Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Ghana: Day 3 - Enyan Abaasa

Rather than share bits and pieces of the trip in short posts, I've decided to just pour it out journal style for now, and reflect more on individual moments later when I have a little more time to process thoughts and feelings and share the experience in greater detail. I know that long posts break all rules of blogging -- oh well.
The photos will be added to this post later, as we have limited time right now. We did place a few photos on Facebook for now.

Here’s how things go in Africa:

Make plans.

God smiles. 
Watch plans go fly out the window at breakneck speed. 
We smile.

Welcome (Akwaaba) to Ghana!

Our initial plans were to land at 12:50pm on Sunday afternoon, purchase a cell phone to use while in the country, and head to the Cape Coast area, where we would stay on Monday and Tuesday nights and travel to/from the Compassion areas during the day. This would also allow us some time to prepare all the gifts we had brought for the Compassion children.

Thanks to the issues with the United flights, we did not land in Ghana until 8am Monday morning.
Our saving grace was that we were able to reach Compassion in Ghana from the airport in Washington D.C. just before our flight finally left, and let them know we needed to change our plans.

The new plan was for Compassion to take us directly to Enyan Abaasa, where Tahameena and Ato Sam’s Compassion center is located. Missing this visit was out of the question.

We had also planned to purchase a cell phone when we landed, but the flight had further delays and landed an hour late, so we were not able to purchase one, which left us without a way to communicate with anyone for the first two days we were in Ghana.

We easily found our driver, Sylvanos, at the Accra airport once we went through the various security checks. He swiftly and expertly drove from the airport in direction of Enyan Abaasa; we felt completely safe in his hands.

The drive provided to us an amazing glimpse as to the life and culture in Ghana; the open markets, the stray goats and chickens, the poverty, the lack of sanitation, the traffic, but most of all, the people. While there was such a profound contrast between this and Canada, it felt like home to me in ways I can not yet put into words. I hope to explore and share this feeling further in the coming days or weeks.

As we arrived in Enyan Abaasa, we did our best to dig through 7 large pieces of luggage stacked in the back of the van in search of all the specific gift items we had brought for Tahameena and Ato Sam, as well as their siblings/families. It was difficult, as we had little time to do this with, considering the delays.

While on the way to the Enyan Abaasa, Samuel, one of the Compassion staff who would accompany us for entire time we were with Compassion here in Ghana, flagged down our van from his taxi, and jumped on board with us. It was great to meet him and learn more about what Compassion is doing in Ghana. He was able to answer many of our questions, including explaining to us at what point the children had been told we were coming. They’d only known for approximately one week, although they were warned the night before that there were issues with the flights.

With less than 25 minutes to go until we reached Enyan Abaasa, the excitement was building up considerably. The adrenaline rush made up for only having slept 4 hours out of the past 48. Would we see Ato Sam and Tahameena right away? We had no idea what to expect, aside from my experiences with Compassion visits in Honduras in 2010.

As we drove through the Enyan Abaasa community, children and adults alike waved to us and smiled, and the children began to run alongside the van as they waved. I imagine we were quite a sight – the four of us were likely some of the very few white people they had ever seen.

Our van slowed down and pulled to a stop in front of Greater Grace Development Center, where Tahameena and Ato Sam both attend church and the Compassion Project. The front yard was filled with children who were very excited as the van pulled up and came to the edge of the property to have a closer look at us.

It is then that I was introduced to Ebenezer, the man who has assisted with Ato Sam’s letters and has taken such great care of our sponsorship. It was like meeting a brother – and much like being welcomed home. What a joy it was to finally meet him!

The children were curious about us and excited to lead us into the church, where there were easily over 100 children and parents waiting to greet us. It was very difficult for me, emotionally and spiritually, to be a guest of honor – I am simply a sponsor, a vessel for God’s love – all that I am in life that is good I owe to God first.
As the room began to fill, children climbed into the windows to watch.

Compassion had a program that we followed as we sat at the altar. We were introduced to all the Compassion staff, and were treated to a dance that a group of children had prepared for us. Although Ato Sam and Tahameena were not in this group, I would later learn that we had a special connection to one of the children in the dance group.

Ebenezer shared anecdotes from our sponsorship of Ato Sam and Tahameena, how many children we sponsor in Ghana and throughout the world, our frequent letters and how God had led us to Ghana through Ato Sam’s letters. All of this received a generous round of applause.

More and more people came to take part in the celebration. 

