Clean Hands!

July 2, 2009

Today the children washed their hands in the new sink! We finished the last touches on the trench, latrine and sink. I am so happy to be done with that trench. While waiting for permission to take the children out of school for a quick lesson in hand washing, we sat in on the kindergarten class. We definitely were more of a disturbance to the class than a help. Francis, Francisca, David, Daniel, Bless, Kevin Jennifer and Wilford put on a show, singing loudly and acting out their educational songs. Francisca, who was on my lap as usually, was the giggle queen. Our crew joined the orphans in reciting “some four letter words” as it said on the board, trying hard to keep a straight face. We each had a little one hanging on our arm. Daniel continues to warm up. During class, he wrapped sparkly plastic beads around my wrist as a bracelet. Mark and David teased that he couldn’t decide whether to eat the beads or give them to me because he had them in his mouth at some point. I, however, love my gift and am still wearing it this moment. The children are so full of energy and giggles. I want to take some of them home.

Finally the moment of hand washing arrived! We attempted to walk only five children out there at the same time, which of course did not end up happening. Some children would not stop washing her hands. Francisca did it three times until one of the workers made her leave. Katie made them go through a step-by-step process to wash their hands. They had to:
1. wet hands
2. rub hands on soap
3. rub hands together, spreading their fingers to get soap in between
5. and rinse.
Once they completed the process, they were rewarded with a hand cleaning certificate barring their name. They were so proud to earn a certificate, showing them off to all the crew and singing and dancing their way back to class.

Mark and Anna with the kids

Mark and Anna with the kids

The best part of the day had to be the last. David brought with him a flashy pair of sunglasses for each orphan. Now that is excitement. Cheering, singing and waving their arms, five of the girls ran all the way to the latrine to show us. Anna let the older boys borrow her camera. Once she got it back, there were a series of photos where the boys were posed Calvin Kevin style with the sunglasses. The crew has become such a fixture at the orphanage. It will be so sad tomorrow, our last day on the orphanage.

Playing Nurse

June 30, 2009

Have you ever seen sick suffering children on TV and wanted to wrap them in your arms to comfort them? We did that today.

We went back to the orphanage to lay pipe, dig a trench through the road, fit the sink and hall up buckets of rainwater from the latrine pit. The engineers worked hard to find the most effective way to accomplish the best solutions, while accommodating everyone. Plus, we were all hurting today. Sore backs, stiff legs, blood blisters and scrapes were our closest companions, but it is so worth it. Apparently, many children had slipped and fell off the logs of the old latrine, into the human feces.

I took a break to examine the rooms where the children sleep. Most of the children sleep on a paper-thin mat, which is laid over a grimy cement floor. I noticed a little body curled in one of the few bunks. It was 5-year-old David, one of the twins that was found wandering the streets of Ho four months ago. He had a wound on his swollen toe that was infected and causing a fever. Later I discovered Mama Elize left to find medicine. I carried him to the first aid station, holding him tight as he flinched and moaned from the cleaning of the wound. After I laid him back in bed, three other little ones came to me, showing their wounds. I tried to clean them with alcohol, but some of the wounds were so old, the puss had crusted over the skin. I felt awful. Katie, Lindsey, and Courtney created their own bandage station by the van. Children lined up to have the teachers fix their boo-boos.

Things brightened up when the teachers brought out new jump ropes and baby dolls. As the children played, Katie brought David out and held him as he laid his head on her chest. She was worried he would be too hot being so close to her body, but he told her he liked the sound of her heart. Francisca, the twin of Francis, was attached to my lap most of the time. When I came back to the kindergarten “classroom”, I noticed little Jennifer was asleep on the bench. I shook her to wake her up, and when she did not, I started to panic. I picked her up and her eyes were still closed, but to my relief, she started to move her arms. With half-open eyes she told one of the older girls she had stomach pains. I held her in my lap for the next half an hour, while the kindergartners played with my camera and the older girls learned how to write my name.

