By: Dani Harriott
This phrase has been echoing in my head since we landed in Ghana, West Africa. It’s not that I believe, as an Australian, I have the better way of life. I just wonder Are we really going to make a difference? It’s such a loaded phrase, “Make a difference. Make a change.”
Bringing clean water is a good change. Assisting in health care is a good change. Teaching English is good change. Advocating for orphans is a good change.
What good is a change made by us if it doesn’t stay changed? Will what we do ‘stick’? Should it stick? What of this is culture and where it has come from? What are the deep roots of Africa as a continent and Togo as a country? How much of this should change?
Our team of 25, a very quiet and exhausted group, gather around the luggage claim belt in the Accra airport in Ghana. It has been a long number of days to get here and we are sweaty, hot, sticky, and cranky.
We are sitting in a sea of luggage and I am amazed at the ease we entered this nation. We drive through Accra and our eyes drink in life here, one so very different from where we have all come. I remember my first time in a third world nation and the utter fear that gripped my insides. We haven’t travelled far before we pull over as one girl gets sick.
We arrive at a friend’s house and are warmly greeted. After spending a few hours sprawled on the tiles recovering from the travel, we pile back in to our vans to find dinner for the night at a local restaurant.
While waiting for our food, I sit with the youngest of our team, three-year-old Ezekial. He is looking at the fish tank near the entrance as a beautiful woman dressed for business sits down beside me. We start talking and I find that she is a banker and lives alone with her aunt. She is treating herself to Chinese so she doesn’t have to cook. She tells me her dream is to work in an air-conditioned building. It’s good to know even the locals acknowledge that it’s HOT here.
She asks about me and my funny accent. As soon as I say Australia she laughs and asks about kangaroos. She tells me that she loves geography and is scared of swimming. She has a smile on her lips, but not in her eyes when she says we will be a blessing. The words feel hollow, like promises of help and change have been brought to her country before. I can’t help wondering if that was hope in her eyes. I want to know her more, but she will go on with her life in Ghana and I will go back to Australia.
Our plan is to cross the border in two twelve-seat vans to Togo for a three month stint focused on bringing clean water with skills from the organization ‘Water For Life’. We also plan to assist with local health care clinics, to teach English in a small secondary school and to spend time in a local orphanage.
We wake the next morning and cross the border. The heat and frustration are overwhelming on the six hour drive as we all squish together in the vans, wondering as what we might contribute to this country.
After our initial days of settling in to the Togolese way of life our team splits into smaller groups to work on our main projects: building a rain water catchment tank, producing water filters for surrounding villages, teaching English in the secondary school and assisting in two local health clinics. Our favorite project is working at the “House of Joy” orphanage with simple day-to-day tasks. We feed, bathe and play with kids, help them with their schoolwork and give them love and attention.
A few weeks have passed and I’m sitting on the steps of the orphanage in the capital city Lome’. My hazel eyes are full to the brim of tears and I’m looking into a smaller set of deep brown eyes, full of hope despite the circumstances surrounding her little life.
Each of their stories is more horrid than the next -from child prostitution, to abandonment, to rape, to abuse . . .
The youngest, at five years-old, Blandine, is curled up in my lap and her story is in my ears. Her grandmother was mentally ill and sought help from the local witch doctor who impregnated her as a “cure.” Blandine’s mother suffered the same mental illness, rendering her unfit to care for Blandine. Blandine suffers from hearing & speech disabilities from birth complications. She spent the first years of her life being sexually abused by drug addicts that her and her mother lived with. Seven months ago she was brought to this orphanage and there has been no sign of her mother since.
As her little fingers are laced through mine, I can’t help but revisit my first thoughts upon arriving to Togo.
I am accustomed now to the heat, the food, the way of life here. But I cannot and will not become accustomed to stories such as this.
I’m challenged and feel that something must be done to find homes and families for these little ones, but in 2008, the President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe, suspended all forms of child adoption because of the dysfunctions noted in the adoption system. The Minister of Social Actions and Minister of Justice were asked to create order in child adoption procedures and clarify legal procedures for children’s law.
There are currently no private adoption agencies in Togo and attorneys are not authorized to sign adoption decrees.
Togo seems abandoned and overlooked. Seemingly brimming with orphans, yet no one advocating for them. The children of Togo deserve more than this. The orphans of this nation need loving homes and it’s time that there was a proper way for children to be adopted.