ideas and areas of need matched our plans almost perfectly. It was such a relief to have the majority of our questions finally answered. To top it all off, James had been donated more land land right next to the primary school of Challenging Heights and he offered up the area for a program like ours. We are very excited to see what collaborations we can create with this partnership!

After volunteering with Challenging Heights last year, it is such a strange sensation to come back with a whole different purpose. Reflecting back, I realize that Challenging Heights is the entire reason I was stirred to return to Ghana in the first place. They were the ones who brought me to Lake Volta to witness child slavery with my own eyes. After this experience, I swore I would return to Ghana to fight this injustice or at least raise awareness of it in the states. I feel so blessed to have the resources and connections to share with this school and provide help in some way. I had my doubts at the beginning of this journey, but things keep lining up in ways we never expected. I believe God has His hand on us and I feel so blessed to be able to collaborate with such amazing people. Thankyou for your prayers! It's definitely helping:)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Those stupid backpacks...

So we woke up early this morning to stuff all of the 75+ lb bags on our backs and drag our bodies onto the streets to find a taxi. Most of the bags were full of school supplies, so we kept remind ourselves that we would get rid of them...eventually. I'm pretty sure every Ghanaian that passed us on the road must have had an internal laugh attack at our appearance: two single obroonis with hauling five bags bigger than themselves along the road. Did I forget to mention we did this all the way through New York City as well during our layover?? Never visiting downtown before, we thought it would be a great idea to take the subway into the city and get something to eat during our few hour layover. So here we are these two young girls (joined with a friend) just dragging these huge camping bags (one strapped on the front and one on the back) through downtown New York desperately trying to find the closest restaurant. NEVER AGAIN!! School supplies can just be shipped...

Anyhow, onto the important stuff.:) We got to attend a class in a business school called Hopeline this morning. We observed a simple business class that took place at the pre-professional level. It was the 6th week of a 12 week course and we were able to be thrown into the middle of it. There was about 30 Ghanaians or so attending and a few faculty members teaching off of a very young curriculum (created in 2007). Afterward, we were able to interview Tina (an intern teacher from Partners Worldwide in GR) and the director of the school called Hopeline. The director had an awesome success story of how she began her NGO just a few years ago and how it has expanded so rapidly. She really highlighted on connections and just putting yourself out there. She said if you are willing to put your heart and hardwork into a cause, then other people will follow. That gave us hope because of how new and successful her school had become in such a short time.

Later, Tina invited us to stay with her for the night. She is house-sitting for the regional director of West Africa for Partners Worldwide and it was such a blessing to have a real shower, air conditioning, and wifi!!(three things I did not expect to see for a long time! Especially wifi:P)
Tonight, we met up with a few girls from Aban, a women's empowerment organization that has just begun in Accra. Two girls out of the United States, Callie and Becca, studied abroad here last year and both held a passion for women's rights. Before long, they had partnered up with a few local NGOs and began a huge campaign of raising money for their own organization. They take young, single mothers off of the streets and give them individual attention to give them hope for a future. They have several developing classes and are currently in the works of expanding their program even further. We met up with Becca and an intern Allison tonight at a local jazz club and had an amazing conversation about our hopes for the future and methods to go about that. Tomorrow we meet up with them again and possible the Minister of Health. But as much of Ghanaian time goes. We won't know until morning for sure:) Goodnight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We made it!

After two days, three layovers, and 20-some hours of flying, we finally made it to Ghana last night! Somehow, the flights went extremely smooth this time. After last year's episode, I was slighty terrifed to fly that far. It was also probably the best people-watching journey I've ever had. Going from Washington D.C. to New York to London to Ghana, I don't think I've ever seen so many different ethnicities in one day!

On the way from London to Ghana, we met a doctor who is working at an Ivory Coast refugee camp for six months. She had extremely interesting stories of her experiences in other parts of Africa. Jess and I hope to visit her camps at some point during our trip. Today we picked up the living essentials and are ready to start some research tomorrow:) We meet with Hopeline which is a business-planning program branched from Partners in Health (from GR, MI) in the morning. We are going to be attending a few classes there and meeting with the representative from the U.S. Can't wait to get started!

Also, we are keeping a group blog at that will probably be our main one from now on. I'll update here occassionally though:)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hey everyone. I just wanted to give a quick update of the school we are tryin to build. Here's a quick summary of this project...

Over this past year, I have gotten involved with a new nonprofit organization called Sankofa out of Grand Rapids, MI and they want to help build a career academy in Ghana next year. This summer, I will be traveling back with their director, Jess Emelander, to plan the details of this academy. We already have land to build on and are partnering with a school in Ghana called Challenging Heights, which rescues children from child-slavery. If everything goes as planned, we hope to start construction on the school by next winter.
Checkout out Sankofa's website at

This link explains my background in greater detail--> Ghana support letter 2011

I could never be able to go through with this trip alone. So I am asking for your support as a friend with
1) prayer- keep this group in your prayers! We can't do this without God's lead
2)networking-do you know anyone that could help us out with anything? The more assistance the better!
3)financial- I have to raise $2700 by the end of May for flight and all expenses while we are there (but mainly flight b/c living is so cheap)
If you would like to donate online, the website is , click "Donate" and specify the "Ghana Resource" team.
If you could help in any of these areas, I would be so greatful.

If you have any thoughts whatsoever, please email me at, or call, or FB. Feel free! I would love to hear your ideas.

One last thought: This trip is not supposed to be about me. My goal is to help make difference in these people's lives by making an education possible. This is something that God has set on my heart and I am just following the opportunity to help.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! And for all or any support big or small. Seriously, it means the world to me :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back in the U.S.A.

