I’m sitting under the large, metal pavilion in a plastic chair alongside the kids. All of the other volunteers have left, so I’m alone — as I have been the past two days. Mr. Patrick sits at the front of the room, reading a story about Moses. The kids, ranging from 5 to 18 years, listen intently as I panic about the time that ticks by on my watch. 5:27 p.m., it reads. Somehow, five weeks has dwindled down to three minutes, and I am not ready to leave.
“Madam, you leave at what time?” is the question I had answered all day. All day, I’d told the kids when my taxi would arrive to take me to the airport. I followed this with assurances that I would come back, to alleviate my overwhelming guilt of leaving them behind.
This is what’s racing through my mind when the taxi horn blares.
My stomach collapses on itself and, like a robot, I get up from my seat to grab my suitcase from my room. I walk inside to see that David, a spunky 12-year-old who had clearly been outside skipping Bible study, beat me to my bags. He follows me as I head back outside to find all of the kids singing a goodbye song alongside Mr. Patrick, who takes me into his arms.
I turn around as all of the kids hug me at once. Through my tears, I see a sea of smiles looking back at me and, unlike me, I know they’re going to carry on like normal. I get in the taxi, wave my last goodbyes and begin my time of reflection during my 24-hour commute home.
“How was Africa?” is the question I get from everyone back home. I hate this question. “Amazing,” is what I feel like I have to say. But of course it was not amazing — at least not entirely. There is nothing amazing about watching kids get gifted their new pair of underwear to use for the next few weeks. There is nothing amazing about treating a boy’s split-open leg with only Germ-X, as he screams and pleads for you to stop. There is nothing amazing about an orphan crisis.
Savior Children Foundation, located in Kasoa, Ghana, is both a home to roughly 40 orphaned children and a free school to 600 more. It was founded by a man named Patrick Nwodobeh who, in 2011, along with his wife and four children, decided to start taking in children who had nowhere else to go. They all lived in a single room that served as both their home and their classroom, sleeping together on mats on the floor. He took care of them with money he earned from a farm he managed, which eventually ran out.
When Patrick found that he barely had enough to feed the kids, he decided to shut himself in a room where he fasted and prayed for days. Shortly after he emerged from his fasting, he encountered a woman who worked for International Volunteer Headquarters. She quickly saw that Patrick was a deserving candidate to receive volunteer assistance and, after an evaluation period, began placing volunteers at the foundation. Now, after years of continual donations and volunteer assistance, the foundation has 18 classrooms, a kitchen, and two large bedrooms for the boys and girls.
My decision to volunteer in Ghana stemmed from my fascination with the culture, my love for kids and a desire to dedicate a summer to something that didn’t revolve around myself. In college, it’s easy to get swept up in making sure that you look the best, maintain the best GPA, get the best internships and so on. I found myself feeling selfish and trapped, and I needed a complete escape. So I did my research, found a credible volunteer program in Ghana and booked a solo plane ticket.
The days were long, the work was strenuous, and there were times that my patience was tested. But with every bathtime, dance lesson and hug goodnight, I fell in love with those kids in a way that I have never experienced before. Ghana is beautiful and filled with people who treated me like family, and made a completely foreign country feel like home. They made me want to be a better person, which is what I will try to do until the day I get to see them again.
To learn more about the kids and how you can support them, visit www.saviorchildrenfoundation.org/