By Mina Tabei The Afro News Vancouver : I will never forget the tear filled eyes of my two sponsored children when I looked back and waved goodbye. Emma and Emmanuella became my heart and soul in Ghana. In the summer of 2009, I decided to pack my bags and travel throughout the different regions of Ghana as a student and volunteer. I wanted to experience Africa’s complexity and beauty with my own eyes and soak in their culture while learning about the rich history, culture and also the struggles of the people of Ghana. As a Westerner arriving in Ghana, I was struck by the country’s beauty. I found myself suddenly cracked open. I felt more alive, more myself and felt like I was brought down to earth as my bubble of Western luxury that I was living in was popped. I began to learn more about the spiritual power of Africa and the real struggles of life. I witnessed the people rise gloriously above these struggles and conditions that would break most of us.
The Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles were two places that I had set goals to visit. I wanted to learn about the history of slavery while standing in the “storage space” where millions of helpless Africans were tortured. In addition, I wanted to try to find some answers as to why, after over 400 years of suppression, slavery is still present in many parts of Africa. While in Ghana, I got involved with an organization called PACODEP. This organization is dedicated to rescuing child slaves from the fishing industry of Lake Volta. Upon doing much research, I realized that over 24,000 children in Ghana fall victim to child slavery annually, many of whom are forced into dangerous work in the fishing industry. Children as young as 5 years old are sold by their families for as little as $20, working on canoes, detangling nets and other dangerous tasks below the surface of the lake’s cloudy water. Many do not return to the surface, disappearing forever. They are beaten severely and starved of basic human necessities, such as food, sleep, proper hygiene and education. George Achibra of PACODEP has been rescuing children from their masters for years and placed them in Freedom Shelters as the chance of being re-sold if returned to their families is very high.
The months I spent in Ghana have so far been the highlight of my life. I gained great personal independence through travelling, as I was able to experience different cultures; which in turn helped me appreciate differences that make people unique. Such understanding facilitated my ability to build and maintain friendships with many individuals ranging from local teachers, ministers, market women to rescued child slaves. Upon my arrival back to Canada, I could not let go of my days with Emma and Emmanuella, all the other children and the work I had started with George from PACODEP. I decided to continue my efforts and am now the Country Director of Voluntary Aid & Cultural Integration (VACI-Ghana), a registered non-profit humanitarian organization based in the Volta Region. The primary objective of VACI is to promote community development by creating opportunities and encouraging voluntary work and cultural understanding amongst different cultures. One of the many programs available to take part in, is getting involved in the rehabilitation process of the rescued child slaves who are currently in the Freedom Shelters. VACI-Ghana has given me the opportunity to encourage others to also be a part of a truly life changing experience by volunteering in Ghana. For more information on these opportunities, please contact me at: email@example.com or visit: www.vacighana.net