|—||Sister Peace’s first words to me in her goodbye letter|
Yesterday was my last day in the classroom at Challenging Heights, and the reality that I have to leave this place hasn’t hit me yet. I’m dreading the moment it does. Which will more than likely be as the plane takes off the ground and makes its voyage back across the Atlantic. And it feels wrong saying goodbye to these kids when I have 13 more days left in this country. I’m spending the last part of this week at the shelter and then we leave Winneba on Sunday, when we’ll head back to Accra and finish up our coursework before we leave. The time in Accra will be filled with a longing just to be back with these kids. Although I anticipate the empty feeling that will come, I enjoy the fullness my heart experiences now. It’s so full from all the love that these kids have continuously poured out on me over the past 5 weeks, and I think it’s going to take a long time for that to fade (if it ever does).
As a going away present they took this picture for me with the words “We Love You Katherine”. This is a photo that will be cherished for a lifetime, along with all the faces and the memories that go with it!
I don’t really know where to start with this post. The past three days have been spent at the Hovde House, a shelter that children are taken to right after they have been rescued from slavery. There are 44 boys and 4 girls in the home, each with a story that my mind and heart can’t really fathom. Stories of pain, neglect, sorrow, and most importantly hope. To say my heart is heavy is an understatement.
And if I could choose one thing to describe to you about this place then it would be the overwhelming calm that rests upon the entire house. Maybe it’s because of the location in the middle of the bush, or maybe it’s because I’m used to being surrounded by 700 children at Challenging Heights. Either way, the atmosphere just speaks peace. Speaks safety. Speaks REFUGE. And I can’t even begin to tell you about the kids here without tears filling my eyes. A sixteen-year-old boy who was trafficked when he was three years old and was rescued when he was fifteen, twelve years of knowing nothing but a life of enslavement. Or a five-year-old boy who was trafficked when he was four and rescued this past April, arriving at Hovde with severe physical and emotional hunger. Hold their hands or feel their bodies and it’s as if you are touching a 50-year-old man who has been doing heavy labor his entire life. Seeing their joy and their strength is the only thing that drives out the overwhelming sadness. What an incredible opportunity I have been so richly blessed with to love on each and every one of them.
Check out Hovde House website:
When I asked my kids yesterday to write on the board words they associated with family some of their responses included love, joy, peace, care, life, and my personal favorite: free. Think about that last one for a minute. Freedom is not the word used by so many in America and the world beyond who feel imprisoned within their families, who feel trapped by strained relationships and broken bonds. And despite the broken homes that so many of these kids come from they still view family in such a positive light. Why? Because the presence of family correlates with the security from being trafficked. Their families might not be perfect (probably far from it, just like all of ours) and they might have to work hard within them but they belong and for that they are thankful. When they are with their families they are free. Can you imagine? I truly can’t. If only these kids knew the impact that their words have on this heart.
All of this culminates to make me appreciate and miss the incredible family I have been blessed with even more. So for those of you family members reading, I LOVE YOU AND I MISS YOU. Thank for you for being a safe-haven, for being freedom even when I was too blind to see it.
The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.” -Author Unknown
I am continually in awe that one country could not only hold so many beautiful people but also so much beautiful, natural landscape and wildlife. Between unbelievably convenient access to the beach, walking on top of the rainforest, and being 5 feet from monkeys, life seems surreal at times. Being in nature brings so much calm while sparking so much adventure. This past weekend we visited Kakum National Park where we got to literally walk on top of the rainforest. What made it authentically African? The fact that we were balancing on lined up 2x4’s that were held up by some rope and bolts, hundreds of feet above the ground. It made for some great stories and incredible views. I find myself falling more in love with Ghana each day that I’m here and with that comes the difficult reality of leaving this place. For now I am making the most of each day and trying to soak in every ounce of the culture that I possibly can!
Sister Peace gave me the traditional Ghanaian braids today! Naturally, the boys wanted to help. Two things I discovered about these braids:
1. Ghanaian women pull it off much better than I do
2. Expect to have an excruciating headache throughout the entire process
We visited Cape Coast this past Saturday, a city along the Atlantic coast and also the home of a slave trade castle that was built during the time of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Touring the castle was a sobering experience to say the least. Nausea swept over me as I stood in the very rooms where so many people suffered and died. Where human beings were reduced to nothing for the sake of money and power. Moments like these put life in perspective. It makes you stop and think about what you yourself might be doing to surpress your fellow brother or sister in order to be on top. An even more frightening reality while touring the castle was the amount of blatant trafficking that still takes place today. We have not reformed our ways, just changed their appearance. The reason Challenging Heights exists is because of this reality. Children, the least of these, being exploited and trafficked in order to build a business. The nausea is returning as I sit here and think about it.
On a lighter note, the reminder of the day was well spent visiting many of the local shops (so much amazing art work!), watching the waves crash over the rocks, and eating some great food. Lydia and I took a gamble and ordered a burger…in Africa. We were pretty desperate for a break from rice, beans, and chicken. And it was super good, which made me feel a few less thousand miles away from home.
Meet the beautiful children who have brightened my life more in a mere two days than most things do that take a lifetime. I have been assigned Class 1 (which is the equivalent to 1st grade back in the States) and there are 82 wonderful, smiling faces in my class. Unfortunately this picture only depicts about a 4th of them. It is an overwhelming amount of kids, which makes me so thankful that I am co-teaching with Madam Peace, a teacher that normally manages the class by herself and for that she has gained my upmost respect and admiration. There is so much happiness in the classrooms here with more singing and dancing than I’ve done in my entire life. I provide some nice entertainment for them as I attempt to have a fraction of the rhythm that they have.
My world and my perception of it are getting totally rocked by these kids. They inspire, they appreciate, they LOVE. And I am so humbled. Humbled to be a part of an organization that is giving these at-risk kids a hope and a future, and even more humbled as I watch their dedication to that cause. It gets me so pumped! Several times over the past two days I’ve had to swallow back tears as I looked into the faces of these children that have come from some of the most broken circumstances that life has to offer, and not just because I’m sad about their past but because I am so proud of their present and future. Cannot wait to share more of the countless things that these children will undoubtedly be teaching me!
"To whom much is given, much is expected." Challenging Heights school motto Remember and appreciate how much you’ve been given today.
I can’t quite describe how it feels to have over 600 kids rushing towards you yelling, “Madame, Madame what is your name?” and pulling you in every direction. On Monday morning we got to visit Challenging Heights for the first time and the very smallest piece of the puzzle for why I am here fell into place. I’m starting to meet the kids that have been pulling on the heart strings that prompted me to go on this trip. These children have so much JOY, laughter, and energy. The boys in the picture on the left have already become my buddies. They are showing me the ropes, teaching me the handshakes and making sure that I know all of their names by quizzing me every five minutes. The school serves children from the ages of 3-17 and the boys on the right are some of the youngest ones :) The picture does not do their cuteness justice.