In an attempt to make amends for my Halloween Grinchiness, here are some heartwarming images and information about the NGO in Ghana that rescues children from child labor and slavery, and Semester at Sea’s involvement in supporting their efforts. Give yourself a dose of good news during this difficult week.
The City of Refuge Children’s Village outside of Tema, Ghana is a safe house for children rescued from child labor camps. Began in 2007 by Johnbull and Stacy Omorefe, the Refuge is steadily filling with children who once worked as modern day slaves for fisherman in the Lake Volta region of Ghana, where child slavery is rampant. “Children were everywhere we looked. In every canoe on the lake there were two or three young boys casting nets or pulling them in. Their eyes hollow, their stomachs distended and their muscles overdeveloped.” Children are often sold into slavery on the lake by single mothers who simply cannot afford to feed them. They grow up without education, without love, and without hope. For a few fortunate children all that is beginning to change. With organizations like the growing City of Refuge, which has a history of support from Semester at Sea students, young boys and girls sold into slavery are being rescued from the labor camps and given an opportunity to live childhood as children.
Painted children greet the sun as laundry dries on the line. The day begins at City of Refuge, a home and school for children rescued from slavery.
From a boats to a bunk beds, many of the orphans at City of Refuge come from Lake Volta where they are enslaved as fishermen, generally performing such duties as gathering nets from the bottom of the lake after they became tangled in sunken trees. This is Gabriel. He is one of the newest children in the City of Refuge. Gabriel was orphaned when his father’s canoe flipped in a storm on the lake.
Armed with a new toothbrush from Global Grins, a young girl stands next to her clean clothes laid out on a rock pile to dry in the rising sun.
Chores are done around the house each morning before school. These young boys wipe down the table after a breakfast of boiled eggs, bread and milk. They don’t need direction or reminders.
Gabriel can’t yet read the books in his backpack as he has just begun the first grade, but he brings them to class because he is eager to try. Many of the rescued children, like Gabriel, have received no education prior to their arrival at City of Refuge.
The classroom is empty this early in the morning, but it doesn’t matter. Life is much more precious to him here than on the lake. Gabriel takes full advantage, patiently waiting for the other pupils to arrive.
Holly Stewart, and American volunteer schoolteacher, sips her morning coffee and prepares her classroom for the day. She initially came for just a visit, but has stayed for the love of it.
What the school may lack in computers, overhead projectors, and microscopes, the teachers, like Jacob Atsu, make up for with hard work, skill, determination, and strength of spirit.
Mid-morning sees the arrival of Semester at Sea students. They don matching Global Grins T-shirts and boxes filled with toothbrushes to give away.
One of the founders of City of Refuge, Stacy Onorefe, teaches the Semester at Sea students about the child trafficking and child slavery problems faced in the Lake Volta region of Ghana.
Johnbull Onorefe, husband to Stacy and co-founder of City of Refuge, gives a tour of the village to the visiting students.
Semester at Sea students became tutors when they get the opportunity to help in the classroom. Matthew Poundstone (CA State University Chico) is clearly enthusiastic about his pupils correct answer in math class.
Ashleigh Mason (Va Wesleyan College) has her arms full. A young girl sits quietly in the back of the class. New arrivals to the Refuge often feel a bit out of place, but they warm up quickly in its’ friendly and loving environment.
The school does have electricity, but it really isn’t necessary as each room is filled with large windows. Katherine Saffelle (Elon University) sits in the soft window light of the classroom tutoring a young boy.
Sara Santomauro (Ohio State University) listens intently to the children’s stories. English is taught commonly in every school, with most teachers leading each class in english.
Jolina-Rose Blier (Western New England University) was “inspired to see how happy a child can be after going through so much in their short life.”
Yan Benink (U of Co Denver) comments, “this felt less like a service project and more like a trip back to Elementary School. But better, because everyone is nice to me and I knew all the answers.”
Business Administration Professor Mark Peters (University of San Diego) gets back to the basics by tutoring the children in spelling. Professor Peters is inspired by City of Refuge and encourages “SAS alumni to give serious thought to how they can support their good work and spread the word of the urgent need to combat modern day slavery.”
Schoolteacher Holly Stewart breaks up a little tiff between two boys in her class as they wait outside for lunch to be served.
Enoch was working 12-14 hours a day on Lake Volta prior to his rescue. Sold into slavery, children work for many years to buy back their freedom, by which time they are too old for school. Uneducated, unable to read, they are destitute and will spend the rest of their lives as laborers. Enoch is now learning to read, learning math, and living a new life filled with promise.
City of Refuge is a place where children are allowed to be children once again, not child laborers. Bryn Valaika (U of Colorado Boulder) plays a little football with the youngsters.
The sun goes down in the west; the students whom live in nearby villages have gone home; what is left are children, free from labor camps… free from enslavement… free to live, free to play, and free to still do chores like young men should.