Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jenny's observations day 2 (global mamas day)

7/29 9:16 pm
Today was a fill your heart kind of day.  Although the hour drive to crossover took 2 1/2 hrs due to chads directional overconfidence and the "rough" road we accidentally found ourselves on, our hearts melted as we pulled up to the school.  It was not far from a USC marching band welcome.  We drove up the road at a snails pace engulfed by the 300 crossover students singing, dancing and playing their drums.  As we got out of our truck the  kids literally pinned us against it.  They just wanted to touch us and hold our hand.  They were willing to settle for a finger and when no fingers were left they settled for an elbow.  When we knelt down to give the little ones hugs, they copied us and knelt down too (not understanding the hug gesture).  They were enamored with savannahs long hair and wanted to touch it.  Most all the students have shaved hair.  We wanted to see the school but walking with all of our new best friends attached to us was like an octopus trying to walk out of water.  Jacob was especially slow as he had the most.  Kids are usually drawn to his spirit and these kids caught his vibe in a matter of seconds.  Savannah and I had the little tiny ones attached to us and it really felt like we were getting more out of it than they were.  I can't wait to go back and spend more time with them tomorrow.  Side note: crossover has 100% of its graduating 8th graders go on to get scholarships to high school.  If they don't have the grades by 7th grade they go to a vocational school.  Dave really requires his students to study hard and it was so good to have our kids hear those words. No messin around and definitely no excuses for these former slave orphans.

Final day at Crossover

We were on the road at 7am again this morning, and I was determined to make it to Crossover on my own (and I did).  The day was spent just hanging out, which was really cool.  Jacob and I played soccer w the boys.  Jenny & Savannah hung out w the girls: sitting in a circle being led by Jenny a clap song, they read to them, they walked with them, the entire time engulfed in a sea of kids.  
We walked down the path to the site of the old school, which used to consist of two thatched huts with dirt floors.  Now, it's a building of 4 rooms, each room with 15 of the merry mats we bought a few years ago.  They average about 2 kids/mat which is hard to imagine.  There is also another building of about 3 rooms which is where Dave lives with his family.  Of the 309 kids now at Crossover, only about 80 live there (all boys), the rest live with families or churches in the surrounding town of Djemini.  In exchange for the boarding of Crossover students, Dave gives tuition to some of the kids whose families take in boarders.  We also walked down to the lake, which is just a few minutes down the path.  On the way down, we saw that one of the houses had a "pet" baboon.  Savannah knelt down to snap a picture of it and he jumped on her side.  Crossover had never heard a scream so loud!  It was pretty hilarious.
I also had a long talk with Dave about Dorms.  They obviously could really use dorms so kids don't have to be sent off campus to sleep.  But the reality is, we don't have enough funds to build the dorms and I told Dave this. We have come up with a plan though.  He is going to get an estimate to build a 80 meter by 40 meter building which would be big enough for a girls dorm and a boys dorm.  Based on what Dave says, I think we have enough cash to pay for half of the it.  Our plan is to get an estimate and share it with a church in California that has already done a lot for Crossover.  We would propose to pay half of the cost if the church can raise the funds for the other half.  That's the current rough plan, we will see how it goes.  
Back to the rest of the day, it's hard to put it all into words but not only was it a great experience individually, but to see the people you love have that same experience is just awesome.  Around noon, we had lunch.  It's quite a chore to organize 300+ kids but they have it down to a science.  The lead teacher, a woman named Grace, was like a lion tamer, directing the kids, grouped by grade into the food line.  everyone had a big bowl of rice with chicken and spicy tomato sauce.  It was very tasty...if someone opened a NY food cart serving this, it would rival the Halal Guys franchise. 
We left Crossover bound for the airport around 1:30pm.  The kids all lined up and bid us farewell with another Crossover song and dance, complete with a 3 drum band.  A few of us got teary-eyed as we waved good-bye to our new friends.
The trip to the airport was interesting.  It's about 100 miles from Crossover to the airport in Accra and it took us about 5.5 hours.  The roads and traffic suck (like really, really bad) and you realize that Ghana truly is a third world country.  Most drivers don't pay any attention to driving on the right side of the road vs. the left.  Or to stop signs, or speed limits.  It's shocking there aren't more accidents.  Our driver, John, who is the driver/janitor/generalist at Crossover, drove us back to the airport.  At one point about 4 hours into the drive, he stretched out his arms and I almost puked.  His BBO was off the charts (BBO - Beyond Body Odor).  Fortunately, we only had to withstand another 90 minutes in such close quarters.

A few miscellaneous notes:  In total, we brought 14 computers and 10 tablets (thank you to the Browns, the Trapps, and every donor who has donated as 10 of the laptops were new, purchased by wings for crossover).  With all these computers, Dave is going to dedicate one of the rooms for a computer lab.  He will also make the lab available to the community (for a charge) so that Crossover can generate another income stream, which is important in their quest to become self-sustainable.  

They have the mobile aquaponic system currently in use, which is a huge canvas "pool" with about 2000 tilapia in it.  The water is filtered with the old water being recycled to water and fertilize tomatoes, cabbage, corn, and other vegetables.  Right next to this mobile system, they've built a permanent system made of concrete, which will have 2-3x the capacity of the mobile unit.  They hope to have this permanent system up and running in about 2 weeks.

