Tamale Children's Home (part 2)

Of course, after being at the home for a week, we all got pretty attached to the kids. Everyone had their favorites. 

We gave nicknames to some of them who were too little or didn’t understand enough to tell us their names. There was “grandpa,” so called because he reminded me of a little old man. 

And “pants on the ground,” whose pants resolutely refused to stay up on his skinny hips no matter how much he tugged at them. Even when I looped a piece of duct tape through two belt loops it came undone and the pants slid down, landing around his ankles and exposing his scrawny butt and legs. 

Then there was Joe, who was 10. He gathered all the rubberbands that came wrapped around the styrofoam containers our lunches came in and had a good-sized rubberband chain by the time we left. I think it was the only toy he owned besides a soccer ball, and he carried it everywhere. 

When it came time to leave Tamale, I was happy to be getting away from the heat and the flies that gathered around when we sat outside, but I was sad to have to leave the kids. They yelled and fussed and climbed all over me just like any kids, but I knew I would miss them. 

Our time at the home was discouraging in some ways. We had trouble with the water company because the home wasn’t hooked up to city water and they wanted to make us pay a lot to hook it up, even though it’s a government run children’s home. Sometimes it seemed like no one cared.

But the time was also eye opening and definitely impacted the way I think about Africa and aid. I guess my thoughts on it are best summarized in what I wrote in a journal for my class. 

May 10, 2012: Journal #6      Do you think you made an impact? 

Somewhat. It’s hard to see our impact since without running water our grease traps aren’t really being used. Once the water gets turned back on, hopefully soon, they will start being used and will be beneficial to the home. It’s hard to leave without really knowing what will happen with the home’s water supply. Water is the biggest need for the kids at the home, and it’s frustrating that the city isn’t taking responsibility for making sure their orphans get enough water. 

I feel somewhat helpless about the home and the kids. We can come in and help, but we can’t come in and fix everything, especially if the people at the home and in the city of Tamale won’t make efforts to keep up the home. Even seeing the amount of trash scattered around the place speaks of their lack of care for the property and their work. I wanted to clean up their mess, but if we do that the workers might just continue to not do it for themselves and expect someone else to come in and do it for them. It’s hard to know how to help without doing any damage or just being another NGO that comes in and does things that aren’t necessarily helpful without asking what’s really needed. 

During a class discussion, our teachers talked about Mumuni, a 17-year-old kid at the home who has ended up helping run the home because he’s lived there all his life and knows how everything works. He’s incredibly bright and helpful and eager to learn. Someone was asking if we could find a way to help bring him to the states or something, and our teacher said we probably couldn’t and we probably shouldn’t. Ghana needs people like Mumuni to push forward and strive to improve the country and generate long-lasting changes. Ultimately, outsiders can’t save Africa. The people in Africa have to help themselves. What we can do is teach people useful skills and show people like Mumuni how to make some improvements. And that will be more help in the long run. I guess I knew that before. I’ve thought that for a while, especially after talking through it in class and with my brother who has spent a lot of time in Africa. But being here really showed me how true it is that change must come from within. 

I guess the fact that we can even just show the kids that we care and are trying to improve things is pretty cool. Rather than just donating supplies or sending over a bunch of money, which may help short term, but fades quickly, the real way to help Africa is to empower people. In Ghana, which is a stable and fairly well-off African country, it looks like things are already improving.