What We Have Seen

It’s been three days since we’ve been home from Ghana and this time, post-trip, I’ve done something new and different.

I’ve let down.

After previous trips, my routine has been to spring out of bed the morning after and start working. There always seems to be more to do than time to get it done, and this weighs on me. “If I could afford to let down, I would,” was my response to my family’s plea for me to rest after the trip. Despite a bit of exhaustion and a touch of jet lag, I would fill my days with work, morning to evening, as if I was saving the world.

Each day that passes I realize with startling clarity that I am not saving the world. Sometimes let’s-save-the-world, let’s-change-the-world can be effective rally cries if you find the proper audience, but it can also be a dangerous mentality. As we entered each village where we work in Ghana, I once again reminded myself that I have far more to learn than to teach, far more to absorb than to dispense. And on this trip, I tried to clear my vision and really see what was in front of me. Unfortunately, we Westerners glide into different parts of Africa with too many opinions, ideas, images, and solutions blocking our vision. We think that we already know how it should be, and so we come ready to fix things and save people. I only know this because that’s me: fixing and saving.

But that’s all wrong. I can’t fix my own life and I sure didn’t save myself, so I’m not sure why I think I can do this for anyone else. I want to enter into the lives of our friends in Ghana in a way that allows me to see their world and learn from it. If I strip away what I think I know about the people in Ghana – or anywhere in the world – this just might be possible.

So over the past four days – starting with the 36-hour airport/airline festivities – I’ve been closing my eyes and seeing, once again, all that we were privileged to see in Ghana. I’ve been reliving moments and asking myself what I have learned from them. I’ve been dragging my vision across the landscape of a village, a mud and thatch house, a dark room, a contagious smile, and a hand-crank sewing machine. What does it mean that this is one young woman’s life day in and day out? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it holds answers to questions I ask every day.

I could come home and only bury myself in tasks (tasks, by the way, will commence tomorrow), but our work with families in Ghana demands more than a trite let’s-change-the-world mentality. So I’m settling in and thinking about what I have seen. We can never un-see what we have seen. We should never shut our eyes and try make it go away, nor should we attempt to shape it to a reality of our choosing. I want what I have seen to teach me, shape me, and cause me to think about the world and our work in wider, deeper ways

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We Met Dumakyi Today

Written last night, posted today:

We’ve been waiting for this day all week. We visited the village of Dumakyi, which, for us, is a whole new level of Ghana that we haven’t seen – no electricity and no clean drinking water. The villagers have migrated from the Northern Region and are tenant farmers who build their houses from mud and thatch. We supplied solar lanterns to each family in this village several months ago, and every house we stopped at had their lanterns charging.

This is our last night in Ghana and I’m in the midst of trying to pack all the stitched items and other things we are bringing back. I’m putting wood carvings between all my dirty clothes (like you needed to know that), and have packed an entire suitcase of the stitched items the apprentices, Esther, and Saraphine.

So, I’m going to let the photos do the talking.

Last time…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

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Day Four: Puff Bread, Bed Nets, and Little Girl Dresses

Today is Friday. We are halfway through our time here in Ghana, which is hard to believe. We visited more families today, and made a stop by Ama’s business to treat the staff to Puff bread. The consensus is that everyone in Ankaase should try Ama’s Puff bread! I really wanted to start marketing for her – brand her shop, get some signage, advertise in the village. But she’ll be responsible for drumming up business, and so far she seems to be doing well. She was thrilled to get some t-shirts from Laken, who has connected with her because of their similar businesses. Laken also sells pastries – Lick Your Lips Mini-Donuts.

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We also visited a family who received bedding from A local organization in Tulsa. The youngest daughter, Afia, is bright and a good student, but she had been missing many days of school each term because of malarial symptoms. Now that she has a bed and is sleeping under a bed net, she is in school every day and she is thriving.

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And the stitched items are coming along. Jennifer has made incredible progress and is now stitching items that she will send back to the U.S. for purchase. She is so proud of her work. She seems more confident and hopeful. If only we could continually bring items from Ghana to the U.S. so that Abigail and Jennifer can have added income. (That’s a hint for any of you that travel here regularly).

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Tomorrow we will meet with all the orphaned students in our program and bring them letters and gifts from sponsors. We have five new students, so we’re excited to meet and greet!

It’s earlier tonight than when I usually post, so I’m going to enjoy a much-needed phone call home (if the WiFi will cooperate).

So…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Connecting Across the Continents

Today, it felt like Ghana – hot, sunny, and a little humid. No, actually it was very humid. Yesterday, Chris wondered where all that hot weather was that I had promised her, so today Ghana delivered it. Ah, this feels like the Ghana I know and love.

This was a day to catch up with old and new friends and to share greetings from our friends back in the U.S. We brought photo albums for our Income Generation women with postcard greetings, letters, and photos of women in the U.S. We love connecting women and families in the U.S. with families here. Here are photos to show you how the connections in the U.S. made their way here.

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Joyce and Ama looking at her letters and photos from women in the U.S.

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Never underestimate the value of these connections. On both sides of the ocean, they are a blessing. Joyce and the other Income Generation women know that they have new friends in the U.S. who really do think of them and pray for them.

Today, we talked with a mother of two young boys in Nantan who had just been evicted from her house by her mother-in-law. Her husband has left and she has no idea where he is. It’s so hard to know what to say. So we just hold a hand.

Everyone can do something to make a connection. We promise that we’ll do our part on this end to facilitate the connection.

We’ve just finished a delicious dinner of groundnut soup and rice balls. Chris lost. She didn’t clean her plate. On the other hand, I went in for a second helping. We’ll give her another chance tomorrow night when we introduce her to red-red and fried plantain.

So, we’re getting ready to welcome the staff back for another evening – this time for an official staff meeting. It looks to be another late evening, so I’m finishing this post and turning off my WiFi.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where there is a beautiful full moon this evening!

 

We’re Back in Ghana: Half of Day One

This is last night’s post, but the WiFi was not cooperating, so I’m once again posting after the fact. Just pretend it is about 3:29 p.m. yesterday, which is when you would have been reading this if all things technical hadn’t fallen apart. 

We’re here! Four hours of sleep in 48 hours makes for one exhausted team. But we can’t complain. Our only delay was a turnaround in the air when we were in the process of landing in Kumasi. After about 35 hours of travel (and four hours of sleep in a guesthouse in Accra), we were so ready to be on the ground and on our way to the mission house. But the president of Ghana was landing at the Kumasi airport just as we were about to land, and so we were not allowed to join him. I guess when the president’s plane lands, the airport has to be cleared. So,we flew back to Accra, waited the requisite amount of time – which turned out to be an hour – then flew back to Kumasi.

We unpacked our seven pieces of luggage, then went to Esther’s seamstress shop where we picked up ten more Ankaase bags and five more tote bags. The quality of these stitched items is very good quality, and Esther is really helping the apprentices learn to make these products. They are so excited to be sewing and earning income for the work they are producing. The more opportunities we give them to stitch, the better it is for them and their families. We’re looking forward to bringing quite a few items back, just in time for Christmas!

Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting all the apprentices and bringing greetings to them in the form of letters, postcards, and photos from those of you who have connected with them in the U.S. On Thursday, we’ll visit the IG women, Ama and Helena, and bring those same greetings. It makes these visits much more special when those of you who have made connections enter the picture and join us in encouraging and walking alongside these women.

The power was out when we arrived, so we were able to use some of the solar lanterns that we’ll leave when we return. These are the same lanterns that Isaac and the staff delivered to Dumakyi village in September. We realize that when it’s dark and you are eating a delicious dinner of Jollof rice and chicken, it’s good to see your food. So we dined by solar lanterns, which seemed fitting.

I’m turning in early so this is a short post with no photos, but we’ll be rested and full of energy tomorrow. So now, the moment I’ve been waiting for: crawling into bed for a full night’s sleep.

Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

It’s Orphan Sunday: Rise and Go

 

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It seems perfectly fitting that on Orphan Sunday we are boarding a flight to Ghana – a country I was introduced to through the faces of five orphans. Three years ago I looked at photos of the children taken in their orphanage, and a few months later was on a plane to meet them. At the time I thought that adoption might be in the plan, but it wasn’t. That was difficult for me to accept until I realized that there was another reason I was led to Ghana.

Orphan Sunday is a day to learn about, speak up for, and find ways to care for the millions of orphans around the world – including the ones in our own city. I am somewhat familiar with the plight of orphans, since thirteen years ago we adopted a daughter from China, and my husband directs an international adoption agency. But I wasn’t as knowledgeable about what all this looks like before a child is abandoned in a crowded market or brought to an orphanage. What are the circumstances that lead up to someone handing over their child? And what happens to children who are shuffled into the home of a relative after the death of their parents? Now I know the stories of some of these children, which is why I keep going back.

We began Rising Village for the purpose of identifying parents and caregivers who have little resources and find it difficult to provide for their children. It’s these families who are often at risk of placing their children in a local orphanage, or worse, being targeted by child traffickers – of which there are many in Ghana. We also decided to come alongside the families who have taken in orphaned children so that we can help provide education through high school and beyond. We want these families and the children to have every opportunity to remain intact and be a strong and vital part of their community and their country. It’s a big goal, but one that we believe in. We’ve seen the other side of it. Each one of us who is traveling today has visited orphanages, brought orphans into our family, organized orphan awareness events, sponsored children all over the world and participated in Orphan Sunday in years past. This year we will participate by boarding a British Airways flight that will take us to Ghana. We go without fear and with resolve.

We will spend time with orphaned children who live with relatives. We will continue to work with single mothers who have started businesses and entered apprenticeships so they can provide for their children and become strong, purpose-filled families. We will visit those who have received bedding to help prevent malaria – a disease that kills parents and children. All of these things help us fulfill our mission of transforming villages through family preservation. It happens slowly and not by our hands only. The people who live in Ghana are capable and ready to join in this mission – we simply bring resources, encouragement, and love to our brothers and sisters who are there. And we go with the blessing and support from all of you who have joined in the mission here. Your prayers and generous giving of your time and money have allowed us to begin and expand this work. We are grateful and humbled.

So this begins my travel journal on this Orphan Sunday. As always, I’m praying for reliable Internet connection so I can send the stories and photos back to you. We have seven pieces of luggage, so I’m also praying for a joyful reunion with that luggage in Accra. We’ll be staying in the capital city for one evening, and then we’ll fly the short distance into Kumasi, then drive to Ankaase. So you and I will meet up again in a couple of days when I’m able to post again.

Thank you for joining us on this adventure. 

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Books, Lanterns, and Backpacks

 

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We’re packing the luggage, gathering the passports, and preparing for another trip to Ghana in early November. I’m so blessed to be able to work in that part of the world. It’s joyfully noisy and replete with complicated cultural nuances that I’ll never completely understand. The people are gracious, the children are full of energy, and the food is spicy and delicious. I’m looking forward to all of it. It challenges me and stretches me every time I’m there. Ghana has captured a piece of my heart, and each time I travel there it feels a little like going home.

There are so many people here who help get us there. If you’re interested in being a part of this trip, please bookmark this blog and check back often for pre-travel updates and stories from our journey. You can also be a part of helping us provide a few things for our sponsored students and some families we work with. I’ve created a Wish List on Amazon.com that is so easy it’s ridiculous. You simply choose an item from our list, purchase it, and it will ship to us. You don’t even have to get out of your chair. We would like to bring a book to each of our sponsored students – these are teenagers who have been orphaned and live with relatives in one of the five villages where we work. For new students in this program who don’t have sponsors yet, we need a few more backpacks. And we’re taking three solar lanterns we will use while we’re there, and then give them to families when we return home.

We know each time we walk through the villages in Ghana that we aren’t doing this alone. People here provide what we need to help families and students rise out of poverty. Can a backpack, or a book, or a lantern help fix what is broken? Maybe. God has used less likely things (and people) than these. If you would like to see other ways you can join us in helping families rise, visit our website.

Thanks in advance for helping us give, serve, and love in Ghana!

Dresses, Backpacks and Bibles

Colin says that I have a technology curse. I think he might be right.

So, we had to drive into Kumasi today – our first day in the village – to exchange money and purchase a modem. It seems that every time I come to Ghana it gets a little harder to access the Internet. My handy little Vodaphone thumb drive modem failed me, so we took the plunge and purchased this little wireless modem that allows me to be typing this right now. We’ll see how this goes. I have yet to upload photos. If you seem them below, then the modem was a success. If not, then Colin may be right.

We met our seamstress apprentice, Jennifer:

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For those of you who helped fund Jennifer’s Business Build Grant, she’s already stitching dresses! Jennifer will be stitching new bags – a smaller version of the Ankaase bag, scarves, and headbands using the traditional Ghana wax fabric, and she will receive income from every one of those products sold. This income will help her support her mother, and daughter, Betty. They are in need of income to help improve their housing.

And these are four of our students:

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These are Yaw Mensah’s four children. He has been left alone to raise these children. After an injury, he is unable to walk without crutches and his wife left him soon after the accident.

And this is Philomena and Maxwell, who are receiving the Bibles they were given by their sponsors, the staff at First Baptist Church, Tulsa.

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and our newest hairstylist apprentice, Mary and her son Samuel.

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Besides the technology problems, everything here is great. Colin and I feel blessed to be walking the roads of Ankaase, and tomorrow, the village of Nantan.

Right now, I have to go tear apart the bedroom to hunt down all the things that I know I brought but can’t locate. There are suitcases all over my bedroom filled with all the things I packed but didn’t organize. I can’t find anything.

Thank you for your prayers, your support, and all the ways you have encouraged us. We are exhausted, but blessed to know that there are people back home who walk beside us as we walk beside these families.

So until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Would You?

