Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Smiles for Christmas - feting Ghanaian kids in the festive seasons -

One day in 2006, one young Ghanaian lady had an idea. What if I got my friends to contribute gifts, provisions, money to put a smile on the faces of kids in a Ghanaian orphanage this Christmas? Like every good idea, she got some support and a few people to help her carry out her plan. This gave birth to "Smiles for Christmas", an initiative aimed at providing less fortunate children in Ghana gifts during the festive season of Christmas. Using the power of Facebook and various friend connections, she led a group of young Ghanaians to Orphanage Africa in Dodowa one of those days just before Christmas 2006 to present gifts, toys, provisions and money to the kids there. I was one of them and very proud of that effort. That effort has grown and it's become even bigger and better each year.

As that day in 2006 approached, I didn't have any gifts to present. I really wanted to go to the orphanage. I had never been to any. I debated what might be the best thing to give. Water guns? Barbie dolls? Malt-n-milk biscuits? Kawukudi? Buy some kofi-brokeman on the way to Dodowa? OK soap? Ananse story books? I sought advice from my aunt with whom I was staying with in Adenta. She's a member of a Catholic church in Accra and she's always been involved in charitable causes through the church. She went shopping one day and took care of my problem. In fact, my contribution was so unmemorable, I even forget what it is. Of course, if I had bought 'nkatie burger' for every kid there, I wouldn't have forgotten. My contribution included some provisions and food.

Other people brought toys and gifts. Ronke Ampiah, the founder I talked about earlier, was there. My cousin, Adwoa Darko, who also went to Christ the King school with Ronke, repped. My good friend, Kofi Tandoh, attended too. Ronke and Farida Alabo, her co-founder, had collected some items the day before to be presented at Orphanage Africa. After presenting the items to the caretakers at the orphanage, we spent some time interacting with the kids. I found myself addressing these kids and not knowing what to say. I think I said stuff like, 'learn hard', dash, dash, dash. The caretaker there was a better public speaker, he cracked jokes and kept the kids entertained. I really wish I could learn to do that. All those Basketmouth and Chris Rock clips haven't helped too much. Maybe I need to sit some of my friends down and try. :-)

I don't remember attending the Smiles for Christmas events in 2007. In 2008, there was a little event/fundraiser held at Twist/Headlines in Accra. I remember it being a day after BarCamp Ghana. The Smiles for Christmas organizers were there collecting gifts, money and other items for the kids. Many young Ghanaians who were living or schooling abroad and were home for the holidays attended. It looked more like a social event than a fundraiser to me. The goal was met and Smiles for Christmas delivered more goodies to another orphanage later that month.

This past Christmas, the Smiles for Christmas crew bused in the children from Royal Seed Orphanage to the Labadi Beach Hotel on the 22nd December for a fun day of games and laughter. My first experience with 4-Star Labadi Beach Hotel was in the summer of 2004 when "I pEE me ho asEm go biz about one-night stay at the hotel" and was told $125. I had never set foot at their reception again until this Smiles for Christmas (SFC) event. This event had grown from strength to strength that it had the hotel hosting it for free! Kudos to the crew. They also had Koala provide bouncy castles for the kids to play in. There was free food and free drinks. What a pleasant surprise! How many free food events will you find in Ghana? :-) The event run from about 11am past 3pm (which was when I left the venue).

The lucky orphanage was Royal Seed Home/School. It's located at Odupong along the Kasoa-Bawjiase Road in Ghana's Central Region. It has about 80 children, more than half of which were brought to the Labadi beach hotel. They were there with the founder, the pleasant Naomi Esi Amoah. She was all smiles all day, it was so beautiful to watch. I spoke her to about the orphanage and a few challenges they've been facing. It's very tough to run orphanages in Ghana. It's sad the government would make them 'suffer' in spite of the good work they are doing. Granted, some orphanage owners may use this effort to enrich themselves but they must be given the benefit of the doubt concerning how they are run. The kids treated 'us' to some energetic and excellent African dances. Not knowing the names of these dances saddened my heart. Ronke couldn't make it since she was 'stuck' in the UK, but Farida, Felicia Hanson and Frances Gardner, the other members of the SFC team were present. A white dude in attendance acted as Santa Claus for the day. Miss Ghana 2009 showed up at the event. I had never met a Miss Ghana in my life, ever, and this one was even wearing her crown. So, I had to ahush and steal a photo moment with her. Here, you can see her with Naomi.

Back to SFC, the team has been doing an awesome job! Kudos to Ronke, Farida, Felicia and Frances. You should check the website for Royal Seed Home. We should support the needy and disadvantaged in Ghana in every little way that we can. Like they say at Royal Seed Home, "Every child deserves a future". SFC is a volunteer effort, and we need more of such in Ghana. Ghanaians will support good deeds, we just need people to take those action steps. Join the Smiles for Christmas Facebook group.
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