Mama Africa. Thank You!


A week ago yesterday, I was in Turkey, waiting for the last leg of my flight back to the US. As I sat in the lounge wafting for the flight to begin boarding, I took time to look at the hundreds of photos I had taken over the past two weeks. You see, I was returning from a multi dimensional trip to the Motherland. My time in Ghana is indescribable. I had no expectations going in, but by the time I left, a new, bolder, and very ambitious vision had taken shape. One that is set to change the course of my life!

One post cannot deliver a suitable narrative for all the things I did, the experiences I reveled in, people I met and formed instant, long-lasting bonds with, and the emotions which overtook me every day.  I spent the first week volunteering at a village orphanage, and would wrap up my two-week stay exploring the sights and sounds of Ghana! What an incredible life-changing and affirming experience.

The overcrowded village orphanage houses more than 140 children and young adults, ranging in ages from 0 to 26 years.  Frequent medical care is needed. At least 2-3 children share a single bunk bed. Children sleep outside on the veranda. School is also held outside and under a mango tree. Many orphans have experienced bullying, when they tried to attend regular schools. Basic toilet/bathroom facilities are nonexistent.  Malaria is prevalent, and some of the children have HIV. The orphanage is in dire straits in many ways, but thriving in some areas. A new facility is being built, but progress has been slow. More on that later.

First I wanted to tell you a bit about some of the children I met, and have now become my adopted 6.  As soon as we pulled up to the volunteer house, six-year-old *Shelly * (names have been changed) and three other girls ran out to meet us. She and I bonded instantly! Shelly has called the orphanage home for the past two years. You see, her mother has sickle-cell anemia, and is often hospitalized for weeks, as she battles the life threatening disease.  The father had long since abandoned her mother. Unable to care for Shelly any longer, she was handed over to the orphanage. Apparently, African men often abandon their families without a second thought.

*Jenny* is smart, beautiful, talkative, and very intelligent. She enjoyed the crossword puzzles I bought, and often asked for help finding difficult words. On my birthday, a celebration was held for me; they sang, some danced, and performed, while I sat at a table looking on. They asked for blessings on my life, health, and everything else. Good thing I had it recorded. Jenny, wrote me a beautiful letter, and by some miracle, gave me a pair of earrings. I don’t know how she did so, but that night as I read the sweet, beautifully penned words, the tears were free-flowing. I don’t know much more about her story (I did ask). Her parents are still alive, however, they don’t visit as often as they use to.

*Erika*, is from a family of 6 siblings, however, she was the only one who ended up at the Orphanage. Apparently, the house they were living in fell down on her mother, killing her. The father left, and she ended up there. The older siblings visit when they could. Erika always has a smile on her face. She is one of 5 girls who were chosen to help out at the volunteer house. Erika works tirelessly, and not once did I hear a complaint. One day, she will become a respected Dentist.

*Deborah*, is one of four siblings at the orphanage. After her father died, her mother was suspected of having a role in the death (this is unfounded). His family shunned her, and she was no longer able to take care of them. She was left to make the heart breaking decision, to turn them over to the Orphanage. *Deborah’s* dream is to one day become a banker.

Deborah’s sister *Hannah* is more quiet and reserved. She reminds me a lot of myself at her age. Still trying to figure out the world around her. I could tell she misses her family being together. I think if I had more than a week there, we would have developed a stronger bond. I could tell something was very much troubling her, and tried to get her to open up, but she held back. The sadness in her eyes broke my heart in so many pieces. She wasn’t interested in much of the activities;however, she did want to skip. So on my last day, I gifted her a pink skipping rope.

*Suzy* was one of the older girls who fixed us delicious meals, and took charge in Auntie B’s absence. She spoke with a smile, and just brought so much joy to the experience of us being there. She is in senior high school, and does a great job of keeping things running smoothly. On our last night, I wrote her and the other girl’s letters of encouragement and support. I could tell they were surprised by the gesture. They all happily returned the favor.

I decided to spend a lot of time with as many kids at the orphanage as I could; their dreams are so much bigger than I had at that time in my life! If you met them on the outside, you would never guess their plight. The stories will break your heart, BUT, the smiles, playfulness, and all around good nature, is beyond anything I have ever seen, from a people who have absolutely nothing. I bought puzzles, games, play doh, stickers etc. You CANNOT imagine how joyful they were to take part in these activities. Once they completed an activity, they were rewarded with stickers. Such a small reward, but to them, it meant so much more. I made sure that on my last day, I would have nothing left over.