I didn't think one month in Africa could cause this much "reverse-culture shock." Throughout the last few days back home, I will have small reminders that will somehow bring me back to Ghana and my mind will just wonder off. It's hard to even explain to people because you really have to go through the drastic culture change in order to fully understand it, but I will give it a shot... The moment I stepped off of the plane in the Atlanta airport, I automatically prepared myself for the chaos or unexpected problems that always seemed to arise in Ghana...everywhere. In Ghana, when you left the airport, or your hostile, or anywhere, you were constantly confronted with questions and gestures and touching. This was especially true in the cities...people on the street would constantly pester you to buy their products or to have them help you carry something, etc. to earn their day's wages. Plus, since there are so few white people in Ghana, you are often treated like a famous person. They treat their guests with the utmost respect and interest, but that means people always want to talk to you. Walking down the street, they would yell questions at us, wondering where we were from, what our names were, why we were there, etc. When I arrived in Atlanta, I subconsciously prepared myself for this almost intimidating and stressful demeanor. But, it never came. For once, I felt like i didn't have to constantly watch my bag, have my guard up to all of these people "coming at me," and I didn't have to worry about anyone else bothering me. In Atlanta, everyone was out for themselves and nobody seemed to even pay attention to the next person. It was the weirdest sensation. I went from a culture of being treated like some sort of famous person (in both good and bad ways) to a culture who could care less about another stranger. Just like that, I was a "nobody" again....and, man, did I enjoy the solitude of my own mind. I felt like I could finally let myself go and not feel so "threatened" or on edge all of the time. It was just stressful in Ghana at times when you always had to watch your back and felt obliged to talk to/help everyone around you. It's such a different culture...never about the "I" but always about the "we." So the first feeling I got was a sort of freedom and letting go of a subconscious burden...(I'm not sure how to explain it...) The next feeling was awe. I walked into the airport and couldn't believe how clean and large everything seemed. Plus, there were SO many white people! After seeing hardly any white people for a month (besides our group), it was very strange to be among so many Americans...people that looked and talked like us. Then, I went into the bathroom...there was running water! CLEAN running water! AND it got even better...they had toilet paper in the bathrooms! Not to mention that the seats were clean and dry. The thing I got the most excited for was the drinking fountain! Free, clean, drinking water. It doesn't get any better than that after spending a month in Ghana. People there have to pay to get purified drinking water, and the water from the sinks and showers is generally collected from large rain reservoirs...For once, I didn't have to pay for water. Praise God! I'll finish this tomorrow...for now I must sleep. (I'm still suffering from quite a bit of jet lag...urghh)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This last week went by incredibly fast...and I CANNOT believe I leave in three short days already! In the beginning of this week, I was pretty down because the plans of working at the medical hospital in Winneba had fallen through...But, literally the same day that the hospital work was cancelled a completely unexpected opportunity arose. After working at the school that morning, I ran into a couple of other Americans walking through town (and to even meet another American is super bizarre here). They told me about the mission trip that they were in Ghana for. Every day, they traveled to a different village and would evangelize to the people there. (They have been building churches throughout this region for the last 10 years.) They added that they were working alongside a medical group from the U.S. as well. The medical team would travel with them to these smaller villages and set up a full medical clinic where people were treated for various diseases. Before long, I found myself with a phone number to these kind people and had made arrangements to join their team later in the week. The opportunity seemed like an answer to my prayers. So the next few days I found myself shadowing the people from the medical team. For some of the time, I sat behind the translator and nurse where they diagnosed different diseases. When we arrived there the first day, there was already about 50 people lined up to get medical treatment before we had even set up. We had over 100 people treated that day; nearly half of them were diagnosed with some form of treatable virus, that they couldn't afford to treat with medication. Their symptoms had gotten out of control and they suffered from sickness that could be treated instantly back home (or that we had already been vaccinated for) in the U.S. like malaria, typhoid fever, and hepatitis B. It was so interesting to observe how a medical mission team worked. I also followed around the evangelizing group who I had met on the street one day. We simply went to different huts and spoke with the people about God (with the help of a Ghanain translator). We asked them about their faith and they asked us about ours. We shared different scriptures with one another and prayed with them afterward. I loved to really talk with the people there, and not at them...for once, I wasn't talking as a white tourist, but just as another person. It was amazing to see some people come to grips with their faith and to outwardly admit their flaws and ask for our help. It was even more amazing and humbling when the Ghanains taught me something about their faith and culture. I think I actually may have learned more from them than I gave back. It was just incredible to see people with almost no physical possessions (in American standards) to be so happy with their lives and on fire for God. One of the days, I was with the evangelizing group and our Ghanain translator left early, so we decided to go on a little adventure. There was these random women appearing on the side of the road with HUGE baskets of pineapple on their head. We wanted to see where these ladies were coming from, so we followed them on a tiny path that seemed to get tighter and tighter with trees so close that you could not even see the sky. It wound around for atleast a mile back into the middle of the bush...literally the bush. After 20 minutes or so of hiking uphill, the forest broke into a large field that overlooked absolutely everything. You could see the entire town and rolling hills of rainforest and various crop fields for miles around. But, the women didn't stop there. I continued to follow them up to the top of the hill while my group disappeared behind me. I wanted to find out where all of these pineapples were coming from! Shortly, we reached the pineapple field where pineapples grew in the middle of these short bushes for as far as the eye could see. (I was honestly expecting some sort of tree the entire way.. never did a think they grew out of a bush haha...) When I got to the top, I wanted to help the women somehow. I didn't come all that way for nothing. So, I offered to carry some of the pineapples back down the path on my head, secretly thinking that they wouldn't weigh that much. After some rough hand motioning, trying to understand one another, I had the bowl on my head full of pineapples. I just about collapsed! That thing was SO heavy...I can't even imagine how they carried those things!! I told the women to take half of the pineapple away so I could actually lift it; they all started laughing at me...They said I would never make it. I pretty much forced the bowl back on my head, determined to prove them wrong. Stubbornly, I marched down the hill, following the other ladies back into the bush. I don't think I have ever carried something so heavy in my life. I made it...but just barely. My neck felt like it was going to burst the entire way down and the women were chatting happily the whole way, while I couldn't even utter a word. At the bottom of the hill, the women applauded me and gave me one of the biggest pineapples I have ever seen in my life! Fresh out of the field too:) My neck and back were sore for days afterward...but I got a pineapple, right? Friday we headed West to Cape Coast, our begin our weekend of touristy attractions. We visited the slave trade castle and went on a canopy walk about 40 km above the ground. There is way to much to explain...but I'll fill everyone in more when I get home THURSDAY! AHH!

Friday, July 16, 2010


I'm not doing a very good job of keeping up with my journal...but there is just so much going on and too little time to type!

