Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Ghana: Day 4 -- Precious

We had arranged to visit our friend Michelle's Compassion child Precious since she is very, very close to Ato Sam and the twins' Compassion center.  On Tuesday morning, at the sound of the stray roosters, we awoke knowing another great day would be waiting for us.

Fatima, the little girl who had helped with our luggage the previous night, came back in the morning to ask if we needed help.  She was wearing her school uniform, and knowing that we had brought extra school supplies, I asked if she wanted to help with the small bags and that I would provide her with a small gift in return.  It was very hard to convince her not to take the large suitcases, in fact, she took them down three flights of stairs when I went into the room to get the rest of our things.  When everything was brought down to the van, she came to me and said "Please, I must go to school now" in the sweetest, most polite voice, it sounded like a song.

I provided her with a skipping rope, some crayons, pencils and erasers, and which she gratefully brought to school with her.

We piled into the van and headed to GH220, which is in the community of Bisease (or Biseasi, as it is sometimes spelled).  Long ago, the community of Bisease had a cola nut tree, under which men would rest in the shade.  When people would ask where they were going to be, they would say "Under the cola nut tree", which loosely translates to Biseasi.  We did not see this tree, perhaps it is no longer there, but it's definitely a beautiful place to rest.

We first entered the church where parents (caregivers) had gathered for classes.

We were introduced to the entire project team, as well as to the caregivers.  It was a little less overwhelming than the day before, and we found the caregivers to be very kind, warm and welcoming... they were so grateful we had come on behalf of sponsors all the way from Canada and the U.S.  We were ushered into the project office, and I couldn't stop seeing the vision of Michelle there in June of 2012, sitting in the same seat where I sat, seeing the same amazing things, and hearing the wonderful things that Compassion is doing in this community.

This Compassion project is part of the Wesleyan Methodist church in this community, and currently serves more than 200 children, 8 of which are registered but still waiting for sponsors.  I told them Michelle would work on that :o)

The Compassion staff explained the selection process for choosing the children who are registered into the program, explaining that the children most in need are the ones who are chosen, although most children in this community live in poverty and face many challenges.  They explained their mission statement, their vision for the children and community, and talked to us about the classes they give to the parents, such as the ones given that morning.

Another huge benefit was that every child sponsored from this Center is immediately registered for health insurance and receives all the benefits that a sponsored child received, except the sponsor relationship which is crucial to their development.

I asked what some of their challenges were, and they said what we knew we would hear -- some sponsors do not write to their children, and the children in turn blame themselves and feel badly, thinking their sponsor doesn't love them as much or thinking they've done something to make their sponsor upset.

I took this opportunity to bring up Michelle's name and spoke about her passion for writing letters and encouraging and leading sponsors to communicate with their sponsored children.  They broke into a big smile, and said "Yes, Michelle has been a great encouragement to this entire project, we are so grateful for all her family has done.  She writes letters the most often here, and Precious benefits from these letters.  Precious' health hasn't been well before she was registered, and since entering the program, not only has her health completely improved, but her personality and confidence has bloomed.  She is improving academically and is a very good student, and the letters have a big role to play in this.

They knew her file number by heart, and pulled it out for us to see.  We poured through the entire record, easily the thickest file there, and saw every letter written (letters are photocopied for the file and the original is given to the family), and every letter sent.

We also saw every gift given, every health check done, the school records, all in immaculate order, such as it is in every Compassion Center around the world.

This Compassion Center follows the Compassion holistic curriculum, as all the Compassion Centers do around the world.  The curriculum is based on the 4 main areas that Compassion focuses on -- spiritual, physical, cognitive, and social/emotional.  I was familiar with this curriculum, but looking through it again, I wished that this was taught in all the schools.  There was even a section for abuse, good touch / bad touch, etc.

We learned something we didn't know -- this Compassion Center has won an award in Ghana for being Ghana's best Compassion Center!

It was quite an honor for this project -- what they are doing is effective, it's life changing, and it's making a great impact on the community.

When we mentioned that Michelle had been instrumental in finding sponsors for children from this Compassion Center, they acknowledged this and agreed.  The Compassion Director stood up, went over to Precious' file, opened it, flipped to the correspondence from Michelle, and pointed out the letter that listed the many names of the children who had been sponsored through Michelle's blog.  They mentioned that we would likely see a few of them when we visited Precious' school.

  The Compassion Project Office at GH220 -- all those photos?  Sponsored children :o)

When they learned that we sponsor four children in Ghana, they asked us why not one of the children from their Compassion center!

