It was Fall 2010 and I was preparing to sail on the Spring 2011 Semester at Sea study abroad voyage — in other words, obsessively memorizing every word of the Semester at Sea website and every blog I could find about the SAS experience.
One day, an article popped up about an independently organized trip to an orphanage in rural Ghana. It described how a student, Emma Smith, had contacted the Egyam Orphanage through her church and brought with her donated shoes that she collected from her fellow shipmates.
I creeped around on Facebook until I found Emma’s profile and sent over a message while she was still traveling. When she returned home she got me in touch with the orphanage director, Daniel Payne.
A few months later and I was on the MV Explorer ship myself, trying to recruit students to come with me to visit Egyam.
The morning of the visit arrived. I had gathered a handful of students to join me.
Our journey began with carrying boxes of donated school supplies and toys (left on the ship by Emma) through the Deck 2 gangway. As we were exiting the ship we ran into Brittany App, the voyage’s professional photographer. Brittany was heading into Takoradi, a nearby city in Ghana, but paused as she overheard us discussing our plans. She was interested in the story and asked if she could come along; I replied with a resounding YES YES YES!
We found a couple taxis and started the 45 minute drive to the village.
Over the course of our visit, we met with the founder Thea van den Bosch, of Holland, who was a gracious host. Thea did not speak fluent English but her kindness and warmth was an inspiring comfort for everyone who met her. She took us through the village of Egyam and served us tea and pastries on our return.
We learned that Thea felt called to open an orphanage in late 2005 after volunteering at local hospitals in Ghana. She realized the disturbing amount of children that were without families and dying in these hospitals all alone.
She really has done an incredible job in creating Egyam. They have over 50 live-in children and around 20 or so children they support in the village. Before and after photos on their website show the impact Egyam has made in their lives.
The highlight of the visit (and a highlight of my entire life) was spending time with the children. I can genuinely say that they changed my life. My heart grew 50 times in size and it began feeling love 50 times deeper and stronger. Their joy for life and abundant happiness despite having so little is absolutely overwhelming.
I particularly felt connected to one of the boys, whose identity I’ve decided to keep private. The second we made eye contact he took my hand and didn’t let go. I mean, really didn’t let go. He had a smile that shined through his eyes, through the pores of his skin.
I spent my entire internet minutes on the ship researching if there was a way that I, at 19 years old, could adopt him. I emailed my parents about it, asking if they could help. I quickly learned that it would not be possible; Ghana has strict laws regarding eligibility for international adoption. Three years later and I still think of him every single day. I’m now just waiting for the moment I’ll see him again, whether in Ghana or here in the United States.
In all honesty, it hurts to write this blog post. I’m on the brink of tears. The thought of leaving all those children frustrates me like no other. I can’t move on and forget them. This is why I started organizing projects to assist in any possible way I could.
Since 2011 I have been recruiting Semester at Sea students to visit the Egyam Orphanage. This year I attempted a massive project that will be completed in April 2014. Students from the Spring 2014 voyage will be hand-delivering boxes full of one-of-a-kind, hand crocheted blankets for each child at the Egyam Orphanage.
I will be posting again this week with more information on the blanket project (and upcoming projects) so keep an eye out! If you’re interested in contributing to future projects you can email me at ZaagiTravel@gmail.com.