by Katina L. Rankin
Yes, I’m a local television anchor. I make a decent living, but I do not make enough to go overseas on a whim. However, I know GOD’s voice. I’ve heard HIS voice many times. For example, HE told me to call off my wedding the day of the ceremony and to resign from a toxic job immediately!
Let me tell you how the instructions lined up. I was in bed when I heard the (divine) directive. I immediately said, “Yeah, but where GOD? Africa is huge.” HE gently said, “Go to Africa.”
While on my way to a news story the next day, I told the videographer: “GOD told me to go to Africa.” My videographer replied, “Oh really! My wife is from Ghana.”
Later that night, I emailed a former intern from Nigeria and I told her the same thing. When I spoke with the intern, I added: “I’ve been working with children in the Mid-South. My focus has been on literacy, so I know it has to do with reading. Do you know any schools from your home country that need help?” She responded, “I don’t. However, let me check with some former television personalities and public relations people with whom I used to work.”
After her correspondence, I simply logged onto my Facebook account and I started scrolling through my feed. A post from the Noyaa Association pops up. I see a woman talking about the kids at her school. According to the Noyaa headmistress, the children need rice and clothes. Additionally, the school needs donations to keep the doors of the school open. I clicked off Facebook; and I asked GOD: “Is this where I’m supposed to go?” Afterwards, I went to sleep.
When I awakened the next morning, the former intern called. She said, “There’s a school in Ghana called Noyaa. My friends say they are in dire need.”
I knew exactly what I had to do. I immediately began asking family and friends to connect to the mission and to help me carry out the instructions.
After flying across the Atlantic and touching down in Africa, I was not prepared for what I heard and saw. My ears had not heard the sounds which I heard. My eyes had never seen what I saw and experienced in West Africa. The feeling, the sights and the smells were nothing I could have imagined. They will forever be etched in my soul and on my mind – front and center in my vision. The people of Jamestown and Accra, Ghana have forever changed me.
In September, I set out to cross a continent with one goal in mind: “Mission: Moving Forward.” I was going to a school I found on social media. The school was located on the landing beach by the Atlantic Ocean. It is arguably in the poorest district in Accra.
Many of the students sleep in wooden boxes that they call homes; or they sleep in fishing boats made from trees after they dry out from the fishermen having them in the ocean. Others are from desperately poor families whose only income is from selling fish. Noyaa Academy is a small school where 130 Pre-K to 6th-grade children go to school in hopes of obtaining an education.
Here’s what my eyes saw. The kid’s shoes on their feet, the clothes they wear – down to their underwear – is used and donated. The one meal they get at school is normally their only meal of the day. They eat white rice, red tomatoes from tin cans and a few sprinkles of fish parts on top.
They have no running water, no electricity. There was no way to watch the educational DVDs I brought for the students. The smaller kids sit in plastic chairs much like the ones you can buy from your local dollar store when summer is about to arrive. There are no desks for Pre-K to 2nd graders. The older students sit at wooden desks like the ones you would see on “Little House on the Prairie.” They enthusiastically learn in the heat of the day, with no air conditioning and no lights. Without any hesitation, they patiently wait for a breeze to blow through the windows on which the shutters hang off their hinges.
All of the kids don’t have pencils or pens or even notebooks. Each class shares a single textbook. Yet, you would be amazed by what they learn and what they retain in their little minds without notes. Three-year-old Mayaa knew her ABC’s and could count to 100. Despite their circumstances, they are “Moving Forward” as the name of the school, Noyaa, means.
Even with sweat dripping down their faces, their smiles are as bright as the African sun on a 90-degree day. The look in their eyes and their voices say, “Ah, I get what a noun is” or “I don’t quite understand.”
Here’s what I heard. I heard the sounds of hands clapping throughout the building signifying a student has answered a question correctly. “Clap for Celestina!”
With no regard to the smell of fish, urine and feces hitting their noses and with only natural light shining through the windows as their only source of power to see the blackboard, they are happy to simply learn and to escape their normal lives, if only for eight hours a day.
Their hugs are numerous. Their embrace shows gratefulness for you stopping by just to say hi to them. Their love, children’s love, is unconditional. Their appreciation was heard and shown through the beating of a drum and by a traditional dance they performed for me, a mere foreigner who entered their space to create a book nook, a library, for their school.
Their warmth and endearment were very evident when we went on their first field trip to the Kwame Nkrumah Museum. On the ride there, they stopped calling me the endearing term Aunty, often used for women in Ghana. They started clapping and chanting “Mommy, Mommy!” At that point, I knew that even though I had never birthed a child of my own, I now had 130 children.
During my life-changing trip to Africa, I learned a valuable lesson: you think you know poverty here in America. It’s real and undeniable.
As a news anchor, I’ve worked with several organizations to collect toys and food for children during the holidays. However, you don’t know poverty like this. With Christmas right around the corner and while you are preparing to gather toys for children in America, remember a toy to these children would be like Tyler Perry giving me a Tesla.
These kids don’t have the basics: food and water. Every one of them drink from the same cup. They get a sip of water from an orange barrel on a chair. The lid comes off. A little hand dips the cup into the water. When they finish getting a sip of water, the cup goes back in the barrel. No water fountain, no bottled water, no tap to get water!
I learned the following facts from my personal mission trip to West Africa: I learned to be grateful and not sweat the small stuff; I learned the true meaning of Ecclesiastes 12:1-7; and I learned not to let the excitement of my youth cause me to forget my Creator, GOD. More notably, I’m learning each day to appreciate the sun, moon and stars before they become too dim for my eyes to truly see. I’m learning to remember Him before the sound of work fades from my ears. I’m learning that I have plenty of work to do in giving back – not just at home – but abroad.
I left a part of my soul in West Africa: the part that smiles in the midst of crying, the part that flows like a river – right into the Atlantic, the part that blossoms into a beautiful “birds of paradise” flower telling me to soar. Obedience to GOD and fate took me there; destiny will have me return.