We were honored to share with them the news that Emmanuel Righteous, one of the 8 children waiting for sponsors, had just recently been chosen by his sponsor Wendy & her family, and that we would like to see him if at all possible.  We had brought gifts for him on his sponsor's behalf.  They rejoiced over this great news, you could tell that this meant a lot to them, to hear that a child is going to receive the news of a sponsorship...  but what they shared next was completely unexpected.

Emmanuel had recently been taken to the hospital, he has been very ill with malaria, but thanks to Compassion, he is being treated.  We asked if it would be possible to come to the hospital to see him and pray with him, and they agreed that this would be important to the family.

We were asked to sign the visitor log book, and I got all choked up, knowing that in June 2012, Michelle would be signing below our names when she, too, would come here to see her precious Precious!

We stepped outside for some group photos while Joshua chased the lizards in the courtyard.  After the photos, we went back into the sanctuary to speak to the caregivers who were still gathered there.

They once again asked me to speak, so I shared a few words and offered to answer questions they had... but they had no questions to ask us, they instead took the opportunity to introduce themselves and pray God's blessings upon our lives for having come all the way there from North America to spend time in their community... they thanked us for caring about their children and doing great work for their country.

One woman shared that she is Muslim, and that she appreciates the work that God is doing in the lives of these children through this church -- it really affected us deeply to hear her speak to us about this and share her gratitude.

We were led to the Pastor's home, where he shared with us some more about this community, how well the children are doing, and how important this work is in the Kingdom.  He asked information about us, about what had led us here to Ghana, so we shared our journey with him.  We prayed together, and proceeded to the van so that we could be taken to Precious' school.

It was a short drive to the school yard that was filled with children playing.  Many of the children from the project attend the same school as Precious.

The children were so happy, and very excited to see us.  As we rounded the corner, a little girl with a black backpack was nearby, and the Compassion workers approached her.  As soon as she turned toward us, I knew it was her.  I had seen her photo so many times, but the photos can't simply not express her beauty, or her delightful personality.  She was confident, polite, happy, and it seems we weren't the only ones drawn to her, she was loved by all her classmates too.

She led us to her classroom, where she proceeded to sit on a little bench attached to a desk.  Three children fit to a bench, so it is very space efficient for the small classrooms.

It was amazing to see her in her school environment, to see the types of lessons on the blackboard, and to see the stacks of papers on the teacher's desk being graded.

The Compassion worker leaned down to Precious and asked if she knew her sponsor Michelle and her husband, and Precious' eyes lit up and as she nodded and said "Kaya!"  The Compassion worker explained that we knew Luna's family and that we were here to see Precious on their behalf.  She just gave us her beautiful smile, giggled, and nodded again and said Luna.  I said "Yes, Kaya, Luna and Nico too!"

Precious' classmates crowded around us as we sat on the little benches.  I extended my arm onto the desk behind me, and the children all took turns petting my arm, comparing their skin to mind, checking out my hands, my watch, my rings, and poking at my ladybug tattoo.  When I explained that it was a ladybug, a dozen children repeated back "ladybug".  Then they started trying out their English with me... "Hi, I am Richard, how are you?"  I'd tell them that I was fine, and asked how they were, and they'd respond "I'm fine, thank you!"  I told Richard that my last name was Richardson, and he was excited.  Meanwhile, three little girls were poking at my arms and in a fit of giggles, likely one of the most adorable sounds I've ever heard... all because they were making fun of my "jiggly arms".  Nice :D

Joshua the Giant!

I stood up and started counting, encouraging them to join me... by the time I got to three, there was a chorus of enthusiastic voices counting with me.  We reached twenty, we cheered, and we started the alphabet, which gained the same reaction.  We only wish we would have had this on video, it was so precious.

The Compassion staff came to me and introduced me to a boy named Kenneth, one of the boys also sponsored by one of Michelle's blog friends.  Then, they introduced me to Prince for the same reason.  I took a handful of photos of the boys for their sponsors, and let the boys know that their sponsor loves them very much and is very proud of them...  I told them also to keep working hard in school.



Three Amigos!

When it was time to go, the children did well staying in the classroom as we left with Precious.  She quietly but confidently walked up to the van with us, and climbed in beside me.  Once again, I couldn't stop envisioning Michelle in my place next June, picking up Precious and taking her to a home visit.  It was hard to look at her and not cry.

It was a very short drive to Precious' home.  We parked by the side of the road and grabbed the items that Michelle had sent to us, and brought them to the seating area in the front yard of Precious' home, where her family had gathered.

Oh, the sweet, sweet baby girl... Glorious Gloria! 

And big sister Mavis...  she wasn't too sure what to make of the paparazzi!  :D

Gertrude was busy checking us out!

Prince was eyeing us as if to say:
"I know you've got a soccer ball... 
and I'm thinking I'd really like to have it..."