The Kindergarten block is about 90% complete: it has 2 classrooms, a bathroom, a nap room and an office.  This entire block was donated by the church in California I mentioned earlier, called Crosspoint Church (Huntington Beach).

Other updates:  the 2 cows we bought about a year ago have had 2 calves with a third on the way.  Once the cows reach a certain age, they are sold at auction for about $500.  In a cow's lifetime, they typically have about 5-6 calves before they are sold.
We are now off to Kenya, the part of the trip we are all really looking forward to...Thank you for reading!!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Global Mamas

Today was a pretty powerful day.  It started at 7am as Jenny, Jacob, Savannah & I got into our rental truck for the hour drive to Crossover from our hotel.  It's been 3 years since I've made this trek (and never driven it myself).  So, my overconfidence in my ability to remember the route turned an hour drive into a 2.5 hour drive as we navigated pot-filled "roads" in the Ghanian countryside.  I finally swallowed my pride and called Dave, the head of the school, to come rescue us.  You can't google maps everything, unfortunately, especially when the neighboring town doesn't exist on Google (the name of the town is Djemeni).
As we finally approached Crossover, the road was lined with 300 children singing, dancing and holding signs that said "Welcome Cooper Family" and "We are glad you are here".  As the procession finally widened enough to drive through, we entered the school and parked.  As Jenny, Jacob & Savannah got out of the truck, they were immediately engulfed in a sea of children, all wearing the new Crossover shirts donated by Eddy Chavez.  I'd experienced the same thing three years ago with Jim Conti (in fact, if you roll back on this blog I probably wrote about it), but to see your family experience it too is pretty awesome.  These kids just want to touch you and to be touched, I think it's one of the things they really miss living at a boarding school with no parents around.  Each of us had 5 kids attached to each of our hands, with a random hand or two attaching to our forearms.
After a quick tour of the new school, which looks AWESOME, we had to pile back into the car to caravan with 2 school buses for another 2 hour drive to the Global Mamas facility in Kpong (pronounced Pong).  Global Mamas is an African organization that teaches women a trade (like hand crafting jewelry, clothing, ornaments, etc) so that they can earn a decent wage and cycle themselves out of poverty.  Global Mama's has a few retail outlets and a website.  The 2 school buses transported 100 Crossover girls where we all got a tour of the facility and an introduction by Gladys, the supervisor of the Kpong facility.  I think the girls got a lot out of it, but I think they really liked the field trip part of it.  This was the first field trip anyone at Crossover had ever been on!  Every town we drove through saw 2 bus loads of girls singing and dancing loudly, followed by a pick up truck of 4 gringos.  Must have been amusing just to watch us pass!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Jenny's observations

This one was writer by Jenny, interesting together two perspectives.
7/28 Thursday 12:00 am
I'm awake. Crap.  We slept on the plane a little and tried to stay awake until 6 pm but jet lag has got the best of me and I'm wide awake despite the fact I will not let anyone talk about what time it is at home.
Yesterday went surprisingly smooth.   Delta airlines checked all 13 of our bags through at no charge and managed to get them to Africa through New York without a hitch.  We paid customs $50 and they barely inspected one bag.  Dave from crossover met us with a few of his guys to escort us to the rental car place.  Chad is unbelievably patient as this process takes about 45 minutes to complete.  Driving through the capital city of Accra in our pick up truck we decide to make a "quick" stop to buy some chicken and rice at the market so the kids at crossover can have meat for lunch.  This ends up taking over 2 hours and what we see is hard to comprehend.   The traffic rivals LA at 5:00 on Friday.  But this traffic consists of people selling goods from the baskets on their heads, animals,  bikes, vans packed with an unimaginable amount of passengers and pot holes galore.  Downtown we pass a dump that looks to be about 2 acres. People are on top of the mounds of trash foraging through and the stench is 100 x worse than John, our drivers body odor.  Soon after we pass the beach which is not coveted property like at home. In fact there is a prison right on the beachfront property.  I failed to mention that John is driving extremely slow.  Bikes were passing us.  And even though it seems people drive with their hand permanently on the horn I do believe many of those honks were directed toward us.  We finally pull over at the market.

Chad and Dave go negotiate with the other men for the price of the food and once the deal is struck the women carry the 50 lb bags of rice and pallets of frozen chicken to the truck.  Chad and Dave also discuss the fact that John does not have to drive slow for us, (me and Savannah), in fact we like to go fast.  Hallelujah. We didn't really see any crime or begging, just masses of people either selling their goods (snacks drinks, fruit, toys) or hanging around talking or resting on the side of the road.  So many little kids were strapped to their moms backs.  We saw one park but no one was there.  We did see a few school age kids in uniforms but from what we could tell, most people of all ages go to the marketplace to work.
So we left lax at 7:00 am Tuesday, landed in Accra at 7:00 am Wednesday and arrived at hotel Volta about 3:00 pm. It has been a long day even though we have not accomplished much.  Dave suggested we stay and get settled and go to crossover in the morning.  At first I was disappointed to loose a day with the kids.  But we were walking zombies and I've never been so happy to pass on another hour of travel.  Hotel Volta is near lake Volta and we have a view of the dam from our room.  I would say it's comparable to a best western but with some special touches.  The gym is one machine.  It's in the hallway.  The pool slide is a colorful plastic kiddie slide.  We relaxed by the pool with the only other patron, a millipede.  The gift shop has a book in the window entitled, Jewish wisdom- how to be successful in business.
I'm going to try and get some sleep now so I can be awake tomorrow when we meet the crossover kids.

