|—||A wonderful teacher at Challenging Heights|
I sit here typing with my mind racing, still. It has not stopped since the first day at the Hovde House.
Residing in the Hovde House are 48 children, 44 boys and 4 girls aged from 5-19ish years old. There they provide 3 meals a day, a snack, shelter, space for play, a beautiful garden, a football (soccer) field, school classrooms, and a beautiful library full of art supplies, puzzles, books, and games. Their house mothers are incredibly caring, giving, and dedicated to children’s progress and rehabilitation. Most all the children have been rescued from child labor in fishing villages. The children are forced to work, receive no education, and work almost all day and night with little sleep. No time for play, childhood, nurturing, or love. They dive into deep seas, take a lot of risks by doing so to try and untangle fishing nets. Needless to say, they develop injuries, water diseases, sicknesses, and experience friends’ lives that drown because of the sea dives. If that is not enough to handle, they are also punished with physical/verbal/mental/sexual abuse. As I said before, my mind is still racing.
These children stopped me. Not physically, but in life. As I take a step back and reflect, this is why:
This past week has been the best week of my life. Never have I been so moved, touched, and changed by someone’s presence.
I was placed (with Madam Amanda J) in their first level class (almost equivalent to a 1st grade classroom in theUS but hard to compare). Teaching, helping, and assisting them in anything they needed were the only things I wanted and strived to do. We practiced English, the alphabet, sentences, addition, numbers, and writing. For some of the children, writing is extra difficult because their little hands/fingers are beat up and their fine motor skills are gone due to their trafficked past.
They have little breaks throughout their school day to run around and play before their class starts the next subject. Every break I am asked to read with a 15 year old young man who is incredibly thirsty to learn. He does not want to stop. Therefore, during breaks we visit the library and grab a book off of the shelf (usually a lower level book). We repeat all of the pages until break is over. I had to laugh today because he picked up a piece of paper on the ground today after class and simply asked me, “Madam, what does this say?” The paper had one simple sentence on it, but because he saw English, he was curious to learn how to say it. I have never been so choked up while being one on one with a student before. He is diligent, confident, and persistent to learn and become educated. Being 15 and in the lowest classroom, I look around and there are mostly younger boys filling the benches. It does not effect this 15 year old. It does not matter that he is reading 1st grader books over and over. He is driven and I pray he will continue to thirst for knowledge.
Within moments of teaching, the language barrier did not interrupt our connections because of something powerful, something greater than everything: love. The root of life. Little moments make a huge difference in my life and one is very special in my heart from one of the boys at Hovde. I picked him up and was hugging him, squeezing him, spinning him, and doing everything in my power to get him to smile and giggle because when these children smile, they shine. After I put him down, I looked down and saw his smiling face. With a raspy voice he said, “thank you!” It was a real thank you. I am a big fan of little moments.
As much as my heart physically hurts for them, as much as I want to change their past of slavery, abuse, neglect, malnutrition, disease, and punishment, I can’t. But there is hope. Hope for a future. Hope for a life of joy, smiles, education, work, family, and community. I am amazed at how quickly I have fallen in love with them. I truly wish I could give them a life they missed out on during their slavery days, a life they deserve as children.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned there (and overall here in Ghana) is to encourage. Encourage any chance you get whether by a genuine smile, a pat on the back, a “GREAT JOB!”, anything. To acknowledge humanity and become interested in someone’s life changes everything. One’s perspective transforms because one’s energy turns into selflessness. One’s thoughts turn into recognizing who people are. Embrace people. Share life with them; ask them to share parts of their life with you. Ask them how they are doing. Serve them.
Though we only have a few days left to serve in Ghana, I pray it will not stop here. I hope we will all continue to keep our arms wide open and our hearts filled with joy wherever we end up. Despite tragedy, loss, and suffering, I pray we all believe in hope & love which overcome all such things.
Madam Katelyn and Madam Amanda are holding class in the shade as the children learn to count and use numbers. These photos cannot adequately convey the power of the situation, for these children are learning. The excitement of learning new things triggers a chain of events in the imagination. New confidence fuels more curiosity and a desire to learn even more. The children naturally associate these good feelings with Katelyn and Amanda. There is a lot of love in the room.
To laugh often and love much. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children.
To earn the appreciation of honest critics, endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty. To find the best in others. To leave the world a bit better. Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded. -Author Unknown
It’s getting to that point in the trip where the kids are asking when we leave for America and how many days we have left with them. I am not ready to say goodbye and I am not ready to prepare myself to say goodbye.
These joyful, energetic, hilarious children have changed me for life. They have taught me so many things about life and have challenged me to change things when I return home. Praise God.
"Madam Kate, I am small enough to fit in your luggage!"
Sunday was quite the day packed with incredible excursions:
First, we visited the Kakum National Park where we walked across a very swingy-roped in walk-way. Looking back on it, it was a very terrifying experience. I was somewhat sad on the ride there because I was bummed I couldn’t attend church that morning…but I received church in a different, unique way.