I’m posting this because we set a goal and it would be so wonderful to reach it before we leave for Ghana on Monday.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and wondering if it’s appropriate, but I’m taking the risk and praying that you don’t run the other direction when you see me coming. So here is my ask: We’re looking for 20 people who will make a commitment to give $25 a month to Rising Village Foundation.

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I could tell you that $25 a month is such a small amount that you wouldn’t notice if it was pulled from your monthly budget, but that’s not true for everyone. What I can tell you is that the $25 you give each month will be used to change some stories for families in a part of the world where life is hard.

My blog is titled One Good Story, but it seems that it is easier to focus on the negative. Sensational, frightening, fear-inducing stories seem to be everywhere and cause us to worry and lament where our world is headed. As a news junkie, I can easily fall into this, but I think we need voices that call us to something different. What if we told those stories with hope? And what if we used our resources to become that hope for those who desperately need it? I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a way that actually changes stories for someone besides myself.

I want to tell Yaw’s story with hope. He is a father of four children who was injured two years ago and did not have the financial resources to seek medical help. What little money he brought in to care for his wife and five children was gone. Yaw’s wife, overwhelmed by her inability to be the sole source of income, fled. She had little education and perhaps feared watching her children go hungry. Yaw was left alone with his three sons and daughter.

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For two years, he has depended on the charity of other impoverished family members in the village and this has left him drained of the energy to take care of his children. They attend school sporadically in worn uniforms. Yaw needs medical attention. His children need education. The entire family needs better healthcare and improved living conditions to become strong. We want them to be the kind of family that can make the village a better place to live. And yes, this is possible.

Our model is one family at a time. So I’m asking 20 of you to help us by clicking this link on the Rising Village website. It takes you to our partner page, where you can sign up for a recurring payment of $25 a month. If that seems like too much, we have an option for $10 a month. Or, $50 a month, and on up. Every little bit helps as we continue to walk where God is leading us. He provides, but He does this through people whose hearts have been moved by the stories we tell. And we believe these are stories of hope.

I know I’ve been making lots of asks these days, but we all give in different ways. Some donate school supplies, some write checks, some give their time to help direct and volunteer, some pray. I am grateful for any way that you choose to join in the work we are doing.

I’ll be posting here while we’re in Ghana, so don’t leave the blog because I asked you for money, promise? You won’t want to miss the stories  we’ll be sharing. And now, I’m off to the packing room!

Such Love

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You people amaze me. Today, I had all ages of friends coming to my door with sacks of school supplies for children and teachers in Ghana. One little girl bounced up my sidewalk with bright backpacks. Another friend who lives in a retirement community brought colored pencils, chalk and Cinderella flash cards. “It’s just a dab,” she said, and I told her that it was the “dabs” put together that would fill a suitcase for orphans and vulnerable families in the small village where we work.  It was a great way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

We leave for Ghana one week from today. In the meantime we have a Rising Village board meeting, I have paperwork to finish for our Ghana NGO, tax receipts to generate, sewing patterns to print…and packing to start. It’s enough to make me turn in tiny circles, trying to figure out how it will all get done before we board the flight. There is “business” that must be done, but what really matters is the Rising Village families and the growing number of people who are helping to make life better for these families. Throughout the weekend, I’m reminded that this is what fuels me. We have three children in our program who are orphans. Their parents have died and they live with relatives who won’t ever be able to support them fully. On Saturday night, a neighbor dropped off several school supplies, including three pencil bags that look like tennis shoes – just the kind of special gifts we need for these three special kids. We want to remind them they are special, loved, and cared for by people who have never even met them. For all of you who donate, give, pray, and write letters to our families and children, this quote from Dr. King is for you:

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

So keep bringing your “dabs” of love. You can leave them on the porch swing or the rocking chairs. We’re packing on Friday, so thank you for helping us fill our suitcases. I am humbled by such love.

Dig Your Heels In

Making a Victory Sign

There is a great story that makes its way around the Internet about a commencement speech given by Winston Churchill, in which he stood up in front of a graduating class and simply said: “Never give-up. Never give up. Never give up.” Then he sat down.

Just so you know, that speech never took place. But I like the story and have claimed it in times when I needed a dramatic reminder to never give up, never give up, never give up.

He did make a speech in October of 1941 at his alma mater, the Harrow School, and said this:

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. 

He followed this up with other really good thoughts, but this seems to be the origin of the urban legend speech, which is a very different kind of speech because there is a subtle difference in the wording “in” as opposed to “up.” Giving up is quitting something. Giving in is entering into something.

I hate giving up on projects, dreams, plans. But I’m pretty good at giving in to fear, disillusionment, doubt, and a host of other things that might tempt me to give up.

I think the distinction between Churchill’s words is important. We first give in to something before we give up on something. I find myself in the danger zone often these days when setbacks come in clusters. I had several of them this week and I spent the day yesterday wondering if I was crazy, jumped the gun, taken the wrong path. I went through the list of possible reasons why things seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. I cried, and cleaned my house, and thought about applying for a job at the newspaper where I used to work. The clincher came earlier that morning when I heard the news that my dear friend and co-worker, Isaac, was sick in a hospital bed in Ghana. As I mopped my kitchen floor in a panic, I blamed myself – certain that he had been working too hard. And of course, that was my fault. My temptations to give in went on all day and into the evening. This morning I woke up to the news that on Thursday, the day of my party in honor of Rising Village , the high temperature will be 26, accompanied by sleet and possible snow. Of course, the weather is beautiful all week until that day. And of course, if the weather is bad, no one will come. I already felt like the girl who threw a party and no one came. I feared the worst and doubted my own crazy ideas.

And then, I thought about Churchill’s speech – the real one. “Never give in. Never. Never. Never.”

I ran across this quote from Francis Chan a little later: “When it’s hard and you are doubtful, give more.”

Today, Isaac is better and will be delivering beds and bed nets to families before the week is over. I changed the date of my party and gave myself some breathing room on preparations. I put a big pot of pinto beans on the stove (this is comfort food for me), and decided that things are definitely not on the verge of falling apart. I was just on the verge of giving in to a few fears and worries and doubts. And according to Churchill, who my father-in-law thought a genius, I should never do this.

I’m digging my heels in – really deep.

Onward.

Will You Come to the Party?

I’m not much of a party girl.

At least not the kind of party that requires save-the-dates, printed invitations, sparkly decorations, a spotless house and fancy foods. I prefer the kind of party that happens at the last minute when my house isn’t cleaned, we scrounge for food, and then turn on background music for a night of really good conversation. Like I said, not much of a party girl.

But I’m doing that printed-invitation-decorate-your-house-fancy-food thing. And then I’m praying that you and a few other people will show up. Because this isn’t only a party – it’s an opportunity to change some stories.

Last year, I decided that I would not use my blog as a constant platform for the work I do in Ghana. I wanted to keep this personal and so I mostly wrote on the ACEF blog (where I was volunteering) to share the needs of my precious friends in Ankaase. I deviated from this decision only when I traveled. Other than that, I kept mostly quiet about it because sometimes you can wear people out blabbering about your “cause.” But now that we have started Rising Village Foundation, I’m afraid that I won’t be keeping quiet about it because, well, this is just a really good story. And if I may remind you, that’s the title of this blog.

