Goodbyes are so bittersweet. Three years of my family living in Ghana are coming to a close. I’m so excited to be returning to Bowen but my home has been here in Ghana. This community, these people and their friendship have made a huge impact on me. Most important has been my relationship with the kids of Royal Seed Home.
What images will stay with me? The chorus of “Mama Jenny - where is my lettah?” when arriving at the orphanage with an envelope of penpal letters from Canada. Doing basic science experiments with baking soda and vinegar to expressions of absolute shock from my students. Watching Ottilia, proud in her secondary school uniform, bags packed and a little scared, on her way to fulfill her dream of becoming a pilot. This has been my community.
Yes I will miss the chaos, easy greetings and African vitality …but I am returning to the peacefulness of Bowen, its forests and ocean...and a community that cares.
The community of Bowen Island has shown that in so many ways. When Andrea Bastin and I decided to try to link Bowen Island to a struggling orphanage of 120 Ghanaian children in December of 2008 we were hopeful that we could inspire people to join in on our project. Three years later, I’m proud to say that the link between communities is strong. We and Naomi Amoah, the ‘mother’ of Royal Seed Home, are so pleased with the amazing changes this relationship has brought.
Bowen Shares has raised funds through craft fairs, private donations and fund raising. This has contributed to the infrastructure of the Home with the construction of a boys’ and girls’ dormitory and the purchase of textbooks and math sets. A huge contribution to the well-being of the children was the phenomenal fundraising effort around Christmas of 2010. Over $10,000 was raised, blowing the top off of our homemade thermometer in Snug Cove, to buy food for the children for an entire year.
As important as a roof over heads and food on the table are the feelings of hope and belonging that has changed for the Royal Seed Home kids. Fifty children have been writing to and receiving letters from their pen pals at Island Pacific School. These are cherished letters from someone who cares about them on the other side of the world.
We have, in the last year, also been able to sponsor a student to go to senior high school. This is the very first student from Royal Seed to be given this opportunity. A high school education for her will be a life changing gift – a chance to move out of the poverty cycle. This also has an effect on the older kids at the orphanage. Their motivation and dreams are being ignited. Yesterday, a shy 13 year old held my arm and asked “can I go to high school too?”
Relationships are two-way streets. Certainly the kids of Royal Seed Home have benefitted, but the youth of Bowen have gained also. Through their pen pal connection, they have fostered friendships and learned first-hand about other cultures and other circumstances. They do not see an abstract world of Africa but have stories from real kids to base their views on. For the most part they have found similarities – they both like soccer, have a dog but don’t like the rain.
They’ve had fun explaining about fufu and pizza, ultimate and skiing. It has been quite eye-opening too, finding out that these kids get up at 4 a.m. to start the day’s chores and that they eat meat or fish in their stew only once a week. On a personal level this shared exchange often leads to feelings of empathy and a commitment to action to improve the lives of others.
The youth of Bowen have certainly proved themselves to be global citizens moved to take action. In taking stock, the Love of Learning homeschoolers worked through the ‘Free the Children’ curriculum then raised money to buy food.
Island Pacific School has been involved in the penpal program, complementing the global education component of an IB World School and fueling them in their involvement with the Me to We program (www.metowe.com). This spring they really shone. IPS students dreamed up, organized and pulled off an amazing concert with Juno award-winning guests, Said the Whale. A youth supported and youth run event that raised enough money to send four more students to senior high school in Ghana.
So the answer to the girl who shyly asked is – yes. You can continue in school. You will have the opportunity to change your life. You can dream of a bright future; due to the caring and compassion of a small, island community on the west coast of Canada.
Thank you so much for supporting Bowen Shares over the past three years. And thank you to the board and volunteers: Andrea, Patti-Jo, Sarah, Pam, and Paul, Isabelle and Neil, for supporting me. We have made a difference.