Daniel, David’s twin, is the most melancholy child I have ever seen. His gigantic brown eyes are filled with a deep sadness; I can’t imagine what they’ve seen. He was inching closer to me until finally he trusted me enough to show me his legs. His legs are ridden with hundreds of mosquito bites. The open wounds oozed and he couldn’t keep the flies from feeding off them. My heart broke in two. The twins came into the orphanage in bad shape, and with dirt floors, 50 children and few resources it is difficult to give them the attention they need. I held Daniel in my lap for a while as the other children, who are better adjusted to the orphanage, played happily around us. Finally, I saw the first smile from Daniel’s lips when I let him take a picture with my camera. It made my day. Bent down, surrounded by hyper 5-year-olds, I felt a tug on my shirt. David came out and wanted me to hold him again. I sat there with David’s head resting on my shoulder and rubbing Daniel’s back, wondering when the last time they had been held.

Work

June 29, 2009


Today was the first day of hard labor. We dug a trench from the latrine from the housing structure so pipe can be laid and water can reach the sinks where the children wash their hands. The trench was a little longer than the length of a basketball court. I will explain the intensity of working the African-way in a second, but first I need to address the more pressing matter of the orphanage.

After working and playing with the children, I got started speaking with Kafui, Mama Elize’s husband, which lead to an hour-long conversation with the couple. Kafui helps run the place, but he says the orphanage is under her vision and supports her. Kafui often traveled to Europe for business. His English vocabulary is larger than Mama Elize, who is fluent in French, so I was able to understand the situation better. They support 80 children, but can only house 50. The rest are housed by surrounding families, whom Mama Elize helps financially. Most of the children are either abandoned or both parents have died. Six-year-old David was sick, and I sat rubbing his back. David and his twin were found wandering the streets of Ho before someone picked them up and brought them to the orphanage. No one knows how long they lived on the streets or what happened to their parents. Many orphans have similar stories. Drifting Angels Orphanage receives no aid from their government. A small farm Mama owns on the edge of town is the sole source of income for the orphanage. She is actually renting the current building complex for 350 cedis a month, plus another 400 cedis for bills (cedis are close in exchange rate to dollars). This does not include paying the teachers and the workers or the food and supplies for the children. Mama Elize wants a new orphanage built on the farm property more than anything. Right now twenty boys are living in a 15-by-12 feet room. She told me this is not the environment she wants her children to grow up in. She feels the children deserve a better standard of living. Plus, the orphanage on her farm would eliminate the problem of rent and bills from the city. All 80 would have beds, so she does not have to pay other families to house them. EWB said they would build it for free and have the design ready. The issue is it would still cost $30,000 to built. Mama Elize and Kafui have dedicated their entire life and savings into raising these orphans who had no other place to turn, and now they need help.

At lunch the crew discussed ideas on how to raise the money. The teachers said that their classes did a walk and raised $4,000 dollars. This gave me the idea that maybe we could hold a completion among Las Vegas schools on which class can raise the most money for Drifting Angels. Each class can come up with their own ideas like car washes, bake sales or writing letters to find sponsors for a big walk for Africa. I could organize the winning class getting a party thrown for them by some of the top UNLV basketball, soccer, football, baseball, softball and volleyball players. I know it is a tough time in the states finically, but it will be a good opportunity to our children to learn of other cultures and they are worse off then we will every be. The orphanage will not survive without help.

If anyone has any ideas on how to raise the money for the orphanage, please leave a comment. I’m hoping at very least to set up a fund.

Now about the day of hard labor. “Hard” is not an accurate word for this kind of labor. I’m thinking “third level of hell” is a better description, but I am happy to report that I held my own and the Ghanaians were pleased with my working habits. When we first arrived at the orphanage, the orphans swarmed us with hugs and showed me their new puppy, Jack. Then we went to work. The African sun blazed above us, and the dirt was compacted with roots and rocks. There were three tools available: a shovel, a pick-ax and a machete to cute the high grass. They marked the trench with ropes were we dug between. I wanted to prove to myself that I could handle the pick-ax (even though I have never used one before) so I picked one up. After William (one of the Ghanaian workers) watched me beat the ground uselessly for 10 minutes, he came over to show me the correct way to do it. Feet outside the ropes, William swiftly swung the ax down with force, a small piece on the left and then right. The trick was to chip away at it piece by piece. I worked through the grass with the Ghanaian workers, while EWB and the teachers worked on the other end. I can’t tell you how long we worked, only that by the end I was drenched head to toe with sweat and caked with mud. It made double days seem like a stroll in the park. Definitely, going to be sore tomorrow.

Between classes I was able to play with the children again. They grabbed my hands and led me out to where some gathered to play a singing game. They taught Katie, Lindsey, Courtney and I “Walk-around”, and it wasn’t long before I was in the middle of the circle, grooving around the circle. Then it was back off to school for the children. Cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Mark, Anna and I standing by the falls after we went through

Mark, Anna and I standing by the falls after we went through

Today, not only did we hike up to the Wli falls, four of us went through the 300-foot waterfall to touch the back wall! It was probably the most spectacular moment I have had to date.

It took us two hours to drive up to the falls. Last night, three ladies arrived from Philadelphia to help teach the children, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know them. Once we arrived on the sight, we had a 40-minute hike up to the falls. The hike was unreal. The path snaked through the jungle, long vines dangled over the near river and giant leaves the size of surfboards reached high over our heads. Mesmerized by the wild beauty of the jungle, I stood stunned in front of the tallest waterfall in West Africa. The water fell hundreds of feet down a rugged sheet of rock laced with a hint of green. The impact of the water into the pond was spectacular, sending a cloud of mist that reached us on shore. Eric, David, Lindsey and I were the first to venture to touch the falls. The power of the water was unbelievable. Within 15 feet of the falls, the water was hitting my face so hard I couldn’t see. We linked hands and walked backwards towards the water. My eyes were closed tight and the water was hitting me so hard I chickened out just when we were in the heat of it and went back. Next David convinced Eric and Anna to go through the waterfall and touch the back wall were there was no water, David said he did it last time (which turned out to be a bluff because he chickened out last time). This time I was determined to go through with. I returned, linked between David and Mark, this time my eyes were open. As we backed into the falls, so much force was hitting us it felt like were in the middle of Katrina. Directly under the falls, hundreds of pounds of water falling over our heads, we pushed through it until our backs hit the wall. It stung our skin as thousands of water pellets peppered our bare backs, but it was so worth it! As soon as made it to the other side we all screamed in exhilaration. Between sheets of rock and a wall of water, we had conquered our fears. I will never forget that moment.

I probably would not have been able to face Wli Falls, if I had not experienced the two scariest hours of my life driving up there. Maylinn, Eric, Mark and I sat gripping the seats of the 11-passenger van in silent panic as we ripped through the country side of Ghana. Picture this: narrow two lane roads with no shoulder, full of giant potholes, tons of goats wandering freely along the sides, plus half the time village huts lined the streets with people walking directly on the side. Now picture our van whipping around corners at top speed, passing every vehicle on the road (even though none of us know if there is another car around the corner), and swerving into the other lane to avoid the constant potholes. Thought I was going to die. On top of that, the road was super bumpy. In the last two rows we were actually airborne several times. Mark even hit his head on the ceiling of the van. It felt like we were in the middle of a blockbuster car chase, the only thing was no one was chasing us. Animals wander freely in Ghana, and they all stand on the side of the road for good reason. We must have passed 50 goats individually. It is miraculous we did not hit one. I said a little prayer of thanks when we arrived in one piece.

I am still astonished of the poverty I see. Every village we have passed is run down with crumbling clay huts. And rusty tin shelters. Nothing is up kept. Nothing is new. Nothing has the luxury of being invested into because people are just trying to survive. I feel like I am on another planet. And to think 80% of the world lives like this. My eyes are opened.

The Kids!!!

