Tuesday, April 13, 2010

what you feel is what you are, and what you are is beautiful.

One reason I came to Ghana was to study social work. I was looking for a place that had English as the official language, a place that would push me completely out of my comfort zone, and a place that I could discern whether or not social work was something that I wanted to pursue in my life.

The notion of studying social work almost seems ironic now. I am doing social work.

I anticipated that I would stumble upon situations that I was entirely unprepared for. I expected that; this is Africa. I have seen poverty in ways that are indescribable, I have seen brokenness, and I certainly have seen people and places that have broken my heart. Literally. This, however, is beyond anything I could have imagined.

A young girl—it has now been confirmed—has been raped. Allegedly, it happened on our school property just about a week ago, on the porch that we teach on every day. The details and exact recounting of the event is still to be established, but we are under the impression that 3 young boys were involved; one holding her down as the others sexually violated her. Kissemahn is in an uproar about it; the girls' parents (or guardians, rather) are pissed. They are angry. Her mother wants to go to the police. As for the boys, one father threatened to kill his son. One of the boys was beaten with rocks by his brother once the information came out. Fingers are being pointed, tension is mounting, and the integrity of the school is being called into question. It's been a few days since the news broke, and things are starting to be sorted out. Still though, it's a long, uphill battle, and I know that the volunteers will do whatever we can to help this situation. We are trying to mindful of everybody—the victim, the boys, the school, Kwame, our director, the families, and the community—and it just gets harder when there doesn't even seem to be a united front within the community to address this issue. It's complicated. That's all I can really say. Some want to the boys to be sent away, some aren't paying much attention to the victim at all, not to mention, that we are discovering one incident that represents something that happens all of the time in Kissemahn, in Ghana, in Africa, and in places all over the world. Yes, even in America too.

I keep wondering, how rampant is this issue? Rumors flew around before, maybe just a few weeks ago, about a couple of girls being raped. Myself and the other volunteers have so many questions, like, what do the kids understand about sex? About doing something like this? They have used the term "sleeping with each other", and we wonder, what does that exactly mean to the kids? Violating someone like that, it just has to be learnt, maybe even experienced.

These are kids raping each other.

The young girl needs help. I pray to God help comes.

I can't even keep my eyes open writing this. It's late. But, my heart also aches tonight. I am struggling to find the right words. I am drained. I am worried. These boys—this community—it needs help. It needs to come together for such a time as this, and it's a damn shame that it hasn't happened yet.

I am going to talk with a young girl I have grown particularly close with tomorrow. She was allegedly raped—held down also—and I want her voice heard too.


Her voice.

Does she actually get one?

This isn't America, y'all. The police are corrupt and don't think for a second that a government program exists to help counsel these kids.

I am scared to ask the question but all that keeps running through my mind is WHAT CAN WE REALLY DO?

Dealing with rape on an individual level is a lot different than dealing with rape as a social problem. We have ideas about how to deal with this situation, about getting the victim some help, and about addressing it with our kids as much as we can. As far as sending a larger message though, what the hell do we say?

We can continue to check in after we leave, but our departure date is now about a month away. The good news is that we have a month. That's something. But, we have to focus on doing what is in the best interest of these children, and we have to understand the context we are working in. We are in Africa. And, as with dealing with something this heavy, we can't be the heroes.

Damn, I hate saying that.

I used to believe we could. I used to think that with enough hope, passion, and love, the horrible, horrendous, and awful things of the world can be overcome. And, that's so much a part of me that I think I will always believe that. I know with God anything is possible. But, for this situation, I have tasted a strong dose of reality. Kissemahn is a small community in Ghana that is stuck in a cyclical problem. Poverty. Pain. Abuse. Repeat. Where do you break it? How can you turn it around? All I am saying is that I don't have the answers. We don't have the answers. Our school has a responsibility to these children—to help them, to love them, and to fight for them—but we must remember. This is about the kids. This isn't about us. And we can't be the heroes of a situation that is drenched in complication, undecipherable to those who even know it best. I, as all of the volunteers, will stand by the kids throughout this process. But, we just can't stop this social problem in a matter of weeks.

It just isn't like that.

We can't change a community in 4 weeks.

We can't stop the rape.

We can't stop the abuse.

We can't stop the cycle.

Our school is reaching out, and it's beautiful. But, ultimately, even after months of teaching, I still don't know this community in and out. The other volunteers, with the exception of Renee who started the school back in the fall, have been working in Kissemahn since January. While we have been able to get to know this community, these kids, and these families, we still don't know everything about this community. How could we?

We have made a difference. I know we have, I don't even think twice about that. And that's why we will do the best we can with the challenges ahead for Kissemahn. Maybe we can't stop the pain in a matter of 4 weeks, but we can certainly help in beginning that process. We are headed down a path. I don't know how far we will get. I don't know what it will look like at the end. But, we are going. We love these kids so much. For right now, that's just going to have to be enough.

I have a lot of questions, we all do. Processing this whole thing has been unbelievable. I haven't been sleeping well; my stomach hurts anytime I start thinking about what is happening. When I went to Kissemahn today, for the first time since hearing the news, I knew I had to keep it together. This whole thing might be tearing me up inside, but we are here for the kids. We will do the best we can with this situation, and we will also teach as much English as we can, laugh as much as possible, sing our hearts out, and love them. Hold them. Be with them.

Yes, I came to Ghana looking for confirmation about how I wanted to spend my life. I wasn't sure, a 100% sure anyway, if social work was the right path for me.

I have it. I can feel it when I am around our kids. I sense it when I have been trying to understand the family and home situations of our children. I know it when I am spending time with the kids, learning about them, just listening, and hearing their stories. Maybe it's a story of heavy proportions, or maybe it's just about how they want to eat fried rice for lunch.

Social work, it just feels right.

Please, if you are reading this, pray for everyone involved with this situation. For the young girl, for the boys, for the community, for the school, for Kwame, our director, and for the volunteers. Pray that God will provide, and that just maybe, change can come. Help us to know our place, help us to do what the community needs most. Pray for eyes to be opened; pray for hearts to be healed.



  1. Heather,

    Your blog was absolutely breathtaking.. I can't even imagine what it is like for you to be experiencing this right now.
    I just prayed for you and everyone involved in the situation and will continue to pray for you throughout the week. I love you and am so thankful that God has placed you in Ghana for such a time as this. I know that He is using you in ways that you may not even be able to fathom at this point. I pray our King's peace will reign in your heart this night and that He would provide you with His discernment and wisdom in how to deal with this situation.

    In His love,


  2. Oh, I just forwarded an e-mail to all of my dear family and friends with a link to this particular blog and asked them to pray for this situation- so 11 more people are going to be praying for you & this community this week!! Love you!