Many months ago I was selected to be the staff the MBA+ Global Connections Ghana trip by default. I was the only staff member willing to travel to Ghana during the ebola scare. My main arguments? One, there wasn't ebola in Ghana, but there was in Texas at the time. Two, one of our trip options was Israel, and Ghana felt safer than Israel.
When I agreed to staff Ghana, my first comment was, "As long as we aren't visiting an orphanage."
But we were.
I was extremely concerned about an orphanage visit. To the extent that I ended up creating a classroom presentation to discuss issues related to poverty tourism, support for children with out parental care, and the role of donors.
I shared an article with the students on Ethics and Poverty Tours that I thought was particularly relevant.
Through my research, I was able to see ways that this type of site visit can be done carefully, but I was still wary of visiting an orphanage.
On Thursday, on our way to Cape Coast, we had that visit with the Village of Hope. It was an excellent site visit.
Araba first sat with the students to explain the VoH model.
This is a Ghanian run organization that starts with rigorous assessment and investigation by social workers before a child is accepted into the orphanage. Only children without living relatives who can care for them are accepted. Often, in the course of their investigation, VoH social workers discover unknown relatives who can take in the children.
VoH is not an adoption agency. Children taken in become VoH children. There have only been three adoptions in the entire history of the organization, and they were unique circumstances.
VoH children live in families of ~20 children in a single home headed by house parents. These parents are married couples who serve as these children's parents (not simply as their care takers). When the parents have biological children, then become VoH children as well and live with the families. Since the homes are single sex, if a couple has a biological child of a sex different then the one in their home (such as our guide who is the father to a female house, but who has a biological son), their biological child will live in another house nearby.
When VoH leadership realized that the local primary school could not serve their children or the community well, they built their own primary school that is open to the community. When they realized there was no secondary school for their children to attend in the community, they built one. When their children needed medical care, they built a community clinic that has since become a fully functional hospital.
As the VoH model was described, I became increasingly impressed with their operations.
At the end of the visit, we had an opportunity to engage the secondary school students. The MBA contacts, Perla and Lauren, had arranged to bring some school supplies they wanted to share with the students, and the entire MBA team was given the opportunity to talk with the students in smaller groups.
It was a beneficial exchange for both parties, the VoH students who had questions about the US, studying business, and just about the MBAs in general; and the MBA students who had questions about these students' lives and studies.
Though I was initially hesitant, I was happy that I participated in this site visit.