Category Archives: Ghana

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Ghana, I’m Yours (Part Two)

In the spring of 2013 I attended a meeting for my mom’s knitting and crocheting club, the “Knit Wits”. They had taught me to knit and crochet many years before and some of them I’d known for my entire remembered life.

The group of about ten women meet on Fridays and are often working on various service projects; their most recent project had been making hats and scarves for the homeless.

The Idea

As a Semester at Sea alumna I frequently spend my free time recruiting students for the without-a-doubt-best-study-abroad-program-in-the-world. When I learned that my friend Christina would officially be taking part in the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea voyage I began considering what I could send with her to take to the orphanage I support in Ghana.

It would be a win-win for all involved if we could work something out. Christina would experience a well-run orphanage environment while in Ghana, the children would get visitors (something they thoroughly enjoy), and I would get to give something back to the children that taught me what joy really is.

The Proposal

Well, in short, I came to the Knit Wits meeting and kind of just threw the idea out there. Not really expecting them to agree to crochet 50-something blankets in less than a year, it was pure awesome when they announced they would do it!

The Project

Blanket crocheted for the Egyam orphanage in Ghana, West Africa by the American Knit Wits Group via ZaagiTravel.comAnd so it began. We all crocheted our hearts out.

Blanket crocheted for the Egyam orphanage in Ghana, West Africa by the American Knit Wits Group via ZaagiTravel.comMonths and months of work went by. I emailed back and forth with Daniel, manager of the Egyam orphanage, and he sent me the boy/girl ratio. We ended up making a few extras which can be used for incoming children whenever they arrive.

By late December the blankets were finished.

Blankets for the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa being delivered by Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

The Ship

Getting the blankets physically onto the ship was it’s own adventure.

During the weeks leading up to when the MV Explorer would be in the San Diego harbor I spoke with numerous Semester at Sea employees about the best way to get the blankets on board. All told me that it would be best if the two students (at this point I had now adopted another friend, Taylor, into my orphanage-visit team) could transport the boxes with them the day they boarded the floating university, officially and affectionately referred to as the MV Explorer.

I knew that Taylor and Christina would have their hands full with their own luggage and be busy trying to navigate the hectic and intensive first day — including crossing the Mexican border by shuttle and going through security in Ensenada. It didn’t seem like the best way to me.

January 9, 2014

The day before embarkation came and my plans were still not anywhere near final or concrete. Weeks previously I had bought a ticket to the TEDx talk that Semester at Sea was hosting on board the ship. After loading up my car with the two boxes and a dolly, I decided I would just drive up to the port and hope for the best.

As I began the two-hour drive from my hometown down to San Diego I prayed and prayed that things would go smoothly.

The MV Explorer before the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

In short, this is how things played out:

I parked.

Two nearby construction workers helped me get the boxes from my car onto the dolly.

I walked the 50 or so feet from my car to the TEDx check-in table.

Without even saying anything, the Semester at Sea employees I had previously spoken with told me to wait a moment while they checked if I could get approval to load the boxes aboard the ship.

A few minutes later they returned to give me approval. WHAT?! YES!

I got my badge and started the trek from the port entrance to security, where Port of San Diego workers cut open the well-taped boxes, unloaded the vacuum-sealed bags and put each bag through the metal detector.

Boxes of blankets for the Egyam orphanage in Ghana, West Africa being delivered by the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

While going through security I met a couple attending the TEDx talk. They were each alumni of the program, although from different semesters, and had met at a reunion event. Decades later and they were excited to see the newest SAS ship. As we began talking the husband of the duo offered to pull the dolly through the ship and into the storage room. I thanked him and offered to give them a tour of the MV Explorer in return — something I do annually for the Open Ship events, including one I had volunteered for during the week prior.

We easily put the boxes into place and off we went exploring the ship.

Then, during a break in the TEDx talks I went into Tymitz Square (a central location/entryway) where different companies and sponsors were tabling. I spoke with the founders of Global Grins who, without a second of hesitation, passed me four or five handfuls of toothbrushes to stuff into the boxes that would be given to the children at Egyam! Seriously?! Is this real life?!

I then spoke with a representative from TOMS shoes, a well-known retail company whose business concept is to donate shoes for those in need, equal to however many shoes they sell. We discussed the possibility of donating shoes to Egyam (shoes are actually what the orphanage needs the very most) during the Fall 2014 semester. This potential offer is something I’m now currently in the process of securing.

I couldn’t believe the way this entire day played out. But it kept on getting better and better.

Once back in the storage room I started counting the toothbrushes to see how many there would be. Even if there weren’t enough for every child some would be better than none.

Toothbrushes from Global Grins for the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa being delivered by Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15…

16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30…

31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45…

“Uh oh. Looks like it’s just a few short. Darn”, I said out loud to myself.

46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51……….

The exact amount of children at the Egyam orphanage.

In that moment I felt like I had been personally hugged by God, met fate or destiny, all the stars aligned and apparently, the universe was feeling particularly generous. I’m not too sure how I came to be so blessed. All I know is that this project is nearing full completion and I am so unbelievably grateful for every person that helped make this idea a reality. Beginning with yarn and ending with a box of blankets traveling across the world to 51 beautiful souls.

A years worth of a labor of love. Securely in place. On it’s way to Ghana as we speak. Today, February 9, 2014, the ship is arriving in Hong Kong and soon heading toward Vietnam.

The blankets will be hand-delivered by students of the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea voyage in April. Pictures, videos, and statements from the students and Egyam children will make up Part Three of this blog series. It will surely be my most favorite blog post of all time. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Ghana, I’m Yours (Part One)

Children at the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa

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.

Children at the Egyam Grotto Village in Ghana, West Africa

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.

Children at the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa

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.