Farewell for now to you my friends.
Goodbyes are always bittersweet- bitter in the fact that I have to depart from my dear friends. I love my Tafi Atome family very much and leaving them was by no means an easy thing to do. Do not be surprised when I tell you that I cried a lot- and not in a pretty womanly way (it was definitely a sight to NOT see). But, It was sweet because it made me SO thankful for the 9 weeks I got to spend with a community I love so much. Even though it hurt so much to say goodbye, all the days I spent in Tafi Atome were completely worth the ending heartache.
The once a week travels to the Internet cafe (2 hour van ride) was probably not my most fondest memories of this summer. Not going to lie, I think it is safe to say that internet causes headaches. If it wasn’t for my non-profit internship, I would of been web free and surely a happy camper! Anyways, the reason why I brought up my dislike for the internet is because there was one great thing that came out of those weekly 2 hour van rides. One weekend, I received an email from my mother saying, “I know it is going to be difficult saying your goodbyes. I will pray that you can find strength and guidance to be able to walk away with smiles of joy and not tears of defeat”. That was the exact thing I needed to hear.
We all know the perception of someone going abroad to do volunteer work in a 3rd world country- they always come back with a new mindset and an experience that (without a doubt) changes their life forever. Sure I can agree with that, I mean this was my third time in Africa- obviously my time spent over here is somewhat meaningful. But, I do have to expand on that perception many people hold. First off, mindsets do change after volunteering abroad because of the people they meet. My friends in Tafi Atome, Ghana are much different than my friends in America (love them both equally)- but I do love it over on this other side of the world. There is a sense of peace and kindness that surrounds each person you interact with. The fact that my kindergarten class can cry laughing when I do the chicken dance says a lot about the joy in their life. Joy is not hard to find over here, it is actually very simple. So secondly, going to a 3rd world country (speaking only for myself) is selfish. Yes I admitted it. The truth is that the people I meet teach me more than I could ever learn in a lecture hall. Not trying to get all sappy, but all my new friends abroad remind me of my mother- which makes perfect sense on why I desire to come back every summer. To meet people with a heart wanting to serve those who come to serve them, and those who have smiles that speak volumes more than their words ever could- is worth traveling for. I go every summer with the intention to love as hard as I can, but I leave feeling more loved than I ever have before.
It’s the mindset that is different over here, I recommend you to travel and see for yourself. Go anywhere, see things you have never seen before, meet people who will welcome you into their home (whether it is a mud house or a mansion) and hear their life story- I promise, it will change you.
I LOVE TAFI ATOME. I love my host family. I love my students (may I remind you that they consist of 60 crazy kindergartens). I love Queen Mother and CompassionateWomen (the sustainable women’s group). I love reading to Bliss and taking her on nature trails. I love craving something other than rice- an everyday battle. I love fetching water from the river. I love the sounds of monkeys and goats on every walk I take. I love that I hear my name yelled throughout the village. I love my new sister, Gladys, who has joined the women’s group. I love the indescribable star gazing that happens every night. I love the red flowers that accent the trees of the rainforest. I love how everyone is each other’s keeper. I love how I have gained a family in Tafi Atome.
Time is such a delicate gift. No matter how you chose you spend it, the timer will eventually go off. Having only 6 days left in Ghana- time is no longer a distant concept to me anymore. There is so much I want/need/have to do before my goodbyes- and at this point, I am on a time limit. (Yes- this just got depressing, but the truth needs to be spoken). My heart hurts knowing that in less than a week, I will no longer wake up in Tafi Atome and see all these beautiful Ghanian faces. I should be used to the departure part of traveling (being my third time in Africa) but no, I’m not. As an optimist, I am going to take every minute I have left and see it as a blessing to spend it with people I love so much. 6 days is better than no days.
Enough of my sad heart speaking- let’s get to exciting news! French volunteers came into Tafi Atome for a while, and of course I couldn’t let them leave without looking at the handmade clothes by CompassionateWomen. Can you say successful?!!! With only purchasing headbands and one purse, the profit came out to be 206 cedis (converting that into US dollars would equal around $70). Incase you didn’t know, that is VERY good for the Ghanaian market. Words cannot express my excitement for the women of Tafi Atome. They are incredibly talented and I am so happy and honored to show everyone their art pieces (aka: handmade clothing).
