As the Christmas season and a new year fast approaches I thought I would reflect a little on life to date. In doing so I could not help but spend a fair bit of time reflecting on a life changing experience that took place in 2000. That was the year that I would travel half way around the world to a small community, far from what you would call the civilized world, to help build a food storage building and teach English.
Little did I know that my life would be forever changed.
One well worn, torn book shared by 5 or more eager children was all they had ever known....imagine the enthusiasm when we provided hundreds of books for the school, enough for each child to have and hold a book of their own. Thanks to the support of many individuals and companies we were able to provide a very large amount of educational material to the headmaster of the School.
The food storage building
(above top) -The construction Begins (above bottom) - The finished building
Being in Ghana was like living my own reality TV show. For three weeks we left behind all the modern world has to offer, our comfortable beds, our hot showers and fancy houses, our big screen TV's and much more. We left this to travel to a place where, for the Ghanaians, comfortable beds are a mat on a dirt floor, in place of hot showers there is a half full metal bucket of well water, where TV's are unheard of. The people of Ghana have nothing that a materialistic society represents. Although this part of Ghana is plagued by poverty, sickness and hunger they were always smiling and happy. My eyes were opened to the plagues of our materialistic western society, which has everything, yet wants more.
Team Member Jenny Barnes wrote "When I looked at these lives without luxury, I felt pity and guilt for all I have. This was my mind set as I looked around at the living conditions....but then my eyes moved to the people, and I was more blown away by them, more than anything else I experienced on this trip. They weren’t sad! Yes, they were laughing, and not just some of them, all of them! It would start with a smile, and soon would turn to laughter....that lasted! Even if we didn’t understand each other’s language, we could laugh together out of pure joy at being with one another.
Jenny's Story will touch your heart.
Here is the story of one of the people I met who inspired me to challenge my self to do more than just sit on the sidelines and watch.
The Story of GRACE
Grace: love and favour of God………..Webster’s Dictionary
Written after my return from Ghana in summer 2000
Grace just couldn’t believe what was happening, one day her husband was by her side, working and helping to raise their seven children, the next he was deathly ill, and not expected to make it through the night. What would she do, what could she do? Who would help feed and care for the kids now that their father had died so suddenly, would they starve to death? It was just too much to bear. Baby Sarah was so young, she would never remember her father, and the eldest was only 12…she could never do this all alone, surely she could find someone in the village to help. Sarah cried out to God for help, not knowing how she would care for herself and her children.
Home was a small one-room mud hut with a thatched roof in a small poor village in northern Ghana. The roof wasn’t leaking, at least for now but at best it would only last 5 years. Grace and her husband had enrolled their older children in school, a real luxury. Only one third of the local children can afford to go to school, where they have to pay tuition and wear a uniform. Now she could not afford to feed them let alone keep them in school. What about the future? How could she ever cope?
Someone in the village told her to go and see Noah, he was working on a new project and maybe he could do something to help her and her family.
Filled with dread, Grace met with Noah and Richard of the Carpenter Project of the Northern Empowerment Association, (NEA), they were her first ray of hope. NEA would provide her with one acre of land just outside the village, from the property given by the Chief for NEA. to develop. She would join the local women farmers’ co-op and attend weekly meetings where she would learn about farming, crops, nutrition and health, and receive much needed support. Noah talked about God, a God of love, who would provide for her family. This sounded too good to be true. Maybe the family would have a future after all.
NEA helped her clear the raw land and prepare it for seeding. Grace and her children worked all day, every day, with determination. With only two hand tools, a machete and a hoe, all the kids were needed to do their share in planting and maintaining the land. The first crop was yams and peanuts, and the children also collected shea nuts to dry and sell.
When I walked with Grace and her daughter Sarah through their small farm plot, just weeks before her first harvest, her face was no longer filled with despair. It was filled with hope. Hope for food for this year, hope for the future, the children’s education, and secure in the hope for her seven children.
The women’s co-op at the Carpenter project now has 430 members. Each woman has received one acre of land, training, support, seed, safe storage for the crops and group marketing. In a village where children are among the poorest in the world, where rags, bare feet, mud huts and malnutrition are common; hope is a rare and precious thing…hope that stems from a love of Jesus and a love of people.
Dr. David Mensah, the founder of NEA, grew up as a street urchin and gang leader in Ghana. He heard about God who could save him from harm. He decided to give God a try: believed in Him and his life began to change. David started his schooling in Ghana, then traveled to Canada to attend Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale), Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia for his masters, and on to earn his doctorate in Environmental Studies at U of T before returning to Ghana to integrate his new found knowledge with the original goals of NEA and the people of northern Ghana. NEA’s goal is to ‘end the cycle of starvation’. Ghana Rural Integrated Development Board (GRID) was established as a Canadian funding board for NEA. For more information about the miracles in this street urchin’s life read his book “Kwabena, An African Boy’s Journey of Faith “
I would Challenge each and everyone to reach out and touch someone be it as close as a neighbour going through a hard time to some one half way around the world. It does not matter if you donate to a local food bank, or travel halfway around the world to offer aid or assistance. If we all did just one thing the world would be better for it and so would we. In todays global world with its instant communication of disaster and distress how can we not reach out.
Since returning from Africa pictures like the one on the right along with stories from refugees fleeing from disaster, war and strife, haunt me and encourage me to stay involved.
No longer will I sit on the sidelines and watch
as a suffering world revolves around me.