As mentioned above, my birthday was spent at the orphanage, and a celebration was held for me. There was music dancing, singing and well wishing. I sat a table, and looked on as the children and adults wished me well. It’s not often I will have the opportunity to spend my birthday in this most special way! I was asked to say a few words, and could only manage just that much, as the tears were free-flowing. As I looked over the faces of so many young ones, I tried very hard to memorize them all. It was incredibly important for me to immortalize this moment. According to tradition, the birthday person supplies the drinks and snacks, and a friend gets the cake. The guide I had been talking to for more than a year, before my trip, did just that. The pure delight at being treated to something so simple and abundant in the West, brought me to tears. We gave out seconds and thirds. My heart was heavy, and bursting with so much love for people, I had only known for a few days.

It was very difficult to say goodbye, especially to *Shelly*. As we piled into the SUV to leave for the last time, she and I started crying. We hugged for a long time, but it wasn’t enough, could never be enough. I hoped she knew how much I had come to love her, and just how much I plan on helping her for as long, as I walk this earth. I left a donation to the orphanage, and two of the girls for simple things they needed. I knew then, what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I will always have more than I will ever need. I made a choice to help change the generations that will come from these loving and gentle souls.

My British bestie, Maggie, joined me for the second part of the trip. It was a perfect way to wrap up my first visit to the motherland. We journeyed to Cape Coast; the main attraction is the slave castle, which once housed thousands of slaves, before they were shipped off to the Americas and Caribbean, bound for a life, they were certainly afraid of. We saw the room and conditions the rebellious slaves were kept in. After being publicly flogged, they were left to die in a windowless room. No food or water was given. A soldier would occasionally check in, to see if they had passed on. Once this was the case, the bodies were dumped in the ocean. For effect, the guide closed the door for less than a minute, while we were inside. Chilling.

We toured the male dungeons, where coincidentally, church services were held just above. Female slaves and children were housed together. We saw the observation rooms, where soldiers stood guard and kept on eye out for any planned rebellions. To overcome the language barrier, spies were planted among real slaves. Their sole purpose was to bring back word to the Governors.  The Door of No Return symbolized the end of one nightmare, and the beginning of another. Once the slaves passed through, they were loaded onto ships, bound for their new homes. I now understand fully, the meaning of the phrase “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, for they knew that death was better than bondage”

It was also in Cape Coast, where I was blessed with a beautiful African Naming and Welcome Home Ceremony. The proceedings were watched over, and performed by the third Queen of the one of the tribes, and a village Father. The love, warmth, welcome, and total acceptance directed at me, was indescribable. I honestly felt that I was HOME. The Queen invited me to visit her home, the next time I’m in Ghana. For now, she welcomed me back, and expressed gratitude for the visit. It was a proud moment.

Back in Accra, we got involved in so many activities; survived the infamous, and nerve-racking canopy walk at Kakum National Park, toured the magnificent Aburi Botanical Gardens, visited the Mausoleum of the country’s first prime minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, learned how to play drums, ate too much delicious, freshly prepared dishes. Shopping is quite the experience, as we left it up to our guide to haggle for us. We had to spend the last night at the DC 10 Restaurant. It’s housed in an old airplane, formerly belonging to Ghana Airlines. We got dressed up in matching outfits. While waiting in the lobby for our guide/driver, we attracted the attention of the male hotel guests, who began taking our photos:). The front desk clerk asked if it was okay, to place the photo on the website.  How cool is that?!

I’m back in the US now, and trying to catch up on my projects, business, and platforms. I had the most amazing time in Ghana. There is work for me to do, and a lot of newly adopted kids who to help. Working in Social Services, I know the difference it makes in the lives of my clients. However, the work I’m about to embark on, is so much bigger than anything I have ever done. I’m asking for prayers to guide my steps. My heart is full, my eyes are wet, so help me Lord, lest I forget.

A myriad of life choices led me to a small village in Ghana, where I am convinced; they were waiting to change my life, instead of the other way around. I have been given much, and now I must share with those who have nothing, in ways I’ve never dreamed of. Thank you Mama Africa, and especially to the wonderfully kind people of Ghana…till we meet again.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan