Editor's Note: Students from Brooklyn, N.Y. are traveling to Ghana as Global Service Ambassadors as part of a trans-Atlantic youth service and advocacy summit, bringing together African-American youth and Ghanaian child labor trafficking survivors. The project is called Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service and is in partnership with the Touch A Life Foundation. The Ambassadors will advocate for the eradication of child slavery when they return and they will visit Capitol Hill and the United Nations as part of their efforts. Read their blogs from the trip below.
Jasmine Figueroa, Age 15
Journey for Change
Before I went on the trip to Ghana, I visualized and thought of what the food was going to taste like and how Ghanaian people live. Now that I have experienced the culture, I think that the Ghanaian people have a lot of pride in their homes. They take good care of them no matter how poor they might be. When I first met my Ghanaian partner, who is a former child slave, I thought she was very beautiful with a big smile on her face. She is 13 years old and I knew we were going to have a loving and beautiful relationship toward each other. I began to talk to her and she was very polite and outgoing. She told me about when she was a slave and told me all of the things that she had to do when she worked. She had to get the nets for the fishing boots, cook for the fisherman and his family, and clean the fish. She slept outside on rocks or on the hard ground or with the animals. And she was treated like an animal too. I shared a little about my life too. I told her that in my life I have problems at home and in my life and she was shocked. She thought everyone and everything in America was perfect. But when I heard about her life as a slave, it was sometimes too hard to bear and to hear. There were a lot of tears, but also a lot of laughs.
My experience in Ghana was sad, happy, and emotional. I liked the entire trip, but the part that meant the most to me was being on the Lake Volta meeting the trafficked kids either on the islands or rowing to the sides of their boats. It just tore me apart when I first started to experience the reality of child slavery. The kids were as young as 2 years old that were sold into slavery and forced to work the waters of Lake Volta. And the slave’s masters, who were fisherman, did not care about them at all. Some of the children only ate once a day and did not have proper places to sleep. They were tied to trees and beat if they did anything wrong.
The other part of the trip that touched me was going to Elmina Slave Castle. This is a place that our ancestors were held hostage and ripped away from their homeland. 60 million people were brought to Elmina. 20 million dies while being held there, 20 million died on the way to the Americas, and 20 million were sold into slavery. I felt insecure going through the castle. It scared me to think of what they had to go through. It was such a painful, disturbing situation. It brings tears to my eyes just to think about it.
If there was one thing that I would change in this world it would be to end trafficking of children worldwide. So, I will speak out to my community and the world to try to make it a better place for the children sold into slavery and all children.
It is our second to last day in Ghana and this blog is about my experiences in Ghana.
Benjamin Goode, Age 13
Journey for Change
This trip has been very cultural and emotional. My emotions were very complex and mixed with joy, sadness. Journey for Change mission trip to Ghana would give us an opportunity to talk about child slavery and work with Touch A Life Foundation Staff who are involved in rescuing slave children who work for their masters in the fishing industry here Kete-Krachi on Lake Volta. Our first couple of days in Ghana was fun; we had a chance to meet our partners from Touch A Life Foundation for the first time. We saw and met other children in Tema house who were rescued just like our partners; we renamed this village “Village of Love”. We also played basketball with the children in the village of Hope. Then on Sunday, we went to church at The Salvation Army in Accra; we praised and worshiped God the Ghanaian’s way; it was uplifted. I was blessed. The same day we went to T.K. Beads factory where we learned how to make beads. That was very interesting to see the different stage that go into making beads; everything was made by hand; even the glass had to be crushed in a wood container.
Finally, we went to Elmina Castle where we learned and see how our ancestors had to go through so much from the time they were captured or sold as slave to the point they would be ready to be shipped to the Americas and other parts of the world. We saw where the slaves where beaten, raped, unfed and the door of no return where they would say goodbye before they board the boat to be shipped.
