Circle of Friends- Every Child Comes with a Message

We start the day full of vigor, excited to schedule our other three schools in Ho. We make our way up and down the dusty roads, in and out of the packed classrooms, like rock-stars we are smothered by small hands and greeted with huge joy and wipe the sweat from our brows.  Adjusting to the cadence of life in Africa, we find many of the headmasters are away, either at meetings, due to illness, or bereavement, but we connect with the familiar faces of the teachers who welcome us.  Our welcome continues as everyone we pass from seamstresses to shop owners and old men on the street warmly say, “you are welcome”.  As we wave and shake hands, we make our way to market to purchase fabric to have bags made during our stay, which helps to support the local economy and provide a small stream of fundraising dollars at home.

The exchanges begin in the afternoon, as we gratefully duck under cover from the sun and into the magic of the P1 classroom at EP Primary. “You are welcome, Madame’s”, the children say as they stand to greet us, we reply in our American-English, “Thank you, and you?”, in unison the children answer “We are fine, and you?’.

We are fine, so we settle in to read the story “Have You Ever Seen a Rhinoceros Charge” written by my friend Duncan Dobie about endangered animals and their call for us to hear. Rejoice, one of the teachers, is so animated in helping to translate the story for the children, her arms wave, her eyes widen, her voice goes up and down, like any good teacher she entertains as she educates. One of the highlights of the story is the eagle; Rejoice draws on the board the 6 foot wingspan of the eagle and the two of us open our own arms and flap our “wings” as the children squeal in delight. The children also love to hear about the elephants and tiger, animals they recognize from their own stories.  In our discussion about endangered animals after, Rejoice asks them what animals are here in Ghana. They proudly call out “goat, chicken, cow, elephant, lion, snail, fish... Rejoice turns to us, “They liked the story very much, so from today on, they will take care of the animals.”

The children settle in, three to a desk, as Ann, our new volunteer, smiles at her first experience of handing out “color” (crayons donated from many of the schools in the U.S.). I notice a look of surprise on her face as I tell her to limit “two per child” or we will not have enough for the 50 plus children in the room. The students settle in to draw pictures of the animals they love for their friends in the U.S. Their resourceful nature shines as they share and trade “colors” peacefully so everyone receives what they need.

The school drum beats to indicate the end of the day. We head to the classroom packed with over 60 selected 4th, 5th and 6th graders, our after-school group of EP kids that we will meet with 7 times during this visit. Most of these kids have connected on the last two trips and are very excited we are back. We circle to reintroduce ourselves, share about the focus on the earth stewardship this trip, and hear about their expectations. Their shyness and lack of experience in discussing their ideas at length leads me to innocently ask a question with a short answer, “Does anyone remember the name of their friend from the U.S. from our exchange in December?” One by one, they say loudly and proudly, “My friend’s name is ___,  my best friend is__ , my new friend is __, my new American friend is___... “  The room swells with emotion and I find myself swallowing hard choking back a few tears. These students share their desire to meet their new friends one day, some say they hope to visit the U.S, but just as many hope their new friends will visit Ghana.

I ask them to recall what I’ve told them before about the purpose and benefit of these exchanges through Children Inspiring Hope and why we are here.  Without missing a beat they raise their hands and respond, “Unity, harmony, friendship, we are one, to learn, to be connected, to inspire, to share, and to be peace…”.  With strength and dedication, they affirm our highest aspirations, serving as guideposts and messengers along the way for the power of connecting children across the globe.