Oh, and I should make it clear at this very moment that I did not start this journey. God did. Some of you might roll your eyes at that because it sounds so spiritually cliche, but it’s the undeniable truth. Those who have been intimately involved in the start of this will back me up. I’m not going to tell that story here, but if you want to hear it, I’ll plan the kind of party where I don’t clean my house, we scrounge for food, and then we settle in for some really good conversation.

But this post is about a different kind of party. Here’s your invitation:

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If you need my address, email me: lisa@risingvillage.org. So here are a few of the reasons I’m throwing this shindig:

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The Homeda children
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The Dufie children
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Yaa in her kitchen
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Jennifer (left)
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Betty

There are needs everywhere in the world, but I want to introduce you to a corner where God has placed me. It’s Ankaase, Ghana, and these are some of my friends who live there. I’m throwing this party in their honor and for their sake. Here’s why: I believe that God desires for everyone, everywhere, to live a great story. But for some people, circumstances far beyond their control are keeping their stories laced with too much illness, fear, hunger, hardship, and uncertainty.

I’m not okay with this. And I don’t think God is okay with this either. At this point, I hear the familiar question, “Why doesn’t he do something about it, then?” Here’s my answer: He already did. And here we are.

I can’t change the world (I wish it were so), but maybe I can change part of the story for some families in this village. And maybe you can help me. Here’s what we can do together – and by the way, you get something out of it, so read on.

We labor over what to get my dad for Christmas. He doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t want anything. He’s pretty satisfied with a good meal and a sunny day for golfing. He knows his desires are simple, so he won’t give us any ideas for what to buy him. It’s frustrating for us, so a couple of years ago he asked us to give money to help someone in need instead of buying him something he didn’t need. We liked that idea, so we purchased a Kiva gift card. This year, we’re giving him a gift card in honor of one of our friends in Ankaase. Sorry Dad. I know you read this blog, but you’re not about surprises anyway and you knew it was coming.

Kofi, a father of seven, doesn’t have a great story. You can read about it here. We want a better story for Kofi, so we’re asking our friends here to help us change it. We’re sourcing a $150 grant because Kofi wants to start a cocoa farming business. He has a good business plan, he’s hardworking, and we believe he’ll be a successful cocoa farmer. Best part: he can make the story better for his kids. In Dad’s honor, we’re giving money to help fund the grant that will buy the seedlings that Kofi will plant and harvest and sell.

Here’s the card my dad will get for Christmas (again, sorry Dad).

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So, when you come to my party, as you eat your fancy food and delight over my decorated and clean house, you can purchase gift cards for the people on your Christmas list. They’ll know you’ve helped change the story for someone in their honor, and they’ll love their gift. I promise. You can see all the gift cards available here. You can give a school uniform, a bed net, school fees, school supplies, even a computer for a village school! I love this one:

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Oh, and here are a few other items you can purchase:

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Krobo bead bracelets and earrings
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Krobo bead necklace with pendant
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String art from Ghana
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Wax fabric Ankaase bags designed by Steffani Lincecum
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“When you pray, move your feet” t-shirt

Some of you live far away, or have other plans on December 5th, so here is one way you can still join the party: you can purchase for our friends in Ankaase here on our GiveGood Catalog and order gift cards for your honoree when you check out. If you want the jewelry, string art, or t-shirts, you’ll have to come to the party or contact me to arrange a personal “shopping date.”

I’ll do that for you.

Because you’re my friends.

But I’m still cleaning my house, decorating, and putting out the food spread on December 5. All the money raised that night from your purchases will go to change the stories of some precious people in a corner of the world that you may never see. But I promise you this, I’ll share the stories with you. And we’ll know that God has done something beautiful through all of us.

So, will you come to the party?

Thoughts on a Hurricane

On our return trip from Ghana Sunday afternoon, I barely escaped New York’s JFK airport ahead of Sandy. Having just flown in from the other side of the world, I didn’t know there was a hurricane brewing. We heard about Sandy as soon as we hit the ground in NYC and we tried to process the possibility of such devastation: the crush of water leveling homes; the dangerous winds that could blow automobiles off the road; the hundreds of thousands who were going to be without power (it’s still 5 million without power as of today); the lives that might be lost. I arrived home on Sunday evening just in time to see the coverage on Sandy begin. While Alison and Kyle combed the neighborhood for candy last night, I sat in front of CNN and watched with disbelief. The terror of a natural disaster doesn’t respect the state, country, or continental lines that have been drawn by mere mortals. I witnessed people in distress and struggling to survive in Ghana, then came home to see it in my own country. I have taken note of the difference in reaction, however, between those who suffer disaster in places where disaster is prevalent, and those who suffer where comfort is the expectation and demand. The interviews with people who were walking in Manhattan – forced out of their cars and mass transit by a shutdown of roadway access – ring in my ears. “I’ve walked two hours,” said a UPS employee. “It’s been a marathon.” And while our President and his administration are being held in high regard for their quick response to the suffering, experts are speculating that if the power doesn’t come back on in short order, those affected might take their frustrations to the ballot box.

At this point, I could make an expected comparison between the resilience of those in developing countries where conditions force them to endure with little complaining, and the reaction of Americans to a hurricane disaster that affects them in such direct and painful ways. But that would be wrong. Those of us who live in relative comfort are blessed beyond what we can comprehend, and when disaster comes, we are rightfully shocked and talk openly about the pain of what we are experiencing. We make note of the fact that we are used to having access to basics like mass transit and electricity, and we watch in awe as rugged homes are washed away or reduced to rubble. I don’t blame the UPS employee for complaining about a two hour walk across the city. We are rightfully vocal about this hurricane and what it has done to our cities and communities.

But we also endure.

In the midst of all the coverage, what has drawn me in is not the ugliness of Sandy, but the beauty of people who may weep over what they have lost, yet also throw back their shoulders and vow to stay and rebuild. Neighbors and strangers cared for one another in selfless ways when they thought no one was watching. But those of us in the rest of the United States and around the world are watching. And what I see causes me to feel an even deeper sense of gratitude for this country I live in. Maybe it’s a result of being away from it – and all of its comforts and attributes – for ten days. If so, all the better. Sometimes we don’t realize the wonder of our blessings until we are absent from them for a time. I pray that each person who is suffering in the path of Sandy will have everything restored to them – from electricity to a roof over their head. Those who have lost loved ones will have the lingering question of “why?”, but I pray they will rebuild their lives and move forward with an even greater sense of how lovely and fleeting life is. These are easy prayers to pray from my home in the middle of the country where hurricanes don’t devastate. But I pray these prayers because I believe we are also a people of resilience and endurance, despite our First World comforts. We have learned to enjoy them, but we’re still strong when they have been ripped from our fingers.

So I return from Ghana and find myself on my knees for the people in my own country. Will you join me?