The Compassion staff asked me to speak to those who had gathered on behalf of our team as well as on behalf of Compassion sponsors. What a precious gift and honor, and at the same time, a heavy burden – how can one convey in mere moments how grateful we are to these people, who share their children with us and pray for us every day... to the staff who work tirelessly to provide for the holistic... and to convey that it was not of our own doing that we were here in their presence – that it was God’s provision, His answer to prayers that were inspired by the faith of a child. It was also important for me to express that without God’s provision of Compassion or these workers, we would not be able to sponsor these children – the praise needed to be to God for making this possible.

I prayed that my words would be enough, but sitting here now, I do not remember most of what I shared. It comes to me through foggy bits and pieces. I remember delivering a message to the children who may believe they may not be able to change the world, to please reconsider the impact and potential they had – they need only look at the example of Ato Sam, who shared not only his request for us to come to Ghana, but the faith that God had already answered his prayers in past tense. God had used this boy and his faith to bring us here to build a school in their country.

I also shared with them what a celebration it was for us to receive letters, and how much sponsorship helps us as sponsors. 


The staff of the project presented Kente Cloth to us all, which they draped ceremoniously around our necks, and they also presented me with a traditional necklace and bracelet set, and sandals. They also gave each of us a hankerchief, which we used to wipe the sweat from our faces, and soon, the tears.

At this point, I hadn’t yet seen Ato Sam, but I was asked if I could identify him if they brought a group of children to me that included Ato Sam. I assured them that a mother knows her son, that I would not have any problems identifying him.

They explained to the crowd that they would be bringing out the Compassion Choir, which included Ato Sam, and that they would see if I could identify him correctly. From the excited murmur in the crowd, I sensed the people were unsure of whether or not I could do this, it felt as though they were about to hold their breath in anticipation.

They brought out the Compassion Project choir, who began to sing as they walked down the aisle, and the tears began to flow... As they reached the front of the altar, the choir turned their backs to us. Ebenezer leaned over to me and asked “Do you see your son?

Ato Sam, second from right.

I grinned through tears and lifted my hand to point to Ato Sam`s back.

Ebenezer was amazed that even with Ato Sam turned away from us, I knew him and had no doubt.
When they finished singing, they asked me to approach the choir and identify Ato Sam for all to see. I didn’t need a second invitation – I wasted no time in walking (flying?) off the altar and wrapping my arms around him, a moment I had longed to experience for what seemed like a lifetime.

There was no hiding the tears flowing down my face, something that must have affected everyone present, as it was talked about often in the following days.

Seen from the parents and children’s perspective, had they any doubts that sponsors love and care deeply for these children, these doubts would have dissipated for anyone who witnessed the love that I have for Ato Sam.

Amid cheers, we both came up on the altar to sit with the rest of our team. As they begun taking photos, I leaned in closer to him, and he picked up my arm, placed it very deliberately around his shoulder, and then told them he was now ready to proceed. I had thought my joy couldn’t possibly increase, oh how I was wrong – every moment with him just got better and better. Oh how I love this boy!!

(Would now be a good time to say that since I was so focused on spending time with Ato Sam, I have very few photos of him?  This one was on Tia's camera, Debra may have some as well.)

A group of children performed a tribal dance for us.  We have some video of it that is sweet to see -- amazing... amazing....  we will share once we return from Kete Krachi.

We gave the parents and children in attendance an opportunity to ask questions, and one mother stood and shared that her child named Prince wanted to know what he could say in his letters to his sponsor that would lead his sponsor to come to Ghana to see him. My heart broke, as this is such a heavy question to answer and I wanted to answer it very carefully, as words have much weight in Ghana (as they should everywhere!) He was invited to come and see me where we were seated, and the Compassion staff translated my words to him... That he should be encouraged to continue writing letters, to share much detail about his life, his family, his community, his challenges and victories, and that more that is shared, the more the relationship grows. As the relationship grows, pray for God to provide for your sponsor to come, knowing that it may or may not be in God’s will, but if it does not happen, it does not mean that you are loved any less or that you are any less special.

While I was speaking to Prince, children had gravitated to the rest of our team. I looked up to see Tia’s face glowing with joy as she held a tiny baby in her arms as children gathered around her to pet her arms and touch her blond hair. A little boy climbed into Debra’s lap and refused to let her go.

Debra with "Bright"  

Meanwhile, Joshua, who had my camera, was mobbed by a group of curious children who all wanted their photo taken. In no time, he was standing on a chair trying to include as many children in the photo as possible. The delight on his face told me that the rest of the world had faded, and that he was in his element.
Once we finished speaking to Prince, they brought Tahameena to us, and we were able to meet her and include her in our team. She is even more beautiful in person; very regal and poised, quiet and reserved. I can only imagine how overwhelming this all may have been for both her and Ato Sam.