June 27, 2009

Wow, today has changed my life forever. Today we went to visit the farm, orphanage and a small village with many children. The engineers assessed the water pump at the farm and latrine at the orphanage. As soon as we stepped out of the van at the orphanage, thirty big, chocolate brown eyes were staring up at us. The crew presented coloring books, freebies, blow-up balls, and books to Mama Elize, a retired doctor who started and runs the orphanage by herself, as the children sang to us. As we walked to the latrine, Mama embraced me, telling me she wished I could stay there forever. When I told her that many people will see this, her eyes began to fill with tears. “We need help,” she tells me. The current orphanage holds 50 children, but there are thirty more that cannot fit. Mama Elize must pay for them to live with other families, and is running out of money fast. The building EWB was going to build would hold all 80, but they did not have enough money so they must continue to wait until the money is raised. Mama Elize and I walked hand in hand to the latrine. I could tell that she is a very strong woman, but her tenderness was phenomenal. She would do anything for these children. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed. I want to make some kind of fund to help them, or something. Mama Elize and the orphans desire that much.

As the engineers were assessing the latrine, I snuck back to the orphanage to play with the children. The courtyard was filled with laugher and giggling of children, running in all different directions playing with their new toys. As soon as I pulled out my camera, I was swarmed with children ranging ages 3to 13. They posed as I snapped pictures, and exploded in delight when I showed them themselves on the screen. It wasn’t long before they had my camera and were taking pictures of me. The older ones kept the little ones in line, making sure my camera was always returned. One little of about four boy named Francis acted as my director. “Take picture of truck! Picture of car! Of her!” he’d shout with excitement. Then I saw a little girl less than one-year-old perched up on a wall. She let me take her up into her arms. I melted. She didn’t smile much. She just batted her eyes at me and laid her head against my chest. Held her tight until we had to leave.

Next we thought we’re going to lunch, but Richard had another surprise in store for us. We drove up to the mountains, away from Ho. We rumbled down a narrow dirt road enclosed with walls of six-feet tall grass. The countryside was beautiful and wild, with mountains rising randomly from the ground. We drove for a while then a tiny village popped out of nowhere. It was the same village where David had volunteered a year before, and the same village that happens to host the most fun kids in the world.

As the engineers went to inspect the latrine David’s last crew had build, I hung by the van to take a few snap shots. First two little girls shouted and ran towards me. Next thing I know a stampede of forty kids come running out of the surrounding huts. They felt my skin and asked my name, repeating each syllable carefully. They also were excited about getting their picture taken. So I decided to “wow” them. I pulled out the video camera and told them to dance and sing. When I bent down to show them, it felt like hundreds of little hands were pulling me down, fighting to look at the little screen. I disappeared into a standing dog-pile of children. Before I fell down the older children pulled the little one’s off. Soon all the engineers were having fun taking pictures of the children and the children running around with their cameras. David and Mark played soccer with some of the boys and their makeshift ball. One of the little girls wanted to play a hand clap game with me. To my astonishment, it was “say, say ol’ playmate”, the same hand-song I used to play with my mom as a child . The children were excited I knew the song. Soon I was pulled into a giant circle, which was like ring-around-the-roses on speed. Before I knew what was happenning, I was in the middle of a game of tug of war (my team won). The kids kept touching my legs, so I told them it was for jumping and I jumped. They cheered and kept chanting for me to jump more. “Run!” they shouted next, so I took off running. They chased me round the village square. Once again it was time to go, the children hung on my arm as I walked back to van. They bid us all good-bye. You’re not going to believe the next part: As we started to drive off, they chanted “Jess- ee-ca, Jess-ee-ca!” The crew gave me a hard time and I pretended like it was no big deal, but the truth is—that just made my life.

First Day

June 26, 2009

Made it to Africa! And it is absolutely amazing. The plane ride to Ghana was 11 hours, complete with screaming babies and cramped quarters. Needless to say it was a very long trip. Met the whole Las Vegas team at the airport and they are awesome people. Super friendly and I can tell they are down to have a good time anywhere they can. With Anna, Maylinn, David, Mark and Eric, this trip is going to be a blast.