Something that Wilson (my previous host father) said to me earlier today, “it’s the little gifts that can give someone life. Meaning that an act of giving shows someone that they are cared for”. I hope that the handmade gifts from CompassionateWomen can be an inspiration to those who buy them and also to the women who continue to create them.
7 weeks. Really? I can remember getting off the plane in Ghana and immediately wanting to kiss the ground because of my excitement. How could the goodbyes to my dear friends be so near? I’m not ready- not sure if I ever will be. I may say though, my kindergarten class never gives me a “relaxing” day- but a circus show is always a guarantee. They are such goofballs and I couldn’t imagine them another way. A French volunteer kindly lends his guitar so I can play during break time. Their laughs, smiles, and crazy dance moves are forever a memory in my head. I can only hope that all my- adorable, foolish, beautiful, energetic, emotional- children never forget the worth they hold and how much they are loved.
Even though it is coming to the end of my time in Ghana- I am very thankful for the chance to hangout with Bliss. Bliss is a beautiful 14 year old girl who was born with cerebral palsy. She just got back from 1 and 1/2 months in the hospital and unfortunately, there is not much help being offered to her. Her father is a farmer and her mother, Meloween, goes to the market every 5 days to sell goods. For 9 years, Meloween walked 5 miles to the farm with Bliss on her back. Eventually, Bliss got too big for her mother to carry- leaving Meloween no longer able to work on the farm. It has been a blessing to go over to Bliss’s house in the mornings to read to her, sing songs, wheel her through the village, and do some stretching exercising with her. Her inability to talk and walk doesn’t take away from her contagious smile. Hanging out with Bliss is definitely the best way to start my day. Please pray for Bliss and her family- that they find means to pay for the medical bills and to calm their hearts from this struggle. I have informed Meloween about the sustainable women’s group, CompassionateWomen, in hopes that this opportunity will give a steady income to Bliss’s family. Meloween and Bliss are a beautiful example of how a mother sacrifices her life for her daughter. My own mother (Mother Diane) is the most important person in my life. I see the overflowing love Meloween has for Bliss, and it only reminds me of the love my mother gives to me. It was no random act that they came into my life- they are a very special gift to me.
Not only has Bliss become a sweet friend in my life, so has Gladys. Gladys is a 17 year old girl with a big heart. Her father passed away before she was born and her mother died when she was 2 years old. Becoming an orphan, she was sent to Accra to stay with chosen guardians. It breaks my heart to say that these guardians were not good to Gladys. Abusive punishment and starvation were used often in that household. Once Gladys was 16 years, she gathered up enough courage to run away to her born village- Tafi Atome. I am so proud of her for making that brave decision and very blessed to call her my new friend. Gladys and I have gotten to know each other very well. We take walks together and eat juicy pineapples during our free time. She has finished secondary school and desperately wants to go onto a University. Unfortunately, her aunt in the village has no means to feed her whole family, let alone pay for Gladys to attend a university. Hearing that news, I immediately went to Gladys family’s house to inform them about the women’s group. The family welcomed me into their home as their “new daughter”. CompassionateWomen was developed for people who are exactly like Gladys. She is a beautiful young lady with so much to offer the world. Opportunities for women in Ghana are rare and this women’s sustainable group is a chance for them to break the cycle of poverty and helplessness- and to become an independent, radiant women.
Day 42 It’s officially the 6 weeks mark, which means time needs to slow down immediately. Tafi Atome isn’t a foreign place to me anymore, it’s natural to be here. Every morning I eat an amazing breakfast from Mother Vinolia (she serves organic peanut butter everyday- which means she is a goddess). After I am stuffed from breakfast, my kindergarten students become the center of my attention. I cannot get enough of them. Walking to school is a fun time in itself- imagine having students who love to go to school and who wait outside your house to walk to school with you? Three special little ones have stolen my heart-Mata, Falesha, and Samuel. Mata and Falesha are in my kindergarten class, they have an abnormal amount of energy in my opinion. I can always count on both of them to be the first ones to say good morning with a sloppy kiss on my cheek. I literally get ready for school faster just for this reason alone. Samuel, I have already decided is coming home with me. His passion for learning is inspiring and his selflessness is humbling. His dream is to be a teacher, and because he has taught me so much about living a passionate life- I know that his dream fits him perfectly. Samuel daily reminds me to see beauty in all things and to share it with others. It’s crazy how big one’s heart can be. The past two years in Africa I have fallen in love with a list of children who I can and will never forget. And of course this summer, there are more kids adding to that list-but that doesn’t make me love anyone less. The more children I love, the bigger my heart gets.