Ghana Day Nine: Goodbye

Sometimes I really hate that word. Today, it was a horrible thing to have to say. These kids have really messed me up so I wonder if perhaps I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. At the same time that my heart is all wrapped around the kids, my brain is frantically trying to come up with solutions. I am reminding myself that I don’t have to find the answers for all of the world’s problems. I am reading Richard Stearns Hole in the Gospel, and he says this: “It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. God says that we are guilty if we allow people to remain deprived when we have the means to help them.”

Ouch.

Okay, so I don’t have to find answers for all of the world’s problems, but I didn’t come face to face with the entire world over the course of this week. I came face to face with five children (okay, I know I started with one, but now it’s five). So that’s how we leave Kumasi – with children in our hearts and a commitment to do something to make life better for them. I think I have a t-shirt with those words printed on it. I don’t want that to be just a slogan. I want to feel it and find a way to make it happen.

So enough of sad goodbyes. I want to finish out my blog posts here in this amazing country with a few observations about Ghanaian culture:

#1. Ghanaians do not smoke. At least not in public. In Ghanaian movies (we watched three on the bus ride from Accra to Kumasi), the villains smoke. They’re always lighting up and and then producing a sinister laugh as they walk around with the cigarette dangling from their lips in the most unappealing way. And in the movies, to the extent I could understand what was happening, there seemed to be several breaks in the plot so the good guy could lecture the bad guy on the dangers of smoking. Fact: I haven’t seen a single person smoking since we’ve been in Ghana.

#2. Ghanaians do not eat dessert, nor do they celebrate birthdays with cake. In fact, rarely do they celebrate birthdays because they aren’t really sure when they were born. So when the meal is over, it is over. No sweets to top it off. Restaurants do not have dessert offerings, although those that cater to folks like us do. The Miklin has ice cream and fruit on the dessert menu. Chocolate is a big staple here, but it’s a snack and you can buy a bar from one of the many vendors that sell their items in the middle of “go slow traffic.” Which brings me to my next observation…

#3. You can sit in your car and buy any of the following items: toilet paper, mobile phone chargers, fried plantains, sim cards, fruit, shoes, and sardines. Many of these items are in crates or large bowls that sit securely on the head of the sellers. They can’t bend over to peer into the window of the car, but they can stand at the window and wait for you to acknowledge them – which they do. You only need to shake your head slightly and they will slowly walk to the car behind you. They have no need to stand and plead with you to buy something from them. An endless string of traffic supplies them with customers day and night.

#4. Almost every business has a catchy, spiritual name. I suppose it’s the equivalent of having a fish on your yellow pages ad. Here is a sampling:
Hope of Glory Beauty Salon
In Thee Hotel (love that one!)
Seek Jesus Key-cutting Service
Trust in Jesus Special Pork
Nearer My God Construction Company
Lord’s Winners Investment Services

#5. Every Ghanaian realizes the value of education, but not everyone has the means to educate their child. That’s a problem. It’s election season in Ghana, and for two hours in the Kia cab a few days ago I listened to a presidential candidate make a speech in Twi. No, I didn’t understand most of it, but he did use the word “education” over and over. I assume he was making promises that just might not be kept. Politics is politics everywhere. I love this quote that I heard on the radio yesterday (we spend a lot of time in the Kia cab): “As Ghanaians, we live as if we are going to die tomorrow, and we learn as if we are going to live forever.” I wish the second part of that quote could be a reality for every child here. In the lobby tonight, I saw a guy who sold me some paintings over the weekend. He had walked in from the center of Kumasi to sell his art to a big group from America that has descended on the Miklin. “I wanted to be a lawyer,” he told me as we sat on the steps together, “but there was no money for that, so I taught myself art and now I try to make every day better than the day before. I did well in school and learned what I needed to know. Now I’m just trying to survive.” It’s the same story everywhere. Just surviving.

Two weeks ago, before we left, a friend wrote me a note and said, “I’m so excited to see how Africa soaks into you.” How has Africa soaked into us? In a hundred different ways, with a hundred different faces and voices. I will carry with me the smiles and the beautiful lilting accents. They are a part of me now. We were given a gift today from the headmaster of the village school. It is a carving that’s purpose is to remind us to look back on our time here, and then someday to return. I accepted the gift and told him that we very much want to return. And we want to do our part to make life better for the people we have met here. As we say goodbye, Erin and I feel blessed beyond words and soaked with the beauty of the people of Ghana.

So, for the last time, I wish you goodnight from Kumasi.

Ghana Day Eight: One More Boy


He appeared at my side yesterday as soon as I stepped out of the car at the village school and he did not leave it all day. He stood beside me while I took video of the boys playing soccer at recess. He carried my bag into the classroom where I would be tutoring Osei and Adu. And then, when we were back outside listening to the girls sing, he looked up at me and asked, “When you come back, would you please bring me a bicycle?” I’m ashamed to say that I sort of dismissed him and shook my head. “No, if I brought you a bicycle I would have to bring all the other children a bicycle.” That’s always a good answer, and so I thought he and I were finished with our conversation. But he was not about to be done.

“Could you take me to U.S?” He asked about 15 minutes later. For the first time, I turned and looked into his eyes. He was serious. “Please auntie?”

I am going to need to get away from this kid, I thought. I didn’t have a good answer for this request, except to shake my head and say, “I can’t do that. You have a mommy here and she wouldn’t want me to take you away.” I should have given more careful thought to that answer. I walked into the tutoring room, certain that he and I were now finished.

A few minutes later he appeared in the room and Anna took him aside while I worked with Adu and Osei. Anna and the boy were having a nice little chat, and I thought nothing of it. When we finished our tutoring, he was still hanging around so I gave him some bubbles and waved goodbye to him as we left the school.

“You have a new little friend,” Anna said to me after we were in the car. “He wants to be adopted and go to the U.S. He’s says he’s going to bring his mother to the school tomorrow.”

“Excuse me?”

“He told me his family story,” Anna continued. “It’s very sad, but he seems determined. He said that as soon as we drove up that he knew something special was going to happen to him. I told him that it doesn’t work that way, but he insisted that he is bringing his mother. He told me his parents are divorced and his father doesn’t want anything to do with him and the other children. Father doesn’t give any support and doesn’t have any food for him when he comes to his house.”

“I do not think his mother will be coming to the school tomorrow just because he asks her to,” I told Anna.

Anna shrugged. “He said that she will want to meet us. I don’t know.”

And you’re going to believe a kid? I thought. I certainly didn’t want to patronize Anna, but things like that don’t just happen.

Well, actually in Ghana, they do.

When we pulled up to the school today, the boy’s mother was sitting on the bench under a tree between the buildings. She had been waiting all day for us to come. Peter sighed and pulled out his notebook.

“I will have to see what she has to say,” he said.

So, Solomon joined us for tutoring. “What’s one more boy?” I said cheerily as he scooted on the bench beside Adu. For the next hour and a half, the three boys and I played sentence games and learned more sight words. Most of the time, we made silly sentences because I let them choose the words. Today we learned about nouns. “What is a noun?” I asked them. Osei and Adu looked at me with blank faces.