The family -- and yes, the father looks serious, but he is kind, tender hearted, and loves to laugh!

Sweet mamma, sweet baby!

Mamma and Precious!

This girl was so quiet and sweet!

Prince is thinking about that soccer ball, still... 

Gorgeous Gertrude, with her beautiful eyes! 

Baby fever, anyone?  I'll have three, please!

Debra and Prince -- finally, he gets his soccer ball!  

Front Yard

Mamma, Gloria, and JD

I had asked Debra to lead the gathering, so that I could focus on getting a handful of photographs for Michelle.  Since Michelle had sent the gifts directly to Debra to bring with us, it worked out perfectly.

Precious' father, mother, and siblings were there, as well as Precious' grandmother and perhaps an aunt.  The grandmother was very regal, and bowed so low to us when she shook our hand, I had never seen anything quite like it.  It led me to wonder, if, after witnessing several generations of extreme poverty in her family's lifetime, we represented, for her, the hope that sponsorship was bringing to their lives.  I would have loved to sit by her feet and talk for hours -- I know I would have learned much from her.                

We asked the father how he felt about the sponsorship, if he supported what Compassion was doing for his family, and he stood up, with tears in his eyes, and grabbed my hands and told us, in English, that there were not enough words to express the difference it had made in their lives, and how deeply grateful they were... and that we had come all the way there to visit with them was such an honor to them.

I asked about his photos, and told him that there was some concern that he may not have been smiling in his photos perhaps because he was not happy... and he threw back his head and gave a hearty laugh!  He grinned from ear to ear, and put us at ease.  No lack of support there!  He is a grateful man.

We shared gifts with them, beginning with dolls for Precious, chosen by Michelle's daughter Kaya, and dolls I had brought on behalf of Michelle for Gertrude, Mavis and Gloria.  We also gave a soccer ball to Prince.  While the rest of the gifts were shared, a police man came to see what the celebration was all about, and he said that Nov 8th would forever become a great day for this community because of the work we were doing and the great things we had done to honor this family... and that he was here to protect us.  Personally, I think he just didn't want to miss out!

We were provided with fresh coconut and fruits, and they insisted we try the coconut milk and bananas before we left.  As we took many photos and said our goodbyes, I thought again of how excited Michelle will be when she gets to experience this too.

Goodbyes are tough! 

From Precious' home, we went straight to the hospital to see Emmanuel, and thankfully, as we arrived, he was being released!

Without the health insurance provided to the Compassion children, his parents would not have been able to take him to the doctor.

Emmanuel and his mother.

He has been treated for Malaria, and is beginning to feel much much better.  , and we were able to share the news of his sponsorship with him.  His mother was very, very happy, but his little sister completely froze with terror when she saw us, and began to scream as though she'd seen a ghost... because, to a toddler, obruni (white person) might as well be a ghost -- we hadn't quite acquired much of a tan yet.  It was heartbreaking to see the terror on her face, but (brace yourself, I'm about to sound completely horrible), it was almost comical at the same time.  I've never seen anything quite like it, although I'd heard much about it through our research.

Emmanuel and his mother.

Emmanuel's little sister.

Oops, she saw us. 

Emmanuel's father and little sister?

We brought Emmanuel and his mom with us and drove them home.  I had the privilege of sitting with Emmanuel's mom and gave her a big hug.  I told her she was doing a great job as a mom, and that she had a fine son.

From there, we were heading toward the GH880 Compassion Center, where our twins are sponsored.  The visit to this Compassion project was probably one of my favorite Compassion Center experiences.  We learned so much valuable information at this project, and we are eager to share this experience with you, although we may not be able to do so until we return from Kete Krachi...  please, in the meantime, we would like to ask you to pray for this project and the needs of this community, especially for the sponsorship of children from this project, seven of which I listed in a recent post.  I will share more in a separate post.

As I am writing this, tonight, on Wednesday, November 9th, we are preparing to leave for Kete Krachi, where the Village of Life is located and our school will be built.  Please, if you are reading this, pray for our travel to Kete Krachi.  We will be leaving around 2am, and it's a very long journey.  We will not have internet access until the 16th, but I will be writing and processing photos while we're away and will be ready to share more with you upon our return.

Comic Relief:  

Joshua, who is 13, is considered quite tall in Africa at 5' 8".  At the twins' Compassion Center, they mistakenly thought he was in his twenties.  We joked that this would make a great Facebook status story!

When we were eating with Ato Sam and Tahameena, Joshua, who hadn't seen his spoon since it was quite dark in the restaurant so late in the evening, began to eat the rice with his hands.  He assumed this was a cultural thing, and we watched in amusement as we pointed out that his spoon was right beside his plate, inside his napkin.