There is some bittersweet news to address. I have moved out of Wilson’s (my Tafi Atome father) house. He is having 27 international students accompany him for the next three weeks. With that being said, I have moved into Josephine’s house. She is a student in class 6 and she is definitely a crazy one. Even though I miss Wilson terribly, living with Josephine is an adventure. Her house is in the heart of village. Monkeys, goats, and sheep share the land with us- and yes I play with them. I have monkeys on my shoulders (when I kindly offer them some of my banana, of course) and baby goats are my favorite to hold. I literally play with children and animals all day… Hannah has found her happy place.
Like stated previously, my kindergarten crazies have stolen my heart- but the love doesn’t stop there. The women’s empowerment project has taken off and is soaring! Yesterday was probably one of the most special days I have had here. I have been working with the Queen Mother to help start up a clothing business in the village. Kiki, Melissa, (other volunteers, aka- my partners in crime), and I have given the seamstresses designs and clothing ideas that we believe will be a hit over in the states. Yesterday we went to the Queen Mother’s house and were immediately in tears. (Happy happy happy tears). The women had created the most beautiful dresses, headbands, skirts, tops and much more. To tell you that we were impressed would be an understatement. We were happy dancing, crying, laughing, hugging, and obviously trying on all the beautiful outfits they had created. A moment I’ll never forget is when we walked out to show queen mother the dresses and immediate tears fell from her eyes. This project is so much more than women making clothes, It’s the start of a new chapter in their lives. Their creations are absolutely breathtaking and will be the tool to a sustainable income- something they have never had before. BE READY TO SHOP MY FELLOW READERS!!
Day 39: Waterfalls, canopy walks through the forest, nature hikes, playing with monkeys, and baby goats… The spontaneous adventures never end over here in Ghana. I just got back from a four day weekend visiting Cape Coast. It was a perfect getaway spent with the other volunteers that have grown so close to my heart. It consisted of beach bungalows, cultural festivals, tons of food, World Cup games, nature fun and a visit to the Cape Coast Slave Castle. I knew it was going to be an uncomfortable experience but that barely captures the emotions I went through. I have studied a lot about the Atlantic Slave Trade and the brutal details of how the captured Africans were treated before and after the point of no return. The castle was absolutely beautiful and that is what made me so weak. How could something so beautiful have caused so much hurt and destruction? All I pictured was the tears, the screams, and the fears that were made in that beautiful piece of architecture. There was one true amazing thing about the slave castle- that is, the moment I walked out of it the world was joyful again. Children were playing on the beach, people were laughing, and life suddenly became colorful. That is what I loved about this day. I was reminded that the act of forgiveness can make one free. The history that took place before them should never be forgotten but should also be the reason to keep on living freely.
Going away for the weekend is always an exciting time, but there is something special about coming back to a place you call home. Tafi Atome is a lot different from my American home though. Selflessness seems to be a genetic trait, meaning that everyone is naturally each other’s keeper. The children fetch water from the distant river at least three times a day. Children go on mile walks to their family’s farm to work and bring back fire wood. Children use machetes to weed the football sized fields surrounding the village. Children hand wash their family’s clothes- while all having the biggest smiles on their faces. The amount of goods one owns doesn’t matter here. It is the relationships that make their lives meaningful- I want to live by that example. The Menzies Family is the heart of my existence, and I want to love them with a humble heart. People are what matter in a lifetime.
“I need to help you because you are my dear friend”, says Josephine, a student from class 6.
Day 31: “In the morning, early in the morning, in the morning I will rise up with The Lord”, take a second and imagine a village full of children singing that song at 4:30 in the morning. Every Saturday, we wake up before the sun and gather on the village road to start the day with a group run. We run for what seems like miles, but the distance doesn’t seem to be a notice. Watching the sun rise over the Volta Region’s mountains and listening to the children chant to The Lord, is something I will not forget. That is why my heart fell in love with Africa two years ago; gratefulness, joy, and faith continues to fill this continent. It is a different kind of freedom they experience over here.
