Thursday, March 22, 2012

Catching up

We are back to the relative civilization of Accra tonight after spending the most amazing, gritty, challenging 96 hours of my life on the rescue mission.  The picture above is the result of the mission taken just a few short hours ago as these four freed children (Akbene, Kojo, Michael, and Nesty) pose for pictures outside their new home at the rehabilitation center here where they will spend the next 3 months or so.

I could write a book on our adventure but I need more power, WIFI, and mental strength to do so and that won't be happening tonight.  I promise to start to fill in details from my journal as we reluctantly begin the journey home in less than 24 short hours.

Mikaelyn, the rest of the team and I are safe and sound and so blessed to have been here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Day 2

Bags of food that cost us less than $2 per each child we fed.
One of our teammates, Jen, turned 40 today and for her birthday she wanted to visit the village where Never lives--the boy on Oprah's show 5 years ago--and feed the whole village.  We bought about 100 cans of Cokes/Fanta Orange drinks for them and chicken and rice bowls.  We didn't have enough as our presence attracted everyone around but the kids and adults were very gracious and patient while they lined up and waited to be served.  We had to divide 1 box of 3 pieces of chicken and rice among 6 children but it worked just fine.  We each took a group of 6 away from the crowd with their food and opened up the box for them.  The reaction was almost one of delighted confusion as some of them ate it right up with their little fingers and others seemed like they wanted to wait and make it last.  I do not know when the last time was they had that much food to eat but from the looks of things it had been quite a while.  Here are some of the pictures of these beautiful children and the amazing day we had with them.

Most of these kids had not seen foreigners before.
Patiently waiting in line for food and treats.
Me, Never, and Tyler Page.  Never is 20 now and doing very well since being rescued 5+ years ago.

I have to get up in less than 4.5 hours for our 8 hour journey to the Lake Volta region to start the rescue mission so I need to end this but I don't want to.  I feel like I have already lived a lifetime here with these people under these conditions.  I cannot wait to start the important work tomorrow of freeing 10 children from this life.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Day 1

We left the hotel a little after 7AM and just got back to Accra where it is after 10PM Saturday evening in Accra.  Today was a lot of travel highlighted by a visit to one of the villages where Eric and his team have returned around 150 fishing kids.  We drove way back from the main road here on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean to a little village with about 1,000 people living there.  I am not exaggerating when I say these people had very little but their smiles and warm greetings--which went a long way with us!

We met several of the children that Eric has rescued and they love him.  He walked off with a couple of them to catch up and you could see the mutual admiration and love.  It was neat to see the end results of previous rescue missions before we embark on ours in less than 36 hours.

My daughter Mikaelyn with this 12-year old beauty named Mavis.
Most of the day today was tourist stuff to see some of the interesting places here in Ghana before we get to work Monday,  But for all of us the chance to be with the children and parents of the village was wonderful.  We gave them bead necklaces, candy, and rubber bracelets (Bridges To America ones that all of our donors will be receiving. ) The kids loved our simple gifts and we loved seeing their sweet faces and gratitude.

The weather is Africa-hot and muggy but we had an air conditioned van and plenty of cold bottled water.  You want to complain about the heat but tend to catch yourself as you realize that these kids don't get to hop in cool vans and drink cold water as easily as we can so you shut-up and be grateful for what you have.

Eric (the social worker), Comfort (rescued 7years ago when she was 8), and Mika.
Here are a few pictures of the fun things we did today.  Tomorrow is a rest day except that we are going to deliver food to the 100 children that live in the village of the boy, Never, who was featured on the Oprah show that started this whole journey.

Reluctantly leaving these children happy with their necklaces and bracelets.

Is it pull the tail of a tiger or a crocodile?  Yes, that is real and the biggest one in the pen!
Es-car-what the heck!!?? Snails sold on the side of the road.  Umm we didn't stop.
View of the auction block at the Portuguese slave castle in Elmina.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Touchdown, Accra!

Hello Ghana!

We arrived safely and have become situated at our little hotel here in Accra now, where it is 9PM Friday night.  We got in about 4 hours late after leaving DC at 2:30AM Friday.  However, our travel partners had it much worse.  Their flight from SF to DC was delayed for 6-7 hours so were re-routed through London and won't be here for another hour.  But they are a resilient crew...though may not be feeling very resilient right this second.

It is amazing to be here and feels great.  The people here are amazingly warm and friendly.  We had dinner tonight at the hotel with Eric, the local social worker from IOM who will be leading us on the rescue mission next week.  What a positive and dedicated man!  He told us background stories about his work here and told us a little of what to expect next week. 

Eric shared his basic philosophy: "Every child needs to be raised in a family."

The rescue and rehabilitation effort here is based on this beautiful philosophy. It is not always possible to reunite these children with their families but every effort is made to do place them into a family situation whereby they can grow and learn to be responsible, productive, "normal" kids on their way to being great adults and parents.