They brought to us the file for Ato Sam, and said it was easily the biggest file there, and it included all the correspondence records as well as health checks, school records and various reports, much as in the Compassion centers in Honduras. In this area of Ghana, they photo copy every letter received, every letter sent, as well as a photocopy of any and all photos or items sent. The original copies are given to the child to take home. We explained to them that we also have a copy of all our letters to our Compassion children at home, and that we cherish them very much.

I shared with Ebenezer that there was also a child in this Compassion center who had been sponsored through encouragement from Ato Sam, a boy named Prince Nyarko who is sponsored by my friend Stephanie and her family. They asked if we wanted to meet him – and by this point, I was about ready to pass out from sheer joy. Is it possible to have too much joy?

Stephanie and her family had sent a gift for Prince to us, so that we could give it to the Compassion staff to give to Prince on their behalf. God had bigger plans.

Within minutes, Prince Nyarko was brought forward to meet with us! I was beside myself, seriously.

Prince Nyarko
With Prince, Tahameena and Ato Sam in tow, we proceeded to make our way to the van, so that we could travel to the children’s homes together.

Children crowding around the van to interact with Joshua.

Since Prince’s visit was not planned in advance, we visited his home first so that he could stay with his family after we were done.

We stopped along the street filled with vendors attending to their carts and stalls, and proceeded to walk down a little alley toward a courtyard where we were invited to sit.

Child watching us passing by in the alley.

I saw the seat of honor, a traditional Akan tribal stool, and knew not to sit there, as this would be for Prince’s family elders, but much to my surprise, they had reserved this seat for me. I accepted as to not offend them in refusing this privilege, but it was hard to accept.

We met Prince’s mom as well as his brother, and explained to them that we were here on behalf of their sponsors, to express to them how much joy their sponsor receives from them, and how blessed and honoured they feel to be a part of Prince’s life.

We presented the gifts Stephanie had sent as well as a soccer ball and school supplies, and it was great to see the joy on their faces. We asked the mother if Prince had a father in his life, and learned that Prince’s father had not acknowledged him or support his family once Prince was born. This was heartbreaking, as I could sense how difficult a life his mother had in light of this; the emotion that displayed on her face could be felt to the core.

I asked her if sponsorship had made a difference in the life of Prince and their family, and she could barely speak, offering that it had made a tremendous difference to them in every way, and that they were immensely grateful to Stephanie and her family for all that they had done, for their love and prayers and for having chosen Prince as their sponsored child. They pray for Stephanie’s family every single day, and I know that they mean this literally.

Prince’s older brother had been working hard, he was painting when we arrived and I sensed that he holds much responsibility in this family as the oldest son, and I could tell that although it was difficult, he carried this weight well. He was confident, humble, hard working and very polite.

After a handful of photos, in which we did our best to get the children to crack a smile, since Ghanaians are very serious in their photos, we prepared to leave. A crowd had gathered to witness this curious celebration, likely wondering what had brought us to see this precious boy.

I couldn’t wait to tell Stephanie about the day, and to share the photos we had captured!

Child outside of Prince's home.  Joshua handed out a soccer ball to him from the van's window.


We proceeded to Tahameena’s house, where we met in the yard in front of her house, and met with her mother, father, and siblings.

Tahameena's kitchen area.

Our team with Tahameena's family.

 We shared a brief message with them, explaining that although my name was on the sponsorship records, her sponsorship is supported by our church’s children’s ministry, and that the children and our church pray for Tahameena, her family and her community.

We presented gifts we had brought for their family, including a doll for Tahameena (her first doll), and the blanket the church had given us for her.


 Her father really appreciated the tools we had brought him, including the small axe and multi-tool, and the mother appreciated her gifts as well – handmade soap, a photo frame, a sewing kit and a scarf. We gave the children a soccer ball as well as extra school supplies.

Standing room only in the courtyard!

 Tahameena and her mamma!

The family presented a gift of beautiful Akan cloth to me, which they likely made themselves. It is beautiful and is what is often used in this region to make clothing for the families. I may need to find myself a seamstress!

Tahameena joined us in the van to Ato Sam’s house, where I was finally able to meet his family. The first family member I was introduced to was his father, and I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him for dear life! I then looked around to all the people who had gathered, easily 30-40 in their small courtyard, and was touched by the sense of community we once again witnessed in this culture.

I couldn’t see Ato Sam’s mother, and was really eager to meet her, so I asked Ato Sam’s father where she was, and he pointed to a woman who was hanging clothing on the clothesline off to the side, and motioned to her to come see us... as she walked toward me, I hurried to her, wrapping her up in a heartfelt hug. I then looked into her eyes and told her how grateful I am for her, and how much I love her. I had always wondered how she felt about sharing her son, and if she realized how much I loved her, but I think that in that moment, all of this was answered without words.

