Baseline Launch

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Last Thursday, IJM Ghana gathered government officials, journalists from TV, print, and radio, well-known church leaders, American Embassy officials, and a wide array of NGOs working on behalf of children and against human trafficking for the largest PR event in our young history here.  Her Excellency the 2nd Lady of Ghana Samira Bawumia (wife of Ghana’s new Vice President and current social media sensation) was our keynote speaker!  She is sort of a rockstar in Ghana, particularly among the younger generations.  She is very articulate (labeled the secret weapon of the MPP party) and stylish (I’ve seen many news articles detailing her outfits).  We also featured remarks from the well-known Minister of Gender, Labor, and Social Development, the American Embassy, a well-known pastor, and IJM staff.

The event was the official “launch” of IJM’s baseline study, an in-depth 80 page report on the prevalence and nature of child trafficking on Lake Volta, based on research done by IJM before our office began work here.  IJM always conducts a baseline study at the outset of work and then later a mid-line and hopefully and end-line study when certain benchmarks are hit.  This event has been the main focus of my team (Outreach and Engagement) for my whole time here. 

It went amazing!  First of all, I was just grateful to be able to attend since I have been sidelined from work the last few weeks (I’ve got the kids while Joy recovers from surgery in the U.S.).  An amazing 16 year old girl (also named Abigail) from the states (daughter of a pastor here who reached out to me) entertained my kids at our house with charades and other fun games while I was gone!  Thanks teen-Abby!  My kids all list her as one of their favorite people in Ghana!

Back to the event…

IJM is not as well known in Ghana as it is in the United States or in countries where it has operated for a long time like India or Cambodia.  We’ve got a good working relationship with the police, department of social welfare, and ministry of gender, children, and social protection, but we’re not at all well known to the community at large.  So this event was a huge public relations breakthrough to say “We’re here.”  It is also an important event to get the research out about the realities of life for kids working on Lake Volta (which is also unknown to most of the population).

I served as a sort of all-purpose rover.  I arranged tables and chairs, nagged the hotel food service, setup lights for the speaker’s podium, hung IJM banners, greeted guests, guarded a door, ran a microphone around the room for Q and A time, arranged the lunch room for the dignitaries, showed the 2nd lady’s security team the route we’d walk, escorted the the 2nd lady to the lunch room, and kept her company there, along with a few other IJM staff and a couple of dignitaries.  I sat right across from her during the lunch and so got to chat quite a bit.  It felt really good to be making some kind of contribution to the team after weeks at home.

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The highlights for me were the Q and A time and in particular when the 2nd Lady asked to answer a question addressed to the IJM staff about whether it is really wrong for a child to be “learning the trade of their parents in the traditional pattern”.  She took that question and with great moral clarity denied any correlation between the abusive system of forced child labor we are fighting and the traditional pattern of children working with parents.  She also emphasized the prosecution of criminals, which is key to IJM’s model, but which is rarely emphasized here.  You can see below for links to articles about the event and a facebook post the 2nd Lady made a few hours afterwards.

http://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/prosecute-perpetrators-of-child-trafficking-samira-bawumia.html

https://www.facebook.com/sbawumia/posts/1105213222941832

http://pulse.com.gh/news/force-labour-samira-bawumia-pushes-for-tougher-sanctions-against-child-traffickers-id6533761.html

A Month without Mommy

This month is a tough one for Team Robbins.  Joy flew back to the States a couple weeks ago to get surgery on femoral hernia that was giving her tons of pain and trouble, sometimes totally debilitating.

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We praise God that she got great care at UC Davis med center- a robotic laparoscopic surgery done by Dr. Hung Ho, the Chief of Gastrointestinal and Minimally Invasive Surgery and a Professor at the Med School.  We’re told all went well with the surgery, but Joy is in intense pain now as she recovers.  It will be a two more weeks before she can fly back home to us in Ghana.  (Yep, I called Ghana home).

Meanwhile, here we are in Ghana.  After I preached at the Pentecostal church last week, they called me back up to pray for Joy.  Check it out…

Here is the poster they made to advertise the event!  I think this is a first for me!

