Ghana Day Three: Meeting Samuel

I hesitate to even write this post because there is so much to describe and no photos. I’m sorry, I just can’t get the photos to load and I’m heartbroken. I don’t think my writing skills are up to the task to describe this day. Wi-fi is once again jetting in and out so I’m going to compose, hit publish, and know that you will forgive my typos. Because you love me.

We traveled to Ankaase village today. The roads were a combination of acceptable and horrendous. I do have photos, but you’ll have to simply imagine a red dirt road with deep, long ruts that a very small Kia could get lost in. We took portions of the road at about 5 miles per hour and I lost count of how many times we bottomed out. Our driver, Kaykay, was gracious and insufferable to drive us there, wait for us at the school, drive us to Adu’s house, then back to Kumasi in a blackout. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Here’s some background you’ll need: our family “met” Samuel in November of last year. We saw his photos along with other children who needed sponsorship. When our Lifegroup at FBC decided we wanted to stretch ourselves and sponsor a child as a class, I asked Peter (who runs the sponsorship program) to find us the most needy child. That child was Samuel. Without a father and mother, he lived with his grandmother until she could no longer support him. He moved to an orphanage, where he was living at the time we began our sponsorship. I immediately developed the photos Peter sent me of him, passed them around to the class, and framed one for our kitchen. Every day for five months I have been looking at Samuel wearing his red shirt with the tattered collar and faded jeans. I have prayed for him, poured over every email Peter has sent me about him, studied his report card, prayed some more, and counted down the days until I could meet him. Since we began the sponsorship he has moved from the orphanage to a foster home, and then back with his paternal grandmother. Our sponsorship is allowing her to continue to raise Samuel. A couple of weeks ago, a friend who traveled here met him and told me he seemed very sad and unresponsive. She showed me the photos and it broke my heart. The child in these photos looked nothing like the framed photo in my kitchen. I found this out about five days before I left, and so I began to count hours instead of days. Today ended the countdown.

We met Samuel at the school where the day had just ended. He started this school about a month ago and his school history is sketchy and depressing. For quite a while, he lived in a home where no one required that he attend school. Then he moved to the orphanage and it seems there was little accountability to make sure he was attending school, so he was skipping about half the time. Then he was put in another school before coming to this one. It’s a school with very few resources. Crudely constructed plank benches and desks sit atop dirt floors inside stifling rooms. Oh, and there are goats and chickens wandering in and out of the classrooms. The school day was over though so I didn’t see any class in session. We were seated in the library to meet Samuel. The library is about three bookshelves filled with mostly outdated textbooks. No storybooks and only a few books that were shiny and bright. Most were dusty and old. But the headmaster, Daniel, loves these children and is doing his best for them with a group of young Ghanaian teachers.

About five minutes after we were seated, Samuel walked in. I would have recognized him anywhere. He was thin, and his undershirt was peeking out from his uniform shirt – backwards and inside out. No smiles and very shy. Peter mostly wanted to talk about his schoolwork so Samuel endured a speech about how he should try his hardest, do his best, study hard, etc. If his eyes weren’t glazed over before he came in, they were after the motivational speech. These are the kind of speeches that used to make Colin completely check out. We took a few photos with him (pained forced smile), thenI told Samuel before he left the room that I would see him in a few minutes at his house where we had a few gifts we would give him. So after meeting a few more children at the school, we traveled a short distance to where Samuel lives. Everything you might picture about a poor African village was embodied in this place. Barely clothed children and tin shacks. There it was in front of me. It’s one thing to look at pictures and be moved by poverty. It’s another thing to be standing in the middle of it. I felt both helpless and humbled. How did I get here?

And then I saw Samuel carrying plastic chairs around a shack where his grandmother was on a stool peeling a type of root that would be later used to make fufu – a traditional Ghanaian food. And I remembered how and why I got here. No, we can’t change the world, but maybe we can change the world for one child. One. That’s my number.

In this country, you do not just walk up to someone and begin to state your purpose. You sit, and wait to be invited to tell the “story” of why you have called this meeting. I didn’t even realize that I called a meeting, but I had and so it was up to me to explain to Samuel’s Grandmother why we came. I told her that a group of us in the U.S. care for Samuel and we are trying to show this through our sponsorship and our visit. We want him to know that we believe in him, I told her. And we want to do want we can to make him happy. Peter translated and I watched Samuel to see if there was anything in his eyes. He just seemed mostly confused.

So I gave him a backpack.

And a soccer ball.

He immediately took them and disappeared inside to put them in his corner. Then he came back out and stood beside me, and I handed him jolly ranchers and bubble gum. Then, he smiled. Just a tiny smile, but he clutched the candy in both hands. When I looked back at him a few minutes later he was studying a jolly rancher and when he looked back up at me there it was again. Another smile. Not much, but I was happy to get it from this one child.

So tomorrow we go back to do reading and math games after school with him and some other children. You can bet I’m taking more candy.

So once again, goodnight from Kumasi.