Arrived in Ghana

So we arrived on time in Accra, the capital city of Ghana.  Bribery is alive and well at the airport...we paid $50 to have our 11 bags ignored going through customs.  I chalked it up to donating to the entrepreneurial spirit in Accra. After spending about an hour renting a truck we decided to buy a bunch of food for the kids to eat on our arrival.  However, we didn't expect it to take us 90 minutes to find the food (think huge swam meet) or another 90 minutes to get on the highway.  All said and done, we got to our hotel around 3pm and Jim said school gets out around 3 so we should just relax at our hotel and come to the school early.  So we hit the pool, had a few beers (not the kids) and ended up eating dinner at 5pm. Me and the kids each had Goat Soup.  Everyone liked it but it was a bit spicy for the kids and they didn't love the meat.  Jenny ordered a special Tilapia dish but when it came she could barely look at it.  The consistency was similar of something you'd see out of the Ghostbusters movie (Snotty andGooey):  very slimy and according to Jenny, wholly inedible (we even saw a few dry heaves for the efforts she put it). After dinner, we were supposed to shower and meet in our room to play cards but pretty much everyone passed out, which is why I am writing this blog at 2am!

In 4 hours the three of us are going to take the rental car from the hotel to Crossover (hopefully).  Mind you, it's been 3 years since I have taken this route and never as a driver.  I think I remember how to get there but we will see.  The experience we will meet will be nothing short of overwhelming.  Jim can vouch for it.       There are no words for it.  We will keep a video to help explain what we mean to these beautiful, happy kids.  I will try to post around 2pm EST later today (7pmEST)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Wheels up in 24 hrs

Our departure date is almost here!  In total, we are bringing 13 checked bags, which are filled with clothing, food, laptops, tablets, school supplies, feminine hygiene products, and 300 sky lanterns (more on this later).

I've been stressed a bit because Delta charges $285 for excess baggage:  We have 5 excess bags so unless I can sweet talk the folks at Delta, we are going to incur $1400 in luggage charges alone.  With all this luggage, I've also been stressing about how we get all this luggage to the airport!  My friend Mark Tobin offered to meet us at our house at 4am tomorrow (yes, AM) to fill his car up w our luggage and follow our Uber to LAX.  THAT is a friend!!

The other logistical obstacle I am trying to solve is the rental car while we are there.  Last time, Crossover was able to rent a truck to transport us from the airport to the school and back and forth from the hotel to the school.  They no longer have access to that truck so we had to rent a car.  Needless to say, Jenny is not very comfortable with me driving around Ghana.  Besides the fact that we would stick out like a sore thumb, Jenny has never been there and with all the terrorist crap going on around the world, she would feel more comfortable if we had a local driver...I am waiting to hear back if we have secured one or not.

For the long flight, I got a prescription for Ambien (11 hour flight from JFK to Accra).  Jenny was pretty nervous about giving the kids ambien for the first time on the flight so she conducted a test run this past weekend at home (secure environment).  Jacob was fine, just pretty groggy for about 24 hours after he woke up.  Savannah, however, was another story: Her imagination got the best of her and she was convinced there were people in her room watching her sleep.  I cant imagine what would have happened if Jenny and I were ambien'd out at 30k feet w Savannah freaking out about a gargoyle on the airplane wing!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Going to Ghana, Part 2

So here we are, three years after my first trip to Ghana.  We are currently 7 days out from trip # 2 only this time, I have my wife Jenny in tow with our kids, Jacob (17 yrs old) and Savannah (14 yrs old).  I wasn't going to Blog about the trip again but I've had numerous people ask me to so I figured why not.

Right now our living room is littered with 6 duffel bags full of 500 t-shirts, 12 laptops, school supplies, 300 sky lanterns and other miscellaneous items.  Eddy Chavez, a good friend of mine, donated the t shirts (again), this time they have the Crossover logo, etc.  The Pharris family donated 5 huge duffel bags to stuff all this into.

If you aren't already following us on Instagram, you can @wingsforcrossover.  My kids will be managing the Instagram account and posting photos and videos of the trip.

When I first got involved in Wings for Crossover w Jim Conti, a big part of it was for my kids. While there is/was no direct impact for my kids, I hoped that someday we would take this trip as a family and that it would open their eyes to what they have and how lucky they are to have been born into the life they were born into.  For many reasons, we live in the greatest country in the world.  It may be difficult to see it at times (mostly because our politicians suck, on both sides).  But we do.  And until you travel to other parts of the world, its easy to take what we have for granted (we are the land of the free because of the brave!).

That's it for now...