The next day after going to Elmina Castle we went on an 8 hour bus ride and a ferry ride to Kete-Krachi. Once there the sadness began to settle in as the bus pulled in Village of Life and into the house where we would stay for the next 4 days. This village has 200 kids who were all rescued from slavery. Also, this is where we really get to spend time with and know our Touch A Life rescued child slave partners. It was as if they were our brothers and sisters and no matter what happened, if we argued or yelled at each other we still will have love for each other. My partner was Ezra and we became friend very fast and bonded well. When we first met he was quiet; and before you know it he opened up; he is fun to talk to because he always makes you laugh and smile. In Kete-Krachi other JFC participants such as Sydney, Jasmine, Latoya, Joshua and I, and the Journey for Change and Touch A Life staff were going back and forth on Lake Volta to different islands where there are lots of children who are slave. Our Touch A Life partners who used to be slave themselves lived on these islands before they were trafficked as child slave. On one such a trip to an island we saw a small fishing boat with four people on board: one adult man with two teenagers and a 6 year old child working; our boat came very close to that boat and Touch A Life staff started to beg the man to free the younger child and handed him over to us. He refused, but agreed for meet us late on before releasing the child. I was very glad that day we left the island with 2 children. This made everyone feel great knowing that Journey for Change and Touch A Life came to Ghana to free children who are in slavery. It feels good to know that we’ve achieved our goals.
After visiting several of the islands it was time to leave Kete-Krachi and go back to Accra. We had a nice farewell dinner with the kids and a nice soothing African dance. Then the next morning we left.
Once we arrived in Accra, we only had a couple of hours before we would get ready for our farewell dinner at a beautiful resort hotel by the beach. We had a very emotional meeting before dinner; almost of us shed tears; it was so emotional; I can’t even explain it. Each one of the Journey for Change participants read a poem we wrote as part of our writing assignments during this trip. By 10:00pm we were back at the hotel getting ready to leave Ghana on such a rewarding trip to empower and rescue slave children and return to New York tomorrow.
Joshua Hall, 16 years old
Journey for Change
It’s almost time to go home, as today is the last day at the village of life. With our bags packed we headed on the bus ready to go to Accra. After the multi-hour drive we finally got to our hotel in Accra. After a short rest we were back on the road headed to a restaurant where we celebrated our journey so far. Before we ate, there were a few presentations that were done. Of those, I read a few poems. But then my partner, Donald, had a presentation along with the other five children. During this, they gave my peers and I gifts and letters thanking us for being there and caring for them. They told us how much they would miss us when we leave, and the feeling is mutual.
This experience has been a great one for me. I now truly understand the seriousness of trafficking children into child slavery. I am even more willing to help end it. I really wanted to get a lot out of this trip and I’m glad I did. Knowing that my ancestry can be traced back to Ghana, this amazing trip has definitely broadened my horizon. It has also given me a better understanding of the world’s cultures, ideas, geographic features, etc.
Before we went on this journey one of the things I looked forward to was meeting our partners. It was great to meet all of the kids especially my partner Donald. I will never forget the days in Kete Krachi at The Village of Life. At night before we slept all the boys would just sit up and talk about anything. We would sometimes talk about favorite sports, food, music, cultures and so much more. I will miss all five Touch a Life kids though.
Of the many magnificent things we have done over the course of this trip, I would say that the best two days of them all would when we went to Tema House and when we rescued Christian and Jacob from their masters on the lake. Going to the Tema House was great. As soon as the doors opened they charged us with smiles on their faces. It was great to be able to put those smiles on their faces. On this trip one of my goals was to rescue at least one child slave. To know that we saved more than just one made me very happy and proud of myself and my peers. All in all, this was a magnificent experience and I would love to do it again if I had the chance.
Latoya Massie, 16 years old
Journey for Change
We arrived here on Saturday, March 6. After we rested , we went to The Village of Hope, took a tour and met many children. I played basketball and later that night had three plates of food at dinner! It was great! We had a lot of fun activities and when our Ghanaian partners found out they were staying at the hotel with us, they were excited because they had never been to a hotel before.
On Sunday we got prepared to go to church. The service was energetic and powerful. We went to eat after the service and the food was okay. I have to say that I preferred the meal we had at Village of Hope, but I appreciate the people that cooked for us everywhere.
We then went to T.K. Beads which is a company that has a 6 month to 3 year training program in the making of glass beads. We bought some of the jewelry and some of the beads that we can use to make our own jewelry. I really liked the purple, multi-colored, and sky blue beads. Some of them were shaped like hearts and there were also gold pieces that I really liked.
We followed that up with a visit to Tema House and the children who live there ran to us and clang to us like magnets. We rode bikes with them and played with them until dinner was ready. They performed a dance for us and sang a song. We ate dinner and I enjoyed every moment of that day. Before we left we gave the children of crayons, cars, paint sets and books.
On Monday we went to Kankum National Park and went on a hike to the canopy walk. It was fun, but I didn’t find it challenging. I would love to jump out of a plane! After that we went to lunch at a beach resort where I had typical American fast food-a cheeseburger and fast food! I walked on the beach and drew shapes in the sand. I also collected some little shells.