“A person, place, or thing,” Solomon said quietly. And the afternoon sort of went that way. He is a smart kid and he is eager to please, a contrast to Adu who, I have discovered, is a tough little nut to crack. He’s a bit ornery and pretends not to know English. Solomon spent the afternoon translating for Adu, who stubbornly insisted on speaking Twi. When we were almost finished with our tutoring, Solomon looked at me and said, “Tomorrow we will go to U.S.?” I felt sick to my stomach. What would you have said? Honestly, I would have loved some help in that moment. Erin only looked at me with wide eyes and returned to her work with the girls at the table across the room.

“I can’t take you to the U.S.,” I said. “I just can’t do that.”

I really didn’t know what else to say. And then he just stared up at me in complete confusion. “But my mommy is out there. We can go talk to her. She says yes.”

“No, I can’t go talk to her. I can’t take you to the U.S.” I was firm.

By the time we walked out of the classroom my head was spinning. I had – and still have – no idea what I should have said. I took a photo and a video of him giving me his age and name, just like I did yesterday with Osei and Adu. “These are just for my friends,” I told him. “So they can see the boys that I tutored.” I tried everything to make sure he didn’t misinterpret any gestures or words. I even attempted to be a little cold.

The mother, as it turns out, would like for someone to take her son. She can’t feed him, she told Peter. She sat with him and told him all the details of her and Solomon’s life. It seems that she can’t find hope anywhere. She gets no support from the father, who is remarried and also struggling. He wants nothing to do with his children.

“The father would never agree to such a thing,” I said to Peter. “I’m certain.” What an expert I am. And then, the strangest thing happened. We said our goodbyes, bought all the children a water bottle at the bottom of the hill, and began to drive away. We had only driven a short distance when we saw Solomon walking with his mother. When he recognized us, he began to wave frantically. We stopped. He spoke rapidly in Twi and pointed up the road.

“Aaah,” Peter said. “That’s his father walking toward us.”

Seriously? He just happened to be walking by?

“I’m going to talk with him,” Peter said. “He should be supporting this boy.”

So Peter got out and talked to the father, who smiled and nodded throughout the entire conversation. Probably laughing about the silliness of the mother coming to the school, and the audacity of the boy to ask if someone would take him to the U.S. The father is a teacher in a nearby village, but he is not trained and makes barely enough money to live on. Teachers in Ghana are not paid well either.

Peter got back in the car. “He doesn’t want to have anything to do with the children,” Peter said. “He isn’t going to help support them. I told him about Solomon bringing his mother to the school, and he said he doesn’t care if the boy goes to the U.S.”

Just like that? And with a smile?

I’m not sure what to make of this story. It’s surreal. What is the best thing to do in this situation? So we’ve come up with a possible solution. We will find a sponsor for Solomon through ACEF and give his mother the help that she needs to feed him and pay for his school uniform and supplies.

“He will be very happy with a sponsorship,” Peter said. “I explained to him and his mother what we can do for them to give them some hope.”

I would like to believe that this will be the best solution for Solomon. Perhaps he will continue to learn and then break the cycle of poverty and abandonment in his family. Maybe? Those are tough odds to beat, but I’m praying for Solomon, Adu, Osei, Sarah, and Beatrice – that they will dig their heels in and win.

Ghana Day Seven: Let Us Give Thanks




Today, I decided that it was time for grateful thoughts. First, I’m so thankful for all your prayers during the seven days that we have been in Ghana. I can feel them and they are carrying us as we walk (and drive!) through each day. The top photo is our driver, Kaykay. It’s really amazing to put your life in someone’s hands like we do every moment that we are on the road. There are no seatbelts in our little Kia, there are no traffic laws on the streets, and many people behind the wheel here have never attended a driving course. It shows. Sometimes we drive on the right side of the road, and sometimes we veer over to the left if there are ruts on the right side. We create passing lanes over hills, around curves, and even when there is another car coming straight for us. Kaykay has impeccable timing, but I do my part by silently lifting up some prayers during our excursions. So thank you friends and family, for praying along with us.

I am also thankful that Erin is here with me. That’s her in the photo above with her students Sarah and Beatrice. Spending ten days in Africa with your child turns out to be a very effective way to bond. As we walked through the woods yesterday with the machete-wielding man in front of us (his purpose to clear the way and kill the snakes), we looked at each other and shook our heads. “Nobody would believe this if we told them,” I said to her. Africa is an experience that often defies explanation and description so the person you are with is really the only person who “gets” it. If for some reason she and I ever have a big fight, surely we can pull back together if one of us says, “Remember that time in Africa when…”

Here’s one that will surprise you: I’m thankful for the unrelenting and cruel heat. My body has found new ways to sweat, sunscreen only sort of works, and I can drink two water bottles and never have to go to the bathroom. It’s a shock to the system but this is my entrance to summer. There is no weather system in Oklahoma that could possibly bring around this kind of heat and humidity – even in the middle of August. Oh, and would someone please remind me of that when I begin to grumble about the Oklahoma heat?

Of course, traveling to another culture and country makes you appreciate your own even more, so I could make a list of things that I take for granted at home: brewed coffee, paved roads, reliable electricity, and other things that might make life easier here. But once you get used to what you don’t have, you make do. And I’m staying in the Miklin Hotel, so I have everything I need. The children that we tutor each afternoon have almost nothing. Adu has one corner in one room in a tiny house. He doesn’t own a pencil sharpener so he brought a razor blade to school today to sharpen his pencil (broken pencil leads drive him crazy). He has one pair of shoes. Every child in that same school shares that same story. There is an anonymous quote that goes like this: “Sometimes I want to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world. But I’m afraid He might ask me the same question.” Those of us who have much to be thankful for also have much to decide about how we share those resources. What will we do with our time, money, and goods in order for others to be able to live as God intended? I believe God weeps for His children who do not have enough. I would weep if they were mine.

So tonight, I am closing my eyes with a prayer of thanks on my lips. It seems like a good way to end day seven in Ghana. So, goodnight from Kumasi.

Ghana Day Six: Will You Take My Baby?

The Miklin Hotel is starting to feel like a familiar little home and we’re getting adjusted to loose schedules, shifting plans, and unexpected delays. We had planned to go to church this morning, but it didn’t happen. We thought we were leaving the hotel at 1 p.m. to tour the villages, but we left at 1:45 p.m. We determined that we would be back early enough tonight to walk down the street to the “chop house” for dinner, but we ate dinner in the room. We’re learning not to get too attached to our own promises.