EXCITING NEWS- the project to empower women through creativity has begun. The women have already made many colorful designs on fabric to be sewed into clothes, bags, headbands etc. Attention all readers: keep a lookout for a website link soon, be ready to shop! The women are eager to work everyday and are more than thankful for this new business. I pray everyday that the outcomes of this project will benefit the women and their families greatly. I believe that empowering others to thrive on their own is the greatest way to help someone. I hope the women realize that they are more than house mothers, but in fact, each of them is someone who has the ability to a beautiful individual.
The more I travel, the more I realize that what defines a home is not one destination of residence. I think a home is anywhere you build a family. I have made a family here, and they will always be a part of my story. My 46 kindergarten students, my host father- Wilson, my older brother- Emmanuel… We’re family. I am torn when they are hurt, laugh when they are dorks, and smile so big when I am around them. The differences that outsiders would so easily point out, don’t exist in my world.
Not only do I have a new family in Tafi Atome, Ghana. I have a new Florida State family. Still can’t believe there are 8 of us from the same university.
Kelly- my twin, other half, my yolk to my egg white. She likes to think she is perfect, my opinion doesn’t matter. She makes me laugh constantly and has the same thrill seeking desires as myself. At least I can say we are a perfect match.
Phoenix and Tatiana- hilarious bunch. That is what comes to mind when I think about these two special ladies. They have such enjoyment for life and laugh as if it is there job.
Kiki, Melissa, Denver and Ross- they all came with FSU’s global peace exchange organization. They are a very diverse group, which makes everyday full of adventure. They all have taught me so much individually and have challenged my growth as an individual. I am very blessed to be sharing this experience with them.
*PLEASE pray for Melissa, a few days ago she was diagnosed with Malaria. She is one strong cookie, but prayers would be much appreciated.
A few seconds ago, my host father’s wife just walked in. I haven’t met her before (she works in Accra- the capital) but I have heard only wonderful things about her. When Wilson introduced her, I have never seem him smile so big. Immediate tears filled my eyes- seeing the love they share is a gift. Wilson’s blindness has never hindered his life’s fulfillment. He deserves a sweetheart and I am not lying when I say that she is a true beauty. “Hannah, meet your second mother”, said Wilson.
Day 23: Rain, rain, don’t go away, come again another day. June is definitely the rainy season in the Volta region of Ghana. And yes, I am loving every minute of it. I mean, who doesn’t like to shower in the rain (of course, in my bathing suit) and have epic water fights?? I will never look at rain the same way again- like how we showered in a lighting storm last night… Dumb? Probably.
So much happens over here, leaving little time to write anything down. I have been asked to give a sermon at worship every Wednesday and Fridays at the primary school. Words cannot explain how grateful I am for this chance to weekly share the Lord’s love with the ones who are becoming so close to my heart. I know I don’t even have to state it, but my passion will always be with the children. They show such joy and freedom everyday. I become filled just by receiving a single smile from one of them. The truth is, life matters when people matter. These kids are my family- we laugh together, cry together, get mad at each other, but most importantly we love one another above ourselves. Samuel- the most precious class 5 student there is in all the land begs me to sit and read books after books with him. Imagine a boy with the biggest grin on this face after finishing a book… Learning is what excites him- I pray daily that He finds joy in learning for the rest of his life. Samuel constantly reminds me that each moment is not one to waste.
As stated before, my heart was made for the children. But while I have been living in Tafi Atome, a beautiful vision for the women of this community has been formed. Kiki (another volunteer) and I have begun the process of starting a women’s clothing and accessories business. We have proposed this idea to the chief leaders of the village and have received nothing but praises from them. Basically, we will be running sewing classes to make purses, dresses, trousers, bracelets, etc. and also, we hope to add fragrances and handmade soaps to the list as well. Our big plan is to bring back as many finished products as possible to begin an online store to benefit the village. All profits will go directly into the pockets of the women who made each item that sells. I have so many dreams for this village and I will never stop praying BIG things for them. The two and a half months that I am here will be dedicated completely to the people of Tafi Atome. Just as the head chief stated early today, “this is your new home”.