I can't even begin to explain the impact that my experience at the Village of Hope has had on my life. I thought I knew what compassion was before I left, but it turns out that true compassion is more than donating money to a charity when it's convenient or giving clothes to the Salvation Army when you don't want them anymore. Compassion is something deeper, something more raw and real.
Learning some of the kids' stories by reading Jansten's Gift by Pam Cope, then meeting the kids in person was a surreal experience. They're like tragic young celebrities hidden in an orphanage in Gomoa-Fetteh. Their stories are like something from Brothers Grimm- sick, twisted, and unbelievable. Yet there the kids are- oar scars jaggedly cutting across smiling faces, reminding me that it was all real.
Everyday I spent time with kids like Famous, Sakura, and Gabrielle, who risked their 9-year-old lives to steal a boat and escape from their abusive master and win a chance at living a life that they could choose. When I was 9, I remember being terrified when I got lost in Wal-Mart. I'm 22 now and can't imagine having one-sixteenth of the courage that these kids have.
Someone once considered these kids their property. They had to deal with horrible physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuses that would put any American into therapy for the rest of their days. Yet these kids are at the Village of Hope, doing chores, playing football, going to school, and writing letters filled with drawings and I love yous.
The fact that these kids can still trust, laugh, or love was bewildering to me at first, but I came to learn that faith in God and the hope of a better tomorrow is a key factor in resilience and forgiveness.
I didn't only learn about compassion from these kids, I also learned about faith, courage, and love. Really, it's not fair at all, because I feel like what I've learned from these kids and from my Ghanaian experience as a whole, was so much more than I was able to give back. After having spent just 50 days in Ghana, West Africa with the children in the Village of Hope, I feel like I have lived a lifetime's worth of love.
As the Beatles said, "living is easy with eyes closed". They're right, it is. It's easy to forget that there are real people and real families involved when you read a headline that says, "50,000 Dead in Haiti" it's easy to say, "oh that sucks" as you click on the next headline about death and destruction. I used to be like that, but today, reading the newsprint and seeing the images of the people in Haiti has brought me to tears of anguish. My heart feels like it's being ripped out as I see pictures of Haitian children's limp bodies being lifted from rubble. I immediately think about my Ghanaian students living in the same third world conditions and suffering like this.
Compassion isn't just feeling sorry about something. Compassion has a human face. For me now, it's the face of a child that didn't do anything to deserve having their life torn to shreds. My heart is broken for the world and the suffering that occurs everyday.
Through love, I can do my small part and try and educate future generations about what it means to be compassionate and what we can all do to bring justice to the people who need it most. The Village of Hope taught me that.