Baffour, our friend who is with us here in Ghana was behind me on the canopy walk. The whole way I was hearing from his sweet Ghanaian voice, “Jesus, sweet Jesus.” “Lord, forgive me of my sins.” “Oh Lord Jesus protect me please Lord take me safely”, etc. etc. the list could go on with bible verses and songs of praise. Little did I know how afraid he was to walk across the tops of the rain forest. But, we all made it and I enjoyed every second looking across the rain forest, seeing all of the creation of different trees and vines, hearing the birds, and listening to the laughter and joy from our group experiencing this walk together. Because after all, this whole trip is a “walk” or journey, if you will.
We then proceeded to visit a monkey sanctuary where we saw the following animals: patas monkey, civet monkey, hyrax, mongoose, turtle, snakes (rock python, green mamba), and a antelope (duiker).
Yes, the green mamba is one of the deadliest snakes located in Africa. Yes, I am terrified of snakes. And yes, I needed help from Sarah Aman (animal expert on the trip) on how to spell the animals we saw.
The final destination was in Cape Coast to eat a meal and watch a live African drumming and dancing performance. I enjoyed every single step and beat. They are VERY talented at what they do. Music and dancing is a huge part of the culture here and it makes me wish I was brought up with more dancing and and music around every day. I am almost positive everyone in this country is good at dancing and/or a musical instrument. This is not a joke. The 2 year-olds can dance and step well.
It is a fascinating thing to see so much joy come from our feet, hands, and rhythm of a drum.
This post goes out to an incredible woman who has changed my life, my mom.
She is one who encouraged me to go on this trip after I was accepted and questioned whether I should commit to it or not.
She sent out a newsletter in her classroom of first graders to gather supplies for donations.
My mom is a giving, humble person that truly serves from her whole heart, something I aspire to acquire.
And here I am, across the ocean and she still encourages me to smile toward anyone I encounter, spread love and hugs to all the children, and find much to be thankful for every day.
She can encourage in this way because she does it herself as a mother, wife, sister, friend, grandmother, and teacher.
So thank you, mom for being a huge impact on this trip even though you are not even here physically with me.
The trip to Cape Coast is difficult to describe in words. The entire time we were touring the Slave Trade Castle, I physically felt like I was in a movie or watching a movie. This part of history, this portion of cruelty is unimaginable and challenging to comprehend when you are standing in the very dungeons & cells that the African slaves stood in, slept in, ate in, LIVED in for months at a time before departure to the West. Never will I forget the vivid images in my mind of the darkness, power, and representation of slavery in our world’s past.
It put into perspective modern day slavery and how much we need to fight for the lives of the helpless. There is still work to be done.
Pictured is part of the castle from outside after the tour, the beautiful beach of Cape Coast, and a picture of myself on the other side of the Atlantic (for you, Mom & Dad).
Yesterday I was asked to jump rope with some of the kids from school on their break. With excitement I ran over to them to find a tied up mess of electrical wires. Little did I know this was our jump rope. I smiled and we started but inside, it hit me hard.
When these children smile, they smile. Their laughs or giggles get me every single time. They are more beautiful than any advertisement of beauty I have ever glanced at hands down. Each one is loving and inviting to myself and the rest of the group. They constantly ask us questions and always before we leave, make sure they know when we will be back. I am humbled by them every day. Their stories, their gifts, their dance moves, everything is incredible to learn about and see in action. What an extraordinary experience for us to build relationships with these students. They have already taught me so much about life and about showing joy to everyone you encounter.
Later in the evening today, I caught a little guy looking at a book. I asked him if he could read it to me, but with little english he asked me to read it instead. After page 1, I had about 6 more children around me listening to the story. They are eager to learn, ready to listen, and willing to try.
This week I have volunteered with Kwesi, a caring man who works for Challenging Heights. Specifically, he helps coordinate Child Protection Committees, develops and monitors micro-credits for families and so much more. Today, I sat in on a group meeting of women who have their children enrolled at CH. It was a great encouragement to hear their concerns, questions, yet provision for their children to stay in and finish school. I think the best part of the meeting was when the Ghanaian women helped put a beautiful baby girl on my back with their cloth and all. They laughed as I asked them, “where do I put my hands?!” Different cultures, what a beautiful thing.
I also worked with Lydia, our theater expert, and Kat on the after school programs. She is incorporating theater activities and games and I am throwing in art activities for the kids as well. They are so creative and it is a fantastic to watch their minds bursting with new ideas and excitement. We also learned a new game: “Fire on the mountain” which is the same thing as “duck duck goose” but 10 times better.
Everything here is a learning experience. May we all continue to seek joy in any situation we are placed in.
I listened to the sounds of drums and over 700 children of all ages singing songs of praise, making joyful noises with their hands and feet. The sounds of liberation were flooding our ears. I am privileged to play, laugh, dance, and spend time with the children of Challenging Heights this summer. They have overcome a darkness in this world and are rising up to a new life of freedom and a future. I am humbled to be a part of their journey.
Why do children make you feel so alive?