Going to Ghana has been on my todo list for most of my life. My grandfather has been a part of the Village of Hope for most of it’s existence and was in Ghana helping to drill water wells even earlier than that. So as you can probably guess, when Fred Asare, managing director of Village of Hope, was in Abilene and asked Brandi Jo and I to come film what they were doing at the Village of Hope, we jumped at the opportunity.
Brandi Jo and I realized that the Village of Hope would be the perfect inaugural project for Kaleidoscope Media Ministries. There was only one obstacle. It’s not cheap to fly to Africa. Fred had graciously offered to provide lodging and food while we were in Ghana, but we needed to fund the travel on our own. Through nothing short of a miracle, it just so happened that my employer, Abilene Christian University, had needed some footage of Fred and a few other Alumni in Ghana, so they offered to cover the travel costs for us if we would shoot some footage and photos for ACU while we were there.
The flight to Ghana is a long one. London is just a little over halfway there. But the excitement of finally getting to see a little of my family heritage and getting to kickstart our ministry in the process meant we arrived excited and ready to work. We arrived Saturday evening, met with Fred who had a full shooting schedule laid out for us and then got to sleep. We had to be up the next morning at 6am to get ready to film church and bible class.
Early Sunday morning, we got our gear set up and started the short walk to the pavilion where church is held. Now, I grew up in the Church of Christ tradition and I have been exposed to a cappella music all of my life, but I can honestly say I have never heard anything as incredible as Africans singing. Their voices and more-than-four-part harmonies are POWERFUL and it was a privilege to get to experience it. I’m excited for the day we can go back to Africa so I can experience it again!
One thing that really stuck out to Brandi Jo and I was that at one point during the service, the church leaders drew a name out of a jar and called a student forward. They set up a chair in the front of the room and had the student sit while they spent the next 5 minutes praying for and into the student. For his future life, his future family and the man he was to become. It was the first glimpse that we got into how much these leaders care for the children entrusted to them.
After a full morning of filming church and Sunday School, we met up with Kwaku Sarkodie for a tour of the children’s homes. The Village of Hope has 10 homes to house the roughly 200 orphans they care for. Each Home has a married couple that serves as the live-in house parents. We were surprised how well behaved the children were! From the toddlers through the high-schoolers, the kids were respectful to each other and to authority.
Fred knows that I’m slightly obsessed with wildlife and so for Monday’s plans, he wanted us to see some of the flour and fauna Ghana has to offer. He arranged for us to go do a canopy walk in Kakum National Park and then to go to nearby Elmina to see some of Ghana’s history and tour a former slave castle. The canopy walk at Kakum National Park was nothing short of incredible. We didn’t quite realize that we would be 130 feet high as we crossed from tree to tree on VERY wobbly rope bridges – just like I didn’t realize I apparently have a fear of heights – but the view was spectacular.
The Elmina slave castle was amazing as well. Nestled amongst the sights, sounds and pungent odor of a small costal fishing village, the castle now sits as a museum and monument to the pervasive slave trade of Ghana’s past. It was eye-opening to say the least. History classes taught us of the horrors of the slave trade, but actually stepping into the holding cells where they would be crammed, shoulder-to-shoulder for months at a time to await shipment, or into the cells where the difficult slaves would be starved to death in as an example to the others, brings a whole new perspective to the horrors of the times. I’m really glad we got to experience it.
Tuesday morning we were up early again to begin filming the schools at the Village of Hope. We started at the entrance to the Village of Hope and filmed and photographed hundreds of children walking to, riding in cabs to or riding busses to the school.Village of hope has a nursery school, and elementary school, a middle school and a high school. In Ghana, you have to pass a national exam for a chance to get in to high school. Only the top half of those that take the test are admitted to high school. Because the local schools in the area weren’t very good, Village of Hope decided to start their own schools. As of now, no student educated at the Village of Hope hasn’t had the opportunity to go to High School. Because their exam scores are so good, families from surrounding villages wanted to send their students as well, so the schools now allow outside children and they also have a boarding school for children that live even farther away. It was apparent as we filmed the students that they are receiving a very good education. From advanced chemistry to art class, the Village of Hope is teaching it all, and teaching it well.
Tuesday afternoon we spent several hours filming a mobile medical clinic about 10 minutes away from the Village of Hope in Fetteh. The Farragut Church of Christ in Knoxville, Tennessee sends a medical team to the Village of Hope twice a year and we were able to film them as they helped the locals in Fetteh with vision, dental and general medical needs. People lined up for hours to be treated and were able to walk away with glasses, dental work and prescriptions, all free of charge, thanks to the hard work of those volunteers.
Tuesday evening, I got the honor of teaching the students, staff and some people from the local villages about the local snakes and snakebite prevention and treatment. While Africa has some very dangerous snakes most of their hospitals ARE capable of treating the bites, yet death from snakebites is still an epidemic. The reason for this is simple. Education. Folklore and word-of-mouth treatments are still king, so I did my best to dispel some of the myths surrounding what to do in the event of a bite. I started out with a general overview of the local snakes in the Fetteh region of Ghana, both venomous and not, and tried to hammer home how important the snakes are to the ecosystem and to keeping the rodent populations down. After that, I called a few students up front and explained to them how to immobilize and stabilize a victim in the event of both elapid and viper bites before getting them to the hospital. The kids and staff were great! They were very engaged and asked lots of very good questions during and after the talk. It was a LOT of fun and I hope to get to do this again on future international trips.
Wednesday, we met up with Bright Kouditey and traveled out to the Village of Hope farm. Feeding 200+ children three meals a day takes a lot of food, so the Village of Hope has started a farm to offset some of that cost. They grow cassava, corn, sweet potatoes, pineapples, plantains, and beans. They also have two fish ponds that grow a variety of fish to help with the children’s protein needs. It’s amazing to think that in the US we use tractors to clear farms and cultivate crops and in Ghana, they use machetes!
On our final day, we made the 35 mile, two-hour drive to Accra (yes, it takes that long on African roads!) to shoot Hope Training Institute. Hope training institute is a ministry that takes street children and teaches them job skills. After completing two years of job training, complete with an apprenticeship, the students are provided with a set of tools and startup capitol to go start a business back in their hometowns where they can hopefully lead productive, independent lives. The students are trained in a variety of things from auto mechanics to weaving to catering. The staff at Hope Training Institute spends a lot of time in the streets developing relationships with these street children and finding out which ones could best be served at the institute and after the students graduate, the institute has social workers that check in on them from time to time to make sure things are going well.
When we were done, we were able to provide the Village of Hope with nearly 800 photos for use in their newsletter and on the web, as well as headshots of each of the more than 200 children living in the children’s home. We also produced a long-form informational video as well as a call-to-action video for fundraising.
All-in-all, this was a life-changing trip for Brandi Jo and I. It affirmed to us that THIS is what we want to do in service to the Lord and to other people and we needed to start Kaleidoscope Media Ministries.