Joe's Ghana Service Blog
A Slave’s Story

Last evening we had a fitting end to our experience as we traveled in to Accra to the National Theater to see “A Slave’s Story” by Ghanian playwright, Yaw Asiyama. The play is a socio-historical-cultural examination of slavery through the descendants of “Araba.” Araba was betrayed and sold off into slavery in the late 1700’s, but her story and the story of her village stayed alive through the oral tradition until present day. Story telling, as it turns out, was an effective tool for hanging on to culture and surviving the torment of slavery. The lesson from the play validates the lesson from this adventure. Slavery is not over. Slavery is alive and well in many, many countries. It is a soul-murdering and frightening reality for its victims and a distant fleeting thought for those outside of its grip. We can stand next to it and not see it, which is why artists like Yaw Asiyama are so very needed.


Today was one of contrasts. Above you’ll find some scenes from the business area in the Accra suburb of Nima. It is notoriously poor with mostly migrants (minorities) from the North of the country. Despite the harsh urban landscape there is always a happy reminder. Today the students are happy. They have finished their final exam and are currently at a salsa dancing event in celebration of their journey’s end.

There have been five changes in power in Ghana from 1966 to 1981 by way of coup d’etat. Because of this there remains a national memory of those days. These banners are posted outside of the elementary school on the University of Ghana’s campus as evidence of this memory.

Last evening there was a party outside of the guest house where I am staying. The man in the picture is the son of Ghana’s first president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. I snapped this shot of the celebrated, yet contrversial, Dr. Sekoe Nkrumah, dancing. He has been critical of the late President, John Atta Mills, and has much written about him from every possible angle.


This morning the students began presenting their final projects for their coursework. Following their presentations Professor Bawole pulled me aside to offer praise for their innovative and imaginative work. I have become accustomed to the routine.  As a group they have earned the respect of others through their knowledge, service, and good character. I am very honored to serve with them.


Back to Legon


We’re now back to Accra at the University of Ghana, Legon. Atta Keelson, Samuel Afari and Ekow Quaye traveled here with us in Quaye’s truck under the auspices of doing business in Tema. However, I know better. These three good men have become attached to us in more ways than merely completing our service mission. We have walked among their families and told them of ours. We have formed life-long relationships and have made the world much smaller place.

We traveled to Accra today in a University of Winneba bus with Emanuel Mishiwo on board with his close friend, Michael Duncan, driving. Never in my considerable years have I encountered such fine people as the people of Windy Bay. As I anticipate our return to Winneba in June of 2013, I rest easy in knowing that the students of GVSU will be looked after and spirited into their next mission by Mr. Emanuel Mishowo. His knowledge of language and culture, his hospitality and leadership, and his genuine desire to form and sustain relationships makes our depature bittersweet. 

We offer our blessings and thanks to the Mishiwo, Keelson, Afari, and Quaye families for making our time here, well, familiar. Your families and friends have illuminated our lives. We will be lucky for an opportunity to return the kindness.


Today we visited the rescue center for the last time in order to say goodbye to the kids. It was a tearing away for everyone, but necessary for the sake of all. As we returned and approached the hostel there was a gathering of neighbors on the street in the middle of some kind of frenzied encounter. As it turns out there was a cute little snake in the ditch about to be the victim of street justice for coming too near their children. If any of you can identify this snake please let me know. In the meantime, we are assuming that it is a female BOOMSLANG that comes after the weaver birds near the hostel. The celerity with which the neighbors were alerted and the quick dispatch of this poor creature tells us that the venom it holds carries a significant threat. Pictured above is the victor, unknown to us, responsible for returning the safety to the neighbors. If it is a BOOMSLANG, there is little hope for survival from its bite.

It seemed fitting that we encountered snake danger for the first time in Ghana only after saying goodbye to our little friends at the rescue center. Their vulnerability to snakes reminded us of our prevention efforts. I am told that in some remote areas in Ghana certain snakes have spiritual power. I am glad that no one was hurt.

Friday Night

Last evening the students performed remarkably as we “hosted our hosts” for dinner and dancing. Our guests included the faculty and staff at Challenging Heights, medical personnel from the Effutu Municipality Ghana Health Service, and many, many other friends and neighbors. All of the students helped with the food preparation while half of the music department from the University of Winneba set up a large sound system and played until 11pm. The band consisted of a bass, two keyboards, guitar, a horn section and drum section as well a perfect singing and harmonies. These generous musicians played their hearts out for Challenging Heights and the cause of human rights. We are SO grateful and proud to have their attention and friendship.

During dinner James Kofi Annan spoke to us about the ongoing successes of Challenging Heights. He offered gratitude for the ongoing relationship with GVSU and has made plans to visit us again in the late fall or early winter after he teaches a course on human rights for Grinnell College in Iowa. Following James’ remarks Dr. Luiz Ammousou gave an emotional tribute to our biomedical students praising their work and their character. Lifelong friendships have been formed in a relatively short amount of time and he declared this summer to be the beginning of a long partnership with our program. I concur. He spoke publicly to James about partnering with Challenging Heights in order to ensure that the kids receive the best health care possible and he discussed the progress of Holy Cross Hospital which he is building in the city of Swedru not too far from the rescue center.

Last evening was a celebration of hope and progress for everyone. Sunday we return to Accra where the students will finish their coursework and begin the transition back to the U.S.

Short Sleeves, Long Sleeves

Yesterday I was debriefing with Janaan. She was beside herself as she explained to me what some of the children at the rescue center had endured. Challenging Heights serves as a hub across West Africa for any child in need of help. At the rescue center some of the children were sent from conflict in neighboring countries where rogue soldiers gave their little friends a choice, Long Sleeves, or Short Sleeves?”

The children that survived and were rescued, as Baffour (as a contemporary African psychologist he is familiar with this terrorist practice) explained to us, had the requisite language skills to be spared of their limbs by the soldiers that posed the question to their friends, “Long Sleeves or Short Sleeves?” If they said “Long Sleeves” their entire arm would be taken off by a cutlass above the elbow. If they said “Short Sleeves” their arm would be taken off above the wrist.

This kind of trauma and terror is routine among some of the kids under the care of James Kofi Annan and the many good people at Challenging Heights.

To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected.

Preparation for Departure

Today we are working diligently to prepare for a little dinner party that we are throwing tomorrow at the hostel for all of the wonderful people that have helped us here in Winneba. We are preparing Red Red for the faculty and staff and Challenging Heights, doctors and nurses from the Ghana Health Service as well as the private hospitals and the staff from the Water Works. Further, we will be serving the Keelson, Afari, and Quaye families as well as the Emmanuel and Comfort Mishiwo family. There will be many other friends from the town that will join us as well. We decided as a group that WE should serve THEM as a gesture of thanks for the many kindnesses over the course of our stay. The hospitality and warmth that we have encountered here in Winneba will stay with each of us for our lifetimes.

To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected