Crossing borders for Ghana – A story about an orphanage where the children are the main focus, not the tourists

responsible and sustainable volunteering

Guest blog by Anja van der Valk, founder of Crossing borders for Ghana

Since the re-launch of the Moon and Star website I’m posting new blogs every 2 weeks. I would really like to share this platform with guest writers. I want to give all the people that are following Moon and Star the chance to hear the words of the people I admire, appreciate and follow.

I’m really honored that Anja agreed to write the first guest blog for Moon&Star guest house. Anja is the founder of ‘Crossing borders for Ghana’, but first of all she is one of the most beautiful and pure human beings that I know. We met in Banko, Ghana, back in 2001. Since that time we have been friends. Because of the NGO and the Children’s home we work together as well.

Moon and Star guesthouse in collaboration with NGO 'Crossing borders for Ghana'

Lately there is a lot of criticism on Orphanages. We are the first to agree that many misstakes are being made(some deliberate, some eventhough good intentions are there). We care and we are concerned.

At our Children’s home the children are the focus, not the tourist!

2001. Destination: Ghana

I traveled to several African countries before I came to Ghana. I have seen beautiful people, cultures and nature. In 2001 I decided to take a 4 month sabatical from my work as a remedial educationalist. I wanted to experience a longer stay in a different culture, maybe I could contribute something. I ended up in Banko through a volunteering agency.

2019. Banko is my second home

Over the years a lot has happened. I can’t imagine a life without Ghana in it. Banko has become my second home. Anytime I visit I feel like I came home. Over the years I’ve met many people, established precious friendships.

I wanted to mean something to others. I couldn’t ignore or neglect my own views and ideas. And I’ve often wondered why things move like how they do in Ghana, I still wonder sometimes. But I never did things to make myself feel or look better. Or to show ‘the poor Africans’ how a white can do things better. The community allowed me to enter into their lives, made me a part of them. Because of that I got the chance to explore the culture and the way of life. Conversations on what the village needed also started . Eventhough I have my own ideologies and thoughts I listened to the community. When collaborations are not equal and based on mutual respect, they will fail.

My volunteering experience in 2001

I was invited to live with an extended family(different generations and various family ties) at Banko. The head of the family was the only person in the house who spoke English. After my daily activities(teaching) I used to pop in to talk about my day and to listen to his numerous stories about the Ghanaian culture, the history of the village and his unending words of wisdom.

By participating in the daily activities of the family, like cooking, fetching water, washing, going to farm and so on, I got more and more involved. It made me a part of the local community. Cut off from all comfort, no running water,no watercloset, no phones, no social media, often not even electricity. Cockroaches seemed to be my roommates, my stomach couldn’t always handle the different food and a culture that was so different from my own. Tough moments were part of the experience.

I hear a lot that people say that I gave up so much in my journey to help… Its not like that at all!! I gained! So many experiences, feelings and memories. I even got a second family. The head of the family started calling me his daughter and indeed he is my Ghanaian father.

The keywords were: Listening(without judgement), observing, participating and experiencing. From births(on the floor, in the dark with the light of an oillamp) to funerals. I am grateful for the chance to be a part of everything, including the Ghanaian rituals.

It felt the same at school with the teachers and the students. They showed me their daily routines, allowed me to ask questions. They studied me as well. A white teacher was something they had never seen before.

From this collaboration ideas came to life. Maybe we could raise some funds and try to give back. Eventually this resulted in renovating 2 school buildings and we could buy teaching materials. It was the first time Pat and I worked together, we got financial support from friends, family, colleagues and other people who cared.

I have seen, done and experienced so much in those 4 months. It seemed like I was at Banko for much longer.

My time at Banko was up, but it didn’t feel like that

I had to go back to Holland, but I couldn’t let go. At home Ghana, Banko and especially my friends and family stayed in my mind. We startedCrossing borders for Ghana and I’ve been back to Ghana almost every year.

The beginning of many projects. Together with the local leaders and based on the wishes and needs of the community. Like the construction of various schools, waterpipes, a clinic and the Children’s home. This has resulted in growth for Banko and the surrounding villages. Almost 2000 students from the whole region are now schooling at Banko.