Today, we visited two villages. I am still stunned. Does anyone ever get used to seeing poverty? The second little community we went to was vibrant and lively – and completely impoverished. Groups of women had gathered their wares on benches between houses and were trying to sell everything from plastic shoes to plantains. Cocoa beans were drying on a large slab of plywood in the center of the village and colorful clothes were strung on lines across the front of drab cinderblock homes. Cooking fires were burning in front of most of the homes where dinner was being prepared. In the red dirt not far from our car, a little boy of about two was wearing (with only one arm through a sleeve) an oversized shirt and busily constructing a push car out of a large yellow plastic jug and a flattened cardboard box. He was intent on forming a seat from the cardboard and after he was successful, he began pushing his makeshift car around in the dirt. I snapped several photos until his mother walked up to our group. She glanced at me several times as she talked with Anna. At first, I thought she approached us because she was upset I was taking photos of her little boy, but she was smiling.

“Is it okay with her if I take photos of him?” I asked Anna.
“It’s fine. She just wanted to ask if you will take him with you,” Anna replied.

I put down my camera and looked at the boy’s mother. She was nodding and still smiling. Anna shook her head and said something to her in Twi, the local language. The woman pointed at the little boy who was pushing on his car, and continued to talk. Anna was friendly, and waved goodbye to her and the crowd as we walked toward the car.

This was the third time in one day that someone asked us to take their children away because they cannot afford to buy them clothes and food. Two of the children from earlier in the day had been eating the fruit that had dropped on the ground in the selling area. While they scrounged for food, their mother was walking through traffic with an aluminum bowl of watermelon on her head.

“They don’t understand why we can’t just put them in the car and take them with us,” Anna said. “The mothers know that we could feed them and give them what they cannot. They just don’t understand that it doesn’t work that way.”

What way does it work? Children living with mothers who would rather send them with any well-dressed stranger doesn’t seem to work either. I am sorry that none of us seem to have answers for these mothers. It’s easy to judge them as heartless, especially when they smile as they ask you to take the children off their hands. But I cannot possibly know what it is like to walk in their shoes. When people tell me that Chinese parents are heartless because they abandon their baby girls at birth, I also feel powerless to judge. I’ve never walked in those shoes either.

In each of the faces of the children here in Ghana, I see the one child that I can help. So we’re heading back to the school in Ankaase village tomorrow to tutor Samuel, Osei, Beatrice, and Sarah. For the time we are in Ghana, they are our children. And we are blessed to be able to sit across the table from them for three more days.

Goodnight, once again, from Kumasi, Ghana.

Ghana Day Three: Meeting Samuel

I hesitate to even write this post because there is so much to describe and no photos. I’m sorry, I just can’t get the photos to load and I’m heartbroken. I don’t think my writing skills are up to the task to describe this day. Wi-fi is once again jetting in and out so I’m going to compose, hit publish, and know that you will forgive my typos. Because you love me.

We traveled to Ankaase village today. The roads were a combination of acceptable and horrendous. I do have photos, but you’ll have to simply imagine a red dirt road with deep, long ruts that a very small Kia could get lost in. We took portions of the road at about 5 miles per hour and I lost count of how many times we bottomed out. Our driver, Kaykay, was gracious and insufferable to drive us there, wait for us at the school, drive us to Adu’s house, then back to Kumasi in a blackout. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Here’s some background you’ll need: our family “met” Samuel in November of last year. We saw his photos along with other children who needed sponsorship. When our Lifegroup at FBC decided we wanted to stretch ourselves and sponsor a child as a class, I asked Peter (who runs the sponsorship program) to find us the most needy child. That child was Samuel. Without a father and mother, he lived with his grandmother until she could no longer support him. He moved to an orphanage, where he was living at the time we began our sponsorship. I immediately developed the photos Peter sent me of him, passed them around to the class, and framed one for our kitchen. Every day for five months I have been looking at Samuel wearing his red shirt with the tattered collar and faded jeans. I have prayed for him, poured over every email Peter has sent me about him, studied his report card, prayed some more, and counted down the days until I could meet him. Since we began the sponsorship he has moved from the orphanage to a foster home, and then back with his paternal grandmother. Our sponsorship is allowing her to continue to raise Samuel. A couple of weeks ago, a friend who traveled here met him and told me he seemed very sad and unresponsive. She showed me the photos and it broke my heart. The child in these photos looked nothing like the framed photo in my kitchen. I found this out about five days before I left, and so I began to count hours instead of days. Today ended the countdown.

We met Samuel at the school where the day had just ended. He started this school about a month ago and his school history is sketchy and depressing. For quite a while, he lived in a home where no one required that he attend school. Then he moved to the orphanage and it seems there was little accountability to make sure he was attending school, so he was skipping about half the time. Then he was put in another school before coming to this one. It’s a school with very few resources. Crudely constructed plank benches and desks sit atop dirt floors inside stifling rooms. Oh, and there are goats and chickens wandering in and out of the classrooms. The school day was over though so I didn’t see any class in session. We were seated in the library to meet Samuel. The library is about three bookshelves filled with mostly outdated textbooks. No storybooks and only a few books that were shiny and bright. Most were dusty and old. But the headmaster, Daniel, loves these children and is doing his best for them with a group of young Ghanaian teachers.

About five minutes after we were seated, Samuel walked in. I would have recognized him anywhere. He was thin, and his undershirt was peeking out from his uniform shirt – backwards and inside out. No smiles and very shy. Peter mostly wanted to talk about his schoolwork so Samuel endured a speech about how he should try his hardest, do his best, study hard, etc. If his eyes weren’t glazed over before he came in, they were after the motivational speech. These are the kind of speeches that used to make Colin completely check out. We took a few photos with him (pained forced smile), thenI told Samuel before he left the room that I would see him in a few minutes at his house where we had a few gifts we would give him. So after meeting a few more children at the school, we traveled a short distance to where Samuel lives. Everything you might picture about a poor African village was embodied in this place. Barely clothed children and tin shacks. There it was in front of me. It’s one thing to look at pictures and be moved by poverty. It’s another thing to be standing in the middle of it. I felt both helpless and humbled. How did I get here?

And then I saw Samuel carrying plastic chairs around a shack where his grandmother was on a stool peeling a type of root that would be later used to make fufu – a traditional Ghanaian food. And I remembered how and why I got here. No, we can’t change the world, but maybe we can change the world for one child. One. That’s my number.

In this country, you do not just walk up to someone and begin to state your purpose. You sit, and wait to be invited to tell the “story” of why you have called this meeting. I didn’t even realize that I called a meeting, but I had and so it was up to me to explain to Samuel’s Grandmother why we came. I told her that a group of us in the U.S. care for Samuel and we are trying to show this through our sponsorship and our visit. We want him to know that we believe in him, I told her. And we want to do want we can to make him happy. Peter translated and I watched Samuel to see if there was anything in his eyes. He just seemed mostly confused.

So I gave him a backpack.

And a soccer ball.

He immediately took them and disappeared inside to put them in his corner. Then he came back out and stood beside me, and I handed him jolly ranchers and bubble gum. Then, he smiled. Just a tiny smile, but he clutched the candy in both hands. When I looked back at him a few minutes later he was studying a jolly rancher and when he looked back up at me there it was again. Another smile. Not much, but I was happy to get it from this one child.

So tomorrow we go back to do reading and math games after school with him and some other children. You can bet I’m taking more candy.

