by Lou Harvey-Zahra, originally published in Juno Magazine
I am fortunate to be part of an amazing and inspiring humanitarian project to raise money to re-build the Eugemot Orphanage in Ghana as a Love Button Global Ambassador. Tom Tuckwood, my brother-in-law, has made an extra-ordinary effort of love to build a new home for a ‘homeless orphanage’. Tom’s story begins when he visited the Volta region in Ghana to help install water pumps. He didn’t realise this trip would change his, and may other people’s lives for the future.
Whilst there, he came across ‘Mama Eugenia’ a lady whose life’s purpose is providing a home for orphaned children. As a bank clerk in Accra, she took in up to five children in her city flat. Fast forward to when Tom met her, she was caring for 52 children in a three bedroom rented building. The children slept in two rooms and they all shared one outside toilet. However, the most pressing issue was the forthcoming eviction: an American church paid the rent and funds had run out.
Tom Tuckwood and his Venture Force company, takes high school students on trips of a life-time to assist with a humanitarian or conservation project, for example building orphanages or helping orangutans, as well as an over-seas adventure. For the new orphanage, luckily a block of land was donated, now all that was needed was bricks! An incredible 11,000 mudbricks have been made by hand to create three new building for the Eugemot orphanage.
In this issue I would like to share four stories, from two teenagers (Elke de Vries and Alex Branch) and two teachers (Rhonda Smith and Luke Tebbet) on how this project changed their lives as well as the orphanage children and staff.
What were your first impressions of Ghana?
Elke de Vries: Upon arriving in Ghana, I was really overwhelmed, the airport was super busy and it really warm, nothing like I was expecting.
Alex Branch: Once arriving at Ve Koloenu in the Volta region, seeing the houses that many lived in were clay built with thatched roofs, this put a great deal into perspective.
Rhonda Smith: The generosity and joy for life the Ghanaian people exude and just how much can be communicated with a smile when people don’t have a language in common.
How was it to help make 11,000 mudbricks by hand?
Alex Branch: I’ve never experienced such difficult labour intensive work, especially in the 30+ °c heat, carrying the 50kg cement bags, mixing the mixture, and carrying the mudbricks repeatedly certainly took its toll. However smashing the record for most bricks made in one day was extremely satisfying, especially knowing the impact of making these bricks was to help the orphanage made it worthwhile.
Elke de Vries: Difficult, the finished project was definitely worth it, but they required a lot of work to make.
What are some of your favourite memories from the trip?
Elke de Vries: My best memory of the trip was meeting the children from the village. Every day they would come and see us and play, joining in any activities we had going, it really made me feel like part of the community. Working together on the site also has to be one of my favourite memories as even though at times it was difficult and not where we all wanted to be it made us work as a team, so we could learn each other’s strengths.
Alex Branch: After long hot days working, going down to the river to cool off was a necessity.
Similarly, visiting the Wli waterfall, the highest in Ghana was again an eye opening experience.
What did you take away with you?
Alex Branch: To be placed in a completely different environment allowed me to adapt outside of my own comfort zone. Overall it has made me a more well-rounded and appreciative person and has given me a greater perspective on life.
It is without a doubt the single best experience of my life.
Tell us something that you learnt about life?
Rhonda Smith: I was surprised how emotional I felt about being somewhere with fewer possessions but a greater sense of community. To spend time together and give each other so much is a two-way exchange.
Elke de Vries: It develops an ultimate respect for the life you have and sometimes take for granted. We view education as a chore and aren’t always happy to go to school whereas every student I met in the local schools in Ghana had a huge smile on their face.
A message from a teacher:
Luke Tebbet: The trip for me was such a rewarding experience, from a teacher’s perspective seeing the students step out of their comfort zone and get used to living in a completely different world, eating different food, showering with a bucket and drinking dirty water for 10 days, it was certainly a make or break moment. I was overwhelmed by the students work ethic, passion for the project and shear GRIT and determination to contribute everything they could in the short time they were there.
I’d like to end with the humble realisation of a fifteen-year-old: ‘As much as I may have made a difference to their lives they also made a difference to mine.’ (Elke de Vries)
It is always my aim to paint a picture of teenagers in a positive light. To recognise their strength, intelligence, good will and hearts, and ability to do extraordinary deeds, out of their comfort zones. I think this story displays all of this.
It also highlights one of the key messages to living: a true value in life is to help another person. By giving, we also receive…