The health center is now fully equiped, there is a maternity ward, the staff provides prenatal and antenatal care for the communities of not only Banko, but also the surrounding villages. The community nurses also go into the field and inform the inhabitants of Banko on health and hygienic issues. These developments have motivated the government to support, by hiring teaching and medical staff, providing materials and also in constructing provisional buildings.

Anja’s Children’s home

The Children’s home was established by ‘Crossing borders for Ghana’ in 2006. It’s not only there for orphans but also for children who couldn’t stay at home or at their families for various reasons.

The Children’s home is registered at the right authorities and since the beginning we are working together with Social Welfare. Social Welfare is the national government agency that monitores children’s well being, one of their responsibilities is supervising Children’s homes and orphanages.

They were also involved in the placement of all the children. Because you don’t just take the children that you like or pity, or any child that is being offered by parents in despair. It seems that some people who start orphanages think that that is the standard. Well, it isn’t! Also in Ghana there are rules, regulations and laws! Every child that has resided or resides with us at Anja’s children’s home has had a proper background check. And there were no other options than placement. Whenever there were other solutions than placement, such as finacial aid or guidance, we made sure we took that option and supported the families.

The daily care for the children is provided by the foster parents, whom I have known since 2001. Father Alex used to be a teacher at the school where I was volunteering and through the years he, his wife and I became close friends. Alex is a member of the oldest family at Banko, he is seen as a town elder. It seemed only natural that they would become the foster parents. Social welfare screened them and ever since they are following mandatory courses organised by Social welfare.

The staff at the Children’s home has always been fully Ghanaian. Volunteers are welcome but we don’t rely on them. We also noticed that it’s important to find out why they would like to volunteer in Ghana and which mutual expectations are there. Before they come they have to participate in a personal interactive preparation program. Part of this program is about social media and the impact of social media. We also don’t romanticize the role of a volunteer. The volunteer won’t ‘save the poor in Africa’, the volunteer is here mainly for themselves. And that we support, the willingness to learn, participate and experience.

No overhead costs

8 of the 20 children are in tertiary education now. From university to on the job training. We are very proud of all of them.

‘Crossing borders for Ghana’ is relying on donations for all the projects. The donations come fully to the benefit of the projects. I don’t even buy my plane ticket from the NGO funds.

Çrossing borders for Ghana’ sends a monthly fee to the Children’s home. This money is used for daily needs, clothes, medical expenses and school supplies. The children can stay at Banko for their primary and secondary education.

Our NGO has helped with the development of the Senior High school. After Senior Highschool most children leave Banko to further their education on location. We provide funds for them. The funds cover the registration, school fees, school supplies, rent for accommodation and their daily needs. Besides the costs for all the children there are other costs, such as maintenance, utility bills and replacement of cooking utensils, towels, beds etc etc

The future

The current policy for orphans and children who can’t stay with their biological parents is different than 10 years ago. The preferred placement for the children is still relatives, but if that isn’t possible, foster parents or adoption. We fully support that. Only if there was really no other possibility we took children in, after thorough screening in collaboration with Social welfare. The population in Anja’s children’s home is decreasing in a natural way. Children are moving out to live at the campus of their school/university. We will support them until they finished their studies and can live on their own.

But we do not accept new children for placement. We want to for fill the promise and commitment that we took upon us to fully cater for the current children until they are ready to be on their own. The same goes for the families we support. The population of the Children’s home is decreasing, we want to anticipate on that.

The plans for the future are at an early stage, but starting next year part of the building is gong to be used as an educational/vocational center. ‘Crossing borders for Ghana’ will remain active in a sustainable way.

Anja van der Valk, founder of Anja's Children's home

People often tell me that I am too modest. Asking for support or help is difficult for me, eventhough the support is not even for myself. I like to keep a low profile, let the children shine! Writing a blog is not something that comes natural, but I did it. To share the story that I’m living, from my heart. There’s a lot more to share. Maybe….. In future…..

Love, Anja

Would you like to know more about ‘Crossing borders for Ghana’ , volunteering in a sustainable way or on how to become a sponsor? Please mail us!

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