The two-hour van ride to Ho from Accra was like nothing I have experienced before. The land is incredibly green, full with vegetation and trees with an abundance of leaves. Every plant here looks like it is on hyperactive- miracle grow. Even the grass blades are as wide a strip of scotch tape. As we drove, streetwalkers with baskets of goodies on their head waved products and drinks at our window, trying to get us to stop. Mud huts, grass-like tents and rickety, open wooden structures lined most of the street, providing very little shelter to the vendors. They sold everything from DVD’s, melons, coal, and cement building blocks. The best description for American minds is slums. We marveled as women carried giant baskets up to three feet high on their heads as they strolled down the muddy street. I immediately fell in love with miniature goats, whom ranged freely. They were everywhere, no bigger than a small dog, and so adorable.

The buildings we passed looked ready to collapse with dirt floors and a couple of logs to hold up a tin roof. So I was getting a little worried about our hotel, but when we entered Ho, the city was much larger than anything we had passed. Our hotel is the best in town complete with TV, bathroom and everything you could expect, except Internet service. Apparently, the Internet is dow in the whole town (so I hope I get this blog to you so

We went and had lunch at this great little place our guide Richard took us to. We ate a type of fried rice, really nicely seasoned chicken, a shredded salad.
Next we decided to walk the market. I figured it would be an average-sized market a couple of blocks long. Wow was I wrong. This event was huge. We weave between hundreds of stands, trying to stay out of the way of the children with baskets of dried fish on their head, bikes, and anyone else carrying various food on their head. Plantains, tomatoes, bread, fish, beads, veggies, bags of water, shoes, grains, rice, live crab, peppers, clothes, and many other things I was clueless about were laid out in front of women children and men, trying to sell their product. I felt like I was in the middle of an Indiana Jones’ movie, but more crowded. The people were so sweet and curious. One woman stopped us and asked our names. Some others shouted out, “White people! White people!” The children kept reaching out and touching my skin. I would turn and smile at them and they would giggle and wave. Eric mentioned many were staring at me, and one man asked me excitedly if I was a half-cast (guessing that means biracial, which I am). We stood out like a sore thump to say the least.

On the way back, the crew decided they wanted to sit and have a beer. We were all laughing and having a good time, when we noticed it was getting dark. Next thing we knew, everyone started to run for cover. All of a sudden, it started to downpour. Now I’m from the Northwest, and I have never seen rain like this. It felt like we were in a hurricane. Sheets of rain came sideways. Blowing away anything that was not nailed down. We sat in the bar/hut for a while, the guys were sure it would pass quickly… it didn’t. An hour later some of our crew had to go to the restroom, which was basically behind the hut in the wide open. We laughed hysterically as some returned soaked, explaining how they tried to balance the umbrella and go to the bathroom and while a man in a red jacket stared them down the whole time. Finally, we gave up and took a taxi back. Now we’re getting ready to go to dinner. Very long, but amazing day.

Adventure to Africa

June 23, 2009

ghana_mapFive different types of mosquito repellent, SPF 85 sunscreen (yes, they make that now), four shots in my arm, malaria medicine, and some cargo shorts later– I’m all set for an adventure of a lifetime!

Two days from now, June 25th I will be joining five engineers from Las Vegas and three other teachers and volunteers from Philadelphia, and we will be traveling to a remote village in the southeastern region of Volta in Ghana called Tsito Awudome.  The goal is to raise the standard of living for the orphans of Drifting Angels Orphanage.  The engineers will  build a well, latrine, and water sanitation system (more funding is still needed to build a new building, although designs are ready to be implemented), while the teachers will work with the children emphasizing the importance of sanitation and good hygiene using the new facilities. Me on the other hand, I will help anyway I can, and write about the experience of the land, the culture, the people, the children and of course the progress of the orphanage so you can join us on this journey. You won’t want to miss it!