Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One week countdown...
T minus 6 days until I leave for Ghana...So, why am I going?  Here is some background:

Sometimes, you see, hear or read something that inspires you.  That thing can make you forget the negative headlines you see and hear in the media every day.  It can make you realize that the world is actually full of good people, people who have good hearts that like to give their time & energy to try and make the world a better place for others.

I was somewhere in Idaho, on a road trip with my wife and 2 kids over this past Christmas break, when my wife Jenny read me the article from my son's school magazine.  The Pegasus School is a private Pre-K through 8th grade school, which my 13-year-old son attends.  I was so inspired by what the 8th grade teacher, Mr. Jim Conti was doing, I decided I wanted to get involved as well.  
As my wife read on, I learned that in fishing communities along Lake Volta, Ghanaian children are being sold into a life of forced labor, malnutrition, abuse and no schooling. Traffickers prey on poor families in source communities along the country’s coast. Typically, the families are told by the trafficker that if they let their children come to the lake, they will live with relatives who will care for them and send them to school in exchange for a few hours work after school. In reality, the children are forced to work long hours on the boats in dangerous conditions. A typical day might begin at 3 am and end at 8pm and include challenging tasks such as casting nets, diving, and hauling, with only one meal served. Children often get stuck in the nets at the bottom of the lake. If a child is caught escaping, the consequences can be brutal. Often the families do not hear from their children again. 

In Ghana, Lake Volta was created in 1965 with the construction of the Akosombo Dam, which provides electricity for much of the nation. When the lake was formed, the terrain under it was flooded. Fishermen on the lake set nets from primitive, wooden canoes, and the nets frequently get caught on the trees that still exist underwater. To survive economically, the fishermen need cheap labor. They find it in children, some as young as six years old, who spend their days bailing water out of the boat and diving into the lake to free nets. All have been abducted from their families or sold by poverty-stricken parents.  Many of these children have no memory or connection to their village.

It is with this backdrop that David Yayravi Lee founded the Crossover International Academy.  Lee, a Togolese refugee living in Ghana, founded Crossover in Akosombo to house and educate former slave children who have been rescued yet remain orphaned by their circumstances.  Today, there are over 250 children who call The Crossover Academy home.  With tireless dedication of Lee, Crossover provides more than a home or primary education.  It is the lost family, the forgotten village, and the singular identity of all who reside there. 

Here is their story as told by their founder…

"Crossover is a small, rural school for marginalized kids (rescued trafficked children, former child labourers, former child prostitutes, refugee children from Liberia, Sierra Leone and  la Cote d'Ivoire, etc) located on the left bank of Lake Volta. It is a free education school which of course has no parent teachers union since the children are without known parents.

Our school  is made of thatched sheds. 
We have no website, we cannot afford the cost.

We live by fishing on the Volta lake and farming. We study under trees and under grass roofed sheds.  We have from K-8 grades.

In spite of these hurdles I am able to eke out the best out of these children and you find some of the most intelligent kids here.

We lack everything here: no school supplies, only one laptop for the 245 students, few old National Geographic magazines which we use as readers, slates; in fact we have nothing to compare us to what you call a school in the USA except the zeal and intelligence to learn and break out of the vicious cycle of poverty.  Abject poverty and scarcity have far too long been our faithful companions."

While Lee has done an unbelievable job in providing a school & home for these children, Crossover is still lacking in some basic human requirements that most of us take for granted every day.   For example, the children do not have a proper structure to sleep in every night.  In Ghana, there are strong winds, rain and other elements that make it unhealthy, dangerous and extremely uncomfortable to sleep outside.  This will surely be on the short list of things to address.
Jim Conti and I have decided to embark on a specific project.  We are creating a program for that will allow the Pegasus students and the Crossover students to interact together in an international entrepreneurial spirit to start an import/export coffee business together.   The students in both countries will be split up into groups:  one group for logistics, one for finance, one for marketing, one for sales, one for IT, etc.  And these groups will function separately but together to accomplish a common goal: to create a sustainable business that will fund not only a large dormitory for all the students at Crossover, but to hopefully create an ongoing profitable business that will provide some income so that Crossover is able to provide its students with a constant supply of food, shelter, text books, supplies, clothes and perhaps even scholarships to attend universities abroad someday.

So, I have 3 huge bags (70lbs each) I am bringing with me.  One of the bags is full of t-shirts, generously donated by Eddy Chavez, who owns ei-LO.  Another bag contains a bunch of soccer jersey's (250 to be exact) and the last bag has some goodies from Costco.