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By necessity, I’ve taken the last two weeks off of work and focuses on caring for the kids.  Yes, I have taken on the role of home-school teacher!  I would say 3 out of 4 days go pretty well!  If I remember correctly, 75% is a passing grade, so I’ll take it.   I have some Super students…

We try to follow the pattern Joy set up-

1)      Opening Prayer

2)      Memorizing Scripture- Slowly working on Psalm 1- complete with hand motions and wild celebrations.  Whenever one of the kids nails it, they get thrown up in the air and we dance. Even little Abigail has almost mastered the whole psalm!

3)      Calendar- I’m not sure I’m doing this right as I never observed Joy do this part with the kids, so I just let them lead it.

4)      Reading- Somehow I lost the book I’m supposed to be reading to the kids so I’m substituting Hardy Boys mystery novels.

5)      Journaling- I pick a theme for the day and they each have a challenge fit for their level.

6)      Rotations- kids split up and rotate stations-

  1. Workbooks
  2. Osmo learning games on IPad- (pretty awesome)
  3. P.E. with Daddy (subbing in Music or Art at times)

7)      Lunch

8)      Reading/Movies- For every hour they quietly read, they get 30 minutes of a Movie time.

I’m sure there’s more I should be doing, but this is what I having going now.

Saturday

I registered Peter and Abby for soccer (Hannah bailed because there’s no girls her age).  They go 3 times a week and it is pretty great.  Some of the kids out there are unbelievable. Seriously, I can’t believe my eyes watching this one 5 year old boy.  Hannah hangs out with me sipping a drink while the little play.

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Abby has been off and on in her interest in soccer.  This moment made me think maybe she would prefer a gymnastics class.

Saturday, after soccer, I took the kids to a Ghanaian wedding at Trinity Seminary.
The groom was part of the Ghanaian council of churches and so there were lots of church leaders there.  My boss Leo invited me and took us along.  I was pleasantly surprised when I brought the idea up to my kids and Hannah expressed a strong desire to go “to see what weddings in Ghana are like.”  I was amazed at this and so made the effort to go despite Peter’s protests.  We enjoyed it mostly, particularly the dancing during the offering- the highlight of every church experience here.

After the wedding, we decided to accompany Leo’s family on a visit to his parents’ house out of Accra in a neighboring city called Tema about 40 minutes drive including some gnarly dirt roads wading through chickens and goats.  We had a great visit with this warm and hospitable family!

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Grandpa seemed to be disappointed that we didn’t bring swimming suits for the kids, but hey, we still got the photo in the pool!

The day as a whole was long for the kids and was really stretching as they didn’t have regular meal times or down time and so when we got to the evening they all had nuclear meltdowns.  At one point Hannah was in her room crying “mommy!  Mommy!” while Peter was crying “I hate Ghana.”  Peter came out a few minutes later and clarified that he really mean that at all but was just upset.  I told him “that’s ok buddy.  Sometimes we all say things we don’t mean when we are upset.”  I think the day was actually good for them in a stretching kind of way.  But we will all be so grateful when Mommy is back.  Her presence makes them a lot more confident and resilient.

Beach Day

I took the kids for a day at Sankofa Beach with 4 other IJM Interns/Fellows.  It’s about a one hour drive West of where we live in Accra.  Highway, then road, then bad road, then dirt road, then you’re there.  Discovering this beach, and having friends with us to help with the kids, was a total game-changer for us.

Our group had our own shaded grass hut with tables and chairs, with food delivered to us there!

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There was a real shallow grade to the beach, but with some good wave action so the combo made it perfect for the kids to play in and the older two (and me) to boogie board.  The bathrooms were clean! So was the sand!  The water was the warmest I’ve ever experienced (we’re at the equator in the hottest month of the year).

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We had the best time.  Even as I enjoyed myself, I had this stab of emotional pain also as I kept thinking how much Joy would love this place and would wish she could be here.  We can’t wait to show it to her when she gets back.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to return to work at IJM.  I’m working on recruiting some babystitters/ families to watch the kids for afternoons so I can try to go in for some half-days.  There is a major networking publicity event on Thursday morning.  I hope I can help out a bit with it.

-Matt