I would like to introduce all you blog readers to a new type of post that I will be releasing on a regular basis. These posts will be small interviews with the children who I encounter in Ghana that have an impact on me. Each post will contain a biography, pictures, and answers to question that I ask them. I wanted to add this type of post to my normal updates so where ever in the world you may be, you can get to know some special Ghanian children (and who doesn’t love more pictures of cute kids?)
I wanted to start off these posts by introducing you to the child who has had the single biggest impact on me during my first month in Ghana. Now this is a huge title to live up to, but after reading the post below I hope you understand why. Without further adieu…meet Henry.
Location: Atonsu-Agogo (less than a block away from my house)
Siblings: 2 brothers and 1 sister
Status: Double orphan
People living in house: Henry + 3 siblings + Auntie + 3 of Auntie’s brothers kids
Language Spoken: Twi (siblings speak little English because they are in school)
Health: HIV Positive
As you can see from the few words above, Henry’s situation is very different than ours. But his story can not be told from the phrases above, his story goes much deeper. Light for Children identifies vulnerable children in and around Kumasi and then tries to find people to sponsor a specific child for one year. Some of the children are HIV positive, some are HIV negative, some have been sexually abused, and some are total orphans. I knew from before I even arrived in Ghana that I would come home and sponsor a child (wanting to sponsor them all of course). I thought I would wait until the last month of my stay to pick a child from the profile folders and then go back to the US and start saving money.
Two Swedish volunteers came to work with the Sexual Assault Prevention team for a week and also stayed at Mike’s house with me. They wanted to pick some children to sponsor and Mike thought of the perfect children for them. One of them ended up picking a pair of twin girls and the other a girl from a nearby village. I asked Mike if there were any children who lived around us who I could possibly pick. He told me the story of Henry and I closed all the children’s profiles that I had open and decided on him.
His story goes as follows:
His father left a few years ago when he was young. His mother was taking care of him and his 3 siblings but then one day got all the kids tested for HIV and found out Henry was positive (don’t know about the status of his siblings). She ran away from her 4 children and hasn’t returned, leaving the 4 children with their Aunt. At this time the Aunt was also taking care of her brother’s 3 children because of another situation. The Auntie is a petty trader,she does random jobs to make money and earns nothing close to enough to care for the 7 children. She is constantly struggling because of what her brother and sister left her with. She will not leave the children by themselves and tries to make ends meet as best as possible. To make the situation even worse, before Henry’s mother left she borrowed a lot of money from people in town and then ran away, leaving all the debt to the next person in line, which would be the Auntie. Every week men and women come to their house screaming and making a scene because they would like to be repaid. This brings a lot of disgrace to the already broken family in a country where family pride is valued. Henry’s 3 older siblings are all in school because they are being sponsored by Light for Children as well. Henry has never attended school because the Auntie doesn’t have enough money, even though children his age are already in Kindergarden. He doesn’t know English yet because his family only speaks Twi and he hasn’t attended school to learn it there. Luckily the Auntie has a small house for the children to live in because her brother put it up before he left.
When Mike told me this story I knew Henry was my kid. I couldn’t look through any more children’s profiles because just hearing that story almost made me cry. Since Henry lived so close to my house Mike said we could go visit him and his family that night. He called the Aunt and told her we would come after dinner. To my surprise Henry’s house is way closer than I thought, I can see his roof from my balcony. We walked around the building and came into a courtyard where his older sister was washing dishes. His Auntie invited us to sit down and this little boy with big ears and an incorrectly buttoned shirt walked out from the house. He came and sat down with us but was really shy in doing so. His Aunt said to introduce himself so this little mouse voice came over to me and said “Henry”. He sat back down on the steps and Mike and Aunt started talking in Twi. Mike then asked what I would like to tell Henry’s Aunt about the upcoming year. I told him to tell her that I would be sponsoring Henry and paying for all his school fees, medical visits, food, and medications. Mike translated and told her. I don’t think I will ever forget the face that followed. She looked so relieved and happy because of what she just heard. A lot of weight was lifted off her shoulders and life looked a little brighter. She said I was a gift from God and she thanked me as much as she possibly could.
I called Henry over and he hesitated then came over by me and I gave him the gifts I had brought for him, a red American flag t-shirt, blue frisbee, crayons, pencils, and Tootsie Rolls. He looked around before he accepted the gifts and Mike told him that they were all for him. He smiled but still stood in awe and question. Mike told him he would be needing the pencils because he would start school in September and I would be paying for it. His little voice squeaked “Meda ase” which is Thank You in Twi. He put his things inside and came back out, running to find his eldest brother who was playing in the street. Having a white person come to your house is a big deal in Ghana so Henry wanted to make sure his brother knew. His brother came and we took pictures with them. Before we left (it was pretty dark) the Auntie wanted to translate one more thing to me. She said that she will be praying for me during the rest of my stay and when I am at home so that nothing bad happens to me and I won’t be able to provide for Henry. I assured her that I would keep myself safe and the money will get to her for Henry. I gave them all hugs and told the kids I would play football with them soon.
Since most of you are probably wondering the financial aspect of this I will explain. In total for one year it will cost me 500 Ghanian cedis or about $350 USD. This will cover all school fees, food, medical visits, and medication. If you break it down it comes out to around $30 USD per month. $30 per month would be about 6 Starbucks drinks, 5 McDonalds meals or 3 movie tickets. I am well aware that I begin college in September and from there on out will be a poor college student, but Henry deserves an education way more than I deserve to dine out with friends or see a movie. Somehow, someway I will come up with the money because after meeting him and his family, it’s the least I could do.
I will be visiting Henry and his family every few weeks until I leave in September to play football or chat. Each month after September I will be getting a monthly report from Light for Children with updates on how Henry is doing and photos. I will post them here so everyone can follow his progress as he starts his first year of schooling.