Passion and Dedication Drives Compassionate Journeys’ Success, Part I

Compassionate Journeys strives to one day end child slavery in Ghana. The organization and its director, Amanda Larson, are doing everything in their power to help those affected by child slave trafficking – from starting medical clinics and building water lines to giving former child slaves a home and community. Learn how Compassionate Journeys began and the impact it has made in Ghana to date.

 

Was there one defining moment that motivated you to create Compassionate Journeys or was it a buildup of several different events?

Amanda:  I think the most defining moment for me was the decision to go to Ghana in the first place. I knew from an early age that I had a passion for Africa. As life happened, there were always other priorities, and Africa remained a "someday" kind of goal. With encouragement from my husband, I realized that "someday" was never going to happen unless I made it happen. Once I got to Ghana and spent time working with children there, there was no turning back.

 

On the Compassionate Journeys website it mentions that a boy helped you pick out the name for the boarding house you’re trying to raise funds for. Can you elaborate a little more on that story, and tell us why you ultimately decided on Melor Vinyewo as the name?

Amanda: Joshua is a young man some of our volunteers got to know while we were staying in a very remote village this past November and December. He is about 18 or 19 years old and had been sold by his mother to traffickers when he was around eight years old. He worked as a slave for about two years, and like all of the child slaves we met, the conditions under which he lived were extremely difficult. Like the other children, he suffered from chronic malaria and other illnesses, slept outside, worked long hours, was not allowed to go to school and was beaten frequently by a cruel master. Fortunately for Joshua, an aid group intervened. He was returned to his mother, and the aid group got her started in a sustainable pepper farming business after she signed a contract saying she would never sell Joshua again. Unfortunately, she did, however, later sell his younger brother, who is still a slave.

The aid group paid for Joshua's schooling, and he was able to get through primary school with its help. When we met him, he was working for his uncle in the village where we were staying, hoping his uncle would eventually pay for the rest of his education. One of our volunteers was about the same age, so we gained permission for him to travel with us to Tafi Atome, the village where we will be building a safe home for rescued child slaves to live and be loved and nurtured.

We believe preserving cultural identity is incredibly important, so we wanted to find a word or phrase in their native Ewe language that would be appropriate and meaningful. After bouncing several words back and forth with Joshua over breakfast, I asked him how to say, "I love my children." He responded with, "Melor vinye." He paused for a moment and said, "But melor vinye means that you only love your own children. You should say, 'Melor vinyewo' because that means 'I love all of the children ... everybody's children.'" And it stuck. We love it.

 

Besides the construction of Melor Vinyewo, what other projects/programs is Compassionate Journeys involved with in Ghana?

Amanda: We just finished completion of a medical clinic in Tafi Atome that had been started by the village 30 years ago and had been partially funded by other groups through the years. With help from our donors, it was finally completed and dedicated May 17, 2012. Our first medical volunteers arrived in June and are assisting a nurse who has been assigned to the clinic, so people who have never had medical care now have an opportunity to receive it.

Also, a group of student volunteers from the International School of Paris have raised money and are arriving in late June to build a computer learning center near the village school. In order to pass standardized tests, students in Ghana need to know how to use computers, including using Word and Excel. Students in Tafi Atome have not had computers to work on before now, and many have never even seen a computer. This will give them a better chance at passing the tests they need to pass in order to further their education. Eventually, the computer learning center will be used in off-school hours as an internet cafe, bringing in a source of income for us to support the children in our care.

We are working on building a sustainable agricultural program, too. We have had up to 1,000 acres donated and have a six-month volunteer starting a test plot now. Our goal is to develop sustainable agricultural practices, such as crop rotation, organic fertilization, pest control, and sustainable irrigation, and then teach those methods to local widows and single mothers who need income. Next, we'll establish an export market for local goods and give each woman a two-acre plot and seeds to begin her own farm. They can grow crops to export that we need, and we can buy them at local market value, giving them a steady source of income without having to go to the city with their children (keeping them out of school) to hawk their goods. We can then, in turn, sell the crops in an export market and create a sustainable source of income to feed, clothe and provide resources for the children in our home. A neat part about this project, too, is that some of the older children (15 or 16 years old) who come to live in the home can use this project for vocational training, learning farming and having their own plots to get them started in a business of their own.

The village has also donated an old concrete school building in which we will be constructing a library and a cultural arts center. The need for the library is great ... the literacy rate is quite low, but there is also nothing to read in the village. People want to learn to read, so this will help their skills improve and their creativity flourish. The cultural arts center is particularly important because drumming, dancing and singing are such an integral part of the village's identity. In addition, the Tafi language is only spoken by people in four villages, and that number is shrinking as young people continue to move to cities to pursue education or career opportunities. Remarkably, that language has never been written down! We have had volunteers videotaping and documenting the language and also interviewing elders, so they can share stories about how the village started, what it was like when they were young, and what changes they have seen as the churches, schools and tourism through the village's monkey sanctuary came to the community. This is so important because the child slaves we are working with have no identity. When they come, they will identify eventually with their new home and village, and it needs to be strong and nurture a sense of belonging.