We were introduced to Ato Sam’s family – his siblings and his grandmother, who is 99 and nearly blind. We all sat together to share conversations and express to them what a great blessing this sponsorship had been, and how thankful we were to be here amongst them.

The family presented gifts to us – a basket full of freshly picked bananas and oranges, as well as Akan cloth from the family and from the project. Given how much they had already blessed us through this sponsorship, it was humbling to be on the receiving end of even more blessings.

As seen in Ato Sam's courtyard...

The project had arranged for a soccer match between Ato Sam’s Compassion team and the team from George & George’s Compassion center, so we proceeded to the community soccer field to watch our soccer star in action – he did not disappoint. It was a great match, with both displaying impressive skills. Ato Sam’s team won 1-0, bringing the spectators to their feet.

Prince Nyarko, who we had left at his house a while ago, had made his way to the soccer field and made a beeline for the seat next to me. He was so sweet as he smiled and said “I am Prince, do you remember me?”

Prince on the left, one of his great friends on the right. 

I thought of Jenna and Claire, Stephanie’s two girls, and how much they would have enjoyed his company.

 He was such a little character! (and so was his friend, LOL!)  :D 

 He didn’t leave my side as we watched the game, and every time the children crowding at our feet distracted me from watching Ato Sam, he gently reminded me to keep watching my boy, #13. It was precious! 

 The spectators!

I taught Prince how to use my camera, and he delighted in trying to take photos of Ato Sam in action. He did a great job!

Once we finished, we headed back to Ato Sam’s home, trailed by dozens of children chasing after the van with more vim and vigor than a gaggle of Justin Bieber fans. Joshua was mesmerized by this, that the children would get so excited by our presence in their community. His face just lit up with joy. I have little doubt that this did some good for Joshua, the middle child who tends to have an insatiable need for attention. Once we got out of the van, we were trying to prepare the gifts to present to Ato Sam and his family, and the children kept crowding around us, much to Joshua’s delight and bewilderment as we tried to do our task and pay attention to them at the same time – not easy! Seeing Joshua in his element, interacting with the children, brought even more joy to my heart... it was such an incredible experience to witness. Being in Africa with Joshua and experiencing it through his eyes has been truly delightful.

We presented the gifts to Ato Sam to him and his family, and expressed to them that although these gifts had been provided to them with love, it was our love for them that was the most important gift we could give them.

We prepared to leave with Ato Sam and Tahameena for our meal together, but had some difficulty finding food in a nearby town, so we drove to a few places until we could find a restaurant that would be able to accommodate our group. The rice and chicken were wonderful – so flavourful.

We had a chance to quietly talk with Ato Sam and Tahameena while we were eating, and were able to answer some of their questions. Ato Sam asked me once again how he was chosen out of all the available children, so we shared this with him in more detail. He appreciated this.

It was hard for Ato Sam to express himself in the moment. He, like me, likes to withdraw and process things in time, as he writes out his experiences.

Tahameena, in contrast, spoke very little. She is very shy and seemed to still be overwhelmed by the attention and activities. I don’t believe she has ever been to a restaurant before, and she seemed a little anxious. She was very sweet, though.

Parting after the meal was difficult, and yet I knew with certainty that we would see them again, so it softened the separation a little. I told Ato Sam and Tahameena to stay strong, to love the Lord with their lives, and to study hard. I made Ato Sam show me how big his bicep muscles were to see if he could lift the extra gift bag we had for him, and he thought this was funny!

Since Ebenezer would accompany the children back to their homes by taxi while we traveled to our accommodations, we said our goodbyes to this great man also. I presented him with a few small gifts for he and his wife, only to learn that he is not married. I told him that should he find a wife, she will be blessed beyond measure to have him.

Our initial plans to drive back to Cape Coast evaporated when we realized that there was a guest house available in the same community that we would be visiting tomorrow, and that this was only minutes away from Enyan Abaasa.

Given how exhausted we were, and how much time and funds we could save by doing this, it was an easy choice. The air conditioning was an added blessing!

The little girl whose parents worked at the guest house helped us bring our luggage upstairs, so eager to help and asking nothing in return. Her name was Fatima, her parents are muslim but her mother has been reading the Bible. Fatima attends a nearby school. We presented her with a doll, which she cradled tenderly in her arms while thanking us ever so politely. Her English was surprisingly great for a child her age.

I spent the next hour or so re-organizing all of our luggage and gifts for the following day, and then crashed for the night from sheer exhaustion and exhileration