So once again, goodnight from Kumasi.

Ghana Day Five: A Day of Celebration

Guess what? Tonight, Chelsea beat Bayern Munich 4-3 in a penalty shootout to win the Champions League trophy. Do you care? Everyone in Ghana does. And now Erin and I are caught up in it and we don’t know even watch soccer (just like almost every other adult in the United States). We’re trying to figure out why the rest of the world loves soccer and why people in the U.S. only love it until they’re about 14. But tonight, we’re cheering along with the city of Kumasi. We attended a birthday party for Peter’s friend who turned 85 years old, and finally, we ate traditional Ghanaian food in a traditional Ghanaian home. The family was so gracious to us, which we have realized is the Ghanaian way. As an example: as we shopped this afternoon, each market vendor gave us a free gift AFTER we haggled the price down. About halfway through our shopping excursion, I stopped the game of going back and forth and paid what they asked. It seemed ridiculous in a country of extreme poverty to try and get our stuff on the cheap. And then to receive a free gift. For what? No. We’ll pay the asking price.

At the birthday party, after the well-wishes and three long group participation prayers, the men disappeared. And on our way home from an afternoon of shopping and the birthday party, every market stall we passed had a television on and a crowd of men sitting or standing in front of it. The streets were almost deserted, but each time Chelsea scored a goal, the entire city roared. Yes, folks, this is football in the rest of the world. Somehow, we joined the bandwagon and cheered for Chelsea although I don’t know the first thing about this team (now I know they wear blue and white and their owner is based in Moscow). For tonight, we are big fans.

Our host, Peter (in the bottom photo above with his wife Anna) grumbles about the football. “Why,” he asks, “in a country where people need to be learning and studying so we can better ourselves, are people so caught up in football? Why are they wasting their time with this? I want to know what the big deal is.” He might be the only man in Ghana who doesn’t care about this football game. Maybe in a country of people who struggle for enough money to feed themselves and their family every day, the excitement of football is a welcome diversion. I felt a sense of hope as we passed through the streets of Kumasi tonight. So what if it was a hope that a football team in a London borough might win a championship league game? It was hope. Anticipation. Joy. Celebration. And it’s still going on and the game has been over for about an hour. There is a party right outside our window in the courtyard of the hotel and I plan to lay awake tonight and listen to the laughter and the music and feel the hope along with everyone else. I would join the party but I’m white and I can’t dance.

Not only was today a big day for the football game, but Saturdays are funeral days. As we passed through several areas of the city, we saw people dressed in their fancy funeral clothing – dark shiny dresses, usually black, red, or a combination of both (center photo above). The deceased isn’t buried until about six months after death to give time for family members to make travel plans and save up to make the trip. All the family is expected to attend and the services are long and emotional, as is the celebration that follows. It’s a celebration of the person’s life, and the attendees live it up in their honor. “No one is on the streets tonight,” Peter said as we were driving home, “because they are either watching the game or passed out from the funeral celebration.” Whatever the reason, we made it home in record time.

We’re holding up well. Africa is soaking into us (more about that later). So once again, we wish you a good night from Kumasi, Ghana.

Ghana Day Four: Touch a Life, Tutoring, and an Orphanage

Are you shocked to see an actual photo? You just get one though, since it took 10 minutes to upload. I’ll start earlier tomorrow night. I just typed the title for this post and thought, “We’ve only been here four days?” So, time is supposed to fly by when you’re having fun, but I think we are cramming so much into each day that at the end of it we feel like we’ve experienced multiple days. Today was like that.

We woke up early to be ready for Garret and Kelly Nichols, who are the in-country directors here for Touch a Life Foundation. They picked us up in their Land Rover, which was wonderful because for the first time since we’ve been here my butt wasn’t scraping the ground in a low-riding Kia. I’m not complaining about our dependable Kia, but I believe four-wheel drive vehicles should be mandatory here. They should not even import cars because the roads are terrible far beyond what you can imagine. Okay, that’s my tiny bit of road rage for the day.

Touch a Life in Ghana helps to rescue and rehabilitate child slaves off Lake Volta. It’s an amazing organization and you should read the book, Jantsen’s Gift, but I think I’ve already gone on and on about that in another post. TAL is building a state-of-the-art facility outside of Kumasi that will include separate houses for boys and girls and an art center where the children will also eat their meals. The design team from Extreme Home Makeover did all the plans for the art center and when it’s finished, it will look like a giant Lego. I’m planning on following this construction project and writing about the progress on my blog. I can’t wait to post pictures of a giant Lego art facility filled with beautiful rescued children in Ghana, Africa. That is definitely one good story!

Garret and Kelly dropped us back off at the hotel and we drove back out to Ankaase village to tutor the children. Erin worked with the girls, Beatrice and Sarah, and I worked with Samuel and Osei, an 18-year old boy who is starting school after years of working on his family’s farm. He is in grade level Three, but he doesn’t care that he sits in a classroom of children ten years younger and at least two feet shorter. He wants to learn. He reads on the level of an early kindergartner, so he is really struggling. When we walked into the classroom, Samuel was sitting at a table helping him read. It was an amazing sight. I took word tiles, dumped them across the table, and we spent the next hour and 15 minutes making crazy sentences with them. Guess what? Samuel can smile. And he can laugh. He did both and the three of us had a great time. We enjoyed jolly ranchers throughout the tutoring session and finished it off with bubblegum. Samuel was dressed better today (shirt wasn’t inside out and backwards), but his socks were filthy and I’m sure he had been wearing them for days. This kid is on his own way too much, which is how it works in Ghana. Very young children walk distances without adults anywhere nearby, and in the villages they play in groups by the side of the road, in ditches, near piles of trash. Adults seem to trust that children will be fine without an adult hovering nearby. I just want someone to wash Samuel’s socks before Monday morning.

After we finished tutoring, we bought some bottles of water for the children at a stand down the hill from the school and sent them on their way home. It was the end of a long day for them. We, however were nowhere near finished. We visited a friend of Peter’s in the village who has epilepsy and lost one arm when she fell into a fire during a seizure. When we walked up to her house she was swinging a hatchet with her remaining arm trying to kill snakes in the woods nearby. Now, the last two sentences sound unbelievable, but after only a few days in Africa they roll off my tongue because life here is just like that. I really am making another commitment to shut up with the whining about anything in my life.

So our last stop was at an orphanage in the village and it was a nice way to end the day. There are 17 children living there and they are the happiest kids I’ve ever seen. That’s not an exaggeration. Pure joy. That’s the photo above, and I’m sorry there is only one. I feel like my ability to paint you an amazing picture of this beautiful country with only my words is so inadequate. Thanks for bearing with me. I wish you could see what I’ve seen, accompanied by the sounds, smells, and yes, even the feel of the hot, humid air and the blazing African sun. I thought I had suffered through the very worst summer weather last year in China. Not so. But I’m not complaining. Promise.

So until tomorrow, goodnight from Kumasi, Ghana.