Last Thursday (a week ago Thursday) we arrived in Winneba from up north. We are staying here for the remainder of the trip and so far it has been wonderful. Our hostile is about 400m from the ocean and you can hear the waves in the distance before you fall asleep at night. For once, we get to sleep in our own beds with our own rooms. It's such a luxury! We have a kitchen as well and the owner of the hostile, named Emanuel, cooks African dishes with us at nigth sometimes. This week we learned how to make a delicious African Jollof rice with its "secret ingredient" and Red-red with fried plantains. Red red is a type of bean dish usually made with palm oil and different vegetables/herbs. Sooo yummy! (fyi..If you read my earlier posts complaining about the food, I can completely say the opposite after the last few weeks. Most of the African dishes our actually really good! You just have to know where to look or be lucky enough to get a home-cooked meal. )

While we are in Winneba, we are working with a school called Challenging Heights. It's a school that was originally created for rescued child slaves. The children that attend the school have either been rescued from a human-trafficker or our at high-risk to be trafficked. The school is in a poorer part of town (which is already poor so it's really rundown around there) where the traffickers our known to come looking for children and/or the children can't afford for normal schooling. (In Ghana, school costs money and, when most of the country is below the poverty line, it doesn't make much sense at all to charge people...) Anyway, I helped teach at the school earlier this week. All of the children our uniformed and the rescued children our not identified on order to treat all of the kids alike. Everyone in our group was asked to pick a class to help teach and I chose the 1st grade. While grading papers, I caught myself glancing around the room and wondering about which children had come from where and what kind of stories they possessed. Although, some of the trafficked children were pretty obvious. The ones who were recently rescued from slavery hardly spoke and would barely look me in the eyes when I taught. Also, many of them sat together in one corner of the room. The teacher later told me to be gentle with that section because they were still adjusting to everything (confirming my suspicions).

The level of abilities was just about as diverse as you could get in a school. One day, we (me and the teacher) went over the different types of rocks for about 2 hours and, after repeating the same information over atleast 50 times (by writing and speaking) we gave the 30-some children a little quiz. Half of them failed it. I was shocked, and kind of frustrated. Were we just wasting our time trying to teach them? Were they even trying to learn something? The teacher tried to explain how this was normal and that different children had not fully developed b/c of their situations. The school is trying hard to identify the ability levels of the kids, but it is so diverse and financially challenging that they are forced to group them in grade-levels. Rosemary, the teacher I worked with (who I thought was at least 24, but was actually only 18!), told me all about how many of the children were never given the chance to go to school before now and that in the first grade class alone, there were a few students over 20 years old mixed in with the kids. I couldn't believe it! How had I not noticed? Plus, she said many of them had been severely mentally abused along with the typical physical abuse.... Some were never allowed to speak when enslaved and, now, had the hardest time just getting a sentence out...

Wednesday, we traveled 8-9 hours by van to a Lake Volta where most of the children in Ghana our trafficked into the fishing industry. Guided by one of the rescuers himself, William, we took a boat ride across the lake to one of the villages where trafficking was very prevalent. The entire experience was unexplainable. I did a huge research report on this very subject and area last year and seeing it with my own eyes was just... unreal. On the boat ride, we could see children (as young as 5) on other boats with their "masters" helping them to haul out the fish and doing pretty much everything that the master didn't want to do. William informed us that many children die from diving into the deep waters to untangle the netting (which is a very common task for them.) Their little bodies our then buried somewhere far from the village and, after a few years, the children's family are informed that their child died from some sort of |sickness". How disgusting....
When we arrived at the village across the lake many of children came running toward us and William told us that these were the children of the families from the village. Apparently, the fishermen never use their own children to do work, but send them to school like any "responsible parent" would. Instead, the fishermen travel to far-off villages where they can "buy" children from desperate families, who have really no idea where their child is going...On shore, the fishermen tried to hide or disguise the trafficked children by having them duck in the boats or claiming the trafficked children as their own(beforehand, commanding the children to remain silent). The traffickers also tell the trafficked children that we are policemen coming to arrest them, so that they run and hide from us. William, with his year of experience, pointed out many of the disguised trafficked children for us. Most families played the act well, but some children seemed all-too obvious.. at some huts, a few children would be dressed in uniforms just hanging out and smiling up at us(the fishermen's children), while one or two would be standing off to the side untangling a net in some pathetic version of a dress. (These families claimed that the child was just doing a chores...uh huh...)I was soo frustrated at these fishermen to say it lightly...I can't even explain how angry it makes me.. How could they EVER think that was OKAY to completely ruin a child's life like that?? They treat these children like rats...and,then, these kids grow up knowing no better...and guess what they end up doing for a living?

I just don't even know what to say anymore...But the reality of these kids is so real and so evil it is just disgusting...and, when I get back, I think that is what I may concentrate trying to change...