I am already impressed with how much education is required to teach the parents the consequences of their choices to sell their children into trafficking and how hard Eric and his team try to ensure the children are kept from being enslaved ever again.

One thing that is admirable is the obvious care and thought that goes into these children AFTER they are rescued.  Eric told us that the rehab center is deliberately NOT comfortable so that the children will have an easier time adjusting to their life back with family in the villages.  The thinking is that they don't want the children to become accustomed to comforts (toothpaste, for example) that their parents/family may be unable to provide once they are reunited for fear that this makes things harder on the parents and they may be inclined to traffic the kids again.

Much more to learn and see, of course, but so far so good.  It will be exciting to get out tomorrow and see this country and meet more of the people before the real work begins Monday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I have to be honest, I have the jitters.  We leave in less than 48 hours for Washington DC then on to Accra, Ghana Thursday night on the red-eye to start this life-changing trip and I am nervous. 

I am not nervous about my personal safety--though I will be alert and careful.
I am not nervous about the flights--I love flying and have traveled internationally many times.
I am not nervous about meeting new people and being in a foreign land--I love the stimulation and different perspective of being in a foreign country with people living totally different lives than I do.

I think I have the jitters because I realize that I am leaving the USA as a man with a certain set of ideals, principles, and views of the world--I think I know a lot more than I really do.  But as my departure draws nearer I am starting to sense that because of what I will see and experience there I will be coming back a changed man, humbled by my ignorance of and attention to things that matter most.  And I wonder if I will have the courage to embrace this new knowledge and awareness and step up my game in how I think, act, and live. 

Also, I think I am nervous that my going there won't make an impact--even though my gut tells me that it will.  I get to go to Africa for the first time only once (after that I will be experienced) and I want very badly to make the most of this experience as I contribute scarce time and capital to something bigger than myself.  Many of you who donated or didn't donate felt that your contribution wouldn't help much but I am here to tell you (and myself) that one thing I know for sure is that Africa is a place where a little goes a long way AND is appreciated.  So, along with your support, I am putting forth what little I can do and look forward to sharing the results.

Lastly, I have always told my kids in their sporting events to embrace their nervousness as a tool that keeps you on your toes in the moment of truth.  I also realized that is the kindling that makes the feelings of triumph when it's over that much warmer and brighter.  I choose to look at my current feelings in this way and take my own medicine (along with my malaria pills) and hope that what I have been telling my kids all along will be true for me too.

Here goes something...

Friday, March 9, 2012

On The Edge of Change

By this time next week, our team will be in Accra, Ghana getting acclimated to the country and doing final preparations before we head out to the Lake Volta region for the rescue mission starting Monday, March 19th.  We have been very fortunate to receive generous donations so far that will help us maintain the freedom of the children we rescue once we get them back.  To think that these children have no idea that in about a week their lives will be significantly changed for good, forever, feels amazing.

To all those supporting us either financially or by spreading the word via Facebook, Twitter, etc. you should feel great too because without you this wouldn't be happening!

On behalf of these children on the edge of change, and our team blessed to be involved, Thank You!
This was the picture that Oprah saw that catalyzed this whole journey.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Something For Something!

OK, so when I ask for support I don't believe the term "Something for Nothing" applies. So, if you make a donation of any amount TODAY you will receive the following from Bridges To America:

1. A Bridges To America reminder band (stylish red);
2. A personalized thank you note with photos from the rescue mission;
3. A tax deduction for 2012.

Share with your friends that you get "something for something" when you support Bridges To America help reunite African families.


Monday, March 5, 2012

10 Days To Help!

Starting next Thursday lives will change for the good in Ghana, Africa.  Our joint team with Kids Helping Kids will no doubt be deeply touched and changed forever as we participate in the delicate process of rescuing, rehabilitating, and reintegrating 10 innocent children sold into slavery.  These children face backbreaking work every day at 4:30AM for 14 hours as they choose between beatings and dangerous work helping their masters fish the increasingly barren waters of Lake Volta.  They face this situation due to poverty, ignorance, and a vicious cycle of perverse tradition.

We are blessed to make change and participate in this rescue but in order to make the benefits of the rescue last it costs $250 per child per year to keep them out of slavery by providing a "safety net" of education, healthcare, and financial support.  Our goal is to raise at least $500 so that we can help two children for the next year.

The support of our donors is significant.  This is not simply throwing money at a problem 7,000 miles away.  Our donors are able to DIRECTLY bless the lives of children that have no future in their current state.  By donating to Bridges To America you are providing a lifeline that will be directly offered to the professional organization on the ground there to expertly provide the support and ensure that these kids do not slip back into this hopeless life of slavery.

Please donate whatever you can--it WILL make a difference.  I will see to that myself and provide regular reports on the mission.