We also went to El Mina Castle which was originally a storage place for goods such as gold. Later it became a slave trading place. We saw the “door of no return” and it was such a scary walk and at time it made me angry and I felt a lot of pain. To actually experience what went on with our ancestors, how they were treated and how they lived made me write a poem that really expresses my feelings. It was an eventful day that took my emotions a lot of places.
Tuesday we arrived at the U.S. Embassy and met the Ambassador. We learned about their different programs, positions and what they are doing for Ghana. They are expanding roads and building new ones. They will also be operating a new ferry in the next two years!
We then left on the long trek to Kete Krachi. We took a ferry to cross the river and continued on a dirt road. Along the way we saw frogs, owls and goats. There was one owl that landed right in front of the bus and would not move at all! It finally got on when we revved up the car.
We spent the next three days in Kete Krachi. Although we had basically the same schedule every day, each day held different emotions for me. On Wednesday we went out on the lake and Jasmine and Benjamin poured out their emotions in an amazing way to a community of elders on a village island. They were really impressive and we were able to rescue two boys that day. They were named Christian and Jacob and looked to be around 10 years old.
Generally we would come back from the lake, have snacks, rest a bit and then go play with the children living there at the Village of Hope. We would then have dinner, work on our writing and just relax. We would get up early and start all over again the next day.
We learned so much about advocating for the freedom of the kids on the lake and what it takes to negotiate with the masters and the people in the communities. It was such an eye opening experience. The first day was so hard to take in and to have a great outcome made us know that we were capable of doing what we did. So the next day was a bit less emotional and the last day we were all more comfortable taking a stand for the children.
Saturday we came back to Accra. It was a long and rough drive, but at least it was in the daytime and we could see all of the things going on in different villages along the way. When we got back we got ready for dinner near Independence Square on the beach. I was the most emotional of all because it really hit me and my partner, Sally, that we were going to be leaving each other. It was hard, but there was a lot of gift giving, thank you’s and goodbyes. I know we will stay in contact.
Today is a new day and we are still here in Ghana because our flight was canceled because of bad weather in New York. So today is a day to have peace of mind and to share what we have been experiencing. I’m looking forward to getting back home though and show my peers and the world what is going on here. I hope to open their eyes and ears and get the kids on the lake the respect they deserve and the freedom that is their birthright. This issue has become really close to my heart.
Sydney Smart, Age 13
Journey for Change
Visiting Ghana has been one of the best experiences that I have ever had. I would not have changed a moment no matter how many hours we stayed on a bus. I would not even change the food that I did not like or getting up very early in the morning. I loved listening to the music in Ghana especially the drumming and watching the African dance. Our partners and the people from Touch A Life Foundation, arranged for traditional dancing on a daily basis and I loved it.
It was also great to spend time with the children my age. They were former child slaves and it was the most beautiful thing ever. Unlike South Africa, we got to know everything about the children we were partnered with and developed good and close relationships with everyone. My partner was Gideon and he was 13 years old. It was so nice to get to know about his life as a former slave and about how his life is now that he is rescued and in school. After a few days, he really started to open up to me. He did talk about his life on Lake Volta, he felt solemn talking about it. But through the days he opened up more and more like a flower. On the bus, we both learned that we had a lot in common like our personalities as we are outgoing, shy, playful, and get bored quickly. Between all of the children, day by day, we would feel more and more connected from our experiences.
Even though this trip was based on child slavery, we also got to reconnect with our ancestors. Luckily for my fellow Ambassador Joshua, his ancestors are from Ghana but I am from Sierra Leone. That did not stop me from visualizing how my ancestors were treated and also making a connection that this is where my people stepped away from where they were raised and from their home. People from many countries like my ancestral country of Sierra Leone, as well as Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and more, came through Elmina Slave Castle. To be vanished and brought to a strange place, to be treated like you were a mutt dog and also to work endless hours only to be beaten and starved. Anytime I think of that, my heart skips a beat. But luckily for Gideon, not only was he rescued and saved, because he is from Ghana, he knows his ancestry. But he did lose information about his village and past due to being sold. And that is a big similarity between the two of us. We have lost information due to slavery.
Ghana was a great trip. It was multidimensional and the whole experience meant a lot to me. I now have an opportunity and an obligation to speak out and make sure that all children go to school and play and not live their lives as a slave.