Connecting with street children - Sarina’s volunteer experience

Sarina Hohmann took a gap year after high-school to travel from her home in Germany to explore Ghana. After learning about the work Future of Africa does to support street children and youth in Accra, she dedicated the rest of the year engaging with street residents and building relationships with them.


About a year ago, I first arrived in Ghana. As I stepped out of Kotoka International Airport with my medium-sized suitcase, in which I had packed up for the next 11 months, I was not sure of what to expect from the next chapter of my life; eleven months seemed like an endless amount of time. I remember thinking: “There are so many new foods to be tried, people to be met, places to be seen, things to be understood and friends to be made.” As one can guess, my time was not as endless as it had felt in that first airport moment.
Now a year later, I look back in awe of all the beautiful as well as challenging moments I got to experience during my time volunteering with Future of Africa (FOA). I stepped foot onto FOA´s premises with the will of positively impacting the life of underprivileged and underserved children in any possible way, and what I had to offer to the mission was time. I was ready to spend my time observing, learning, and understanding the essence of the work. I believed this would be the time to listen and adjust. Therefore, I did.

It was within those first few months that I started to realize that the beauty of FOAs work in its purest form is found in the natural, curious, and restraint-less conversations we have with the children we serve. It is in those moments when we give our full attention and care to their worries, thoughts and dreams that we are able to form a union of confidence with them. The beauty lies in the fact that they trust us with their stories, they give their broken pieces into the hands of FOA´s staff and volunteers and in turn begin to experience love after all the rejection and hurt they have encountered on the streets. FOA does its best to improve the lives of every child they engage with. However, the impact is not always easily identified in the short or medium term. I learned that no matter how hopeless and frustrating the work may sometimes seem, when progress cannot be seen directly, it is in those conversations that we gather the strength to continue.

There is a word in German called “Bunt”, that always comes to mind when I am asked to describe my overall experience and it basically translates to “colorful”. I use this word in this context meaning that my days spent with FOA were memorable, rarely the same and mostly made up of vivid and vibrant moments. For instance, witnessing the ever changing constellation of street residents and volunteers, moving to a new Norviwo community center, spending Christmas eve on the streets sharing food with our children and singing Christmas carols, trying typical Ghanaian foods and being laughed at for my not-so-handy eating skills, playing endless rounds of Uno and Jenga, being taught Ampe and a clapping game called 2-4-6-1-1, donating blood to an HIV-positive street resident, welcoming the scholars for their school breaks back at the center, picking mangoes from the mango tree on our FOA compound, dancing to Afrobeat songs, picking up our 4 year old resident from school, seeing our youngest resident take his first steps, helping with homework and planning games and activities. 



Looking back at my volunteer time with FOA, I remember feeling quite overwhelmed in the first few weeks. Due to language barriers and cultural differences, I felt like I couldn't quite reach a deeper level in my interactions and conversations with street residents. Eventually, we found different ways of building close relationships. Handshakes, clap games, hugs and hair braiding do not necessarily demand words, but they still foster curiosity and interest. I knew I made progress because soon my name switched from “Obroni” to “Madam Selina” and finally to “Madam Sarina” (most of the time). Even though I now prefer to be called by the street name the kids gave me: “Fresh angel”. 

During street outreach I always learned something new. Whether it was a word in Twi, new dance steps, ways to take care of wounds and so much more. Most importantly, my interactions with street residents made me aware that these children are facing problems that no child should ever be exposed to. As victims of broken homes, they start fending for themselves at such early ages in life. These experiences and struggles on the streets then shape their behavior drastically, and more often than not in a negative way. Seeing where these children are coming from made it easier to show empathy as well as be patient and tolerant with them.

  • It is simply not enough to be sorry for children living in harsh street conditions. It is up to all of us to lead social change and impact our communities.




One of my most memorable experiences during my time with FOA was the family tracing trip for Sandra, a former street child.. In hope for a better future, she had left her home in Bolgatanga, Northern Ghana, and found herself travelling to Accra where she later found shelter through FOA after hustling on the streets (Read Sandra’s story here). Hearing her story with all its details was touching, but seeing the characters in her story come alive, allowing us to step foot into her life and be there for the reunion with her family was very a special experience. Even though she was nervous to return to the place she had left a year ago, her family welcomed her with hugs and she immediately found herself involved in some household chores; it was as if she had never left and she felt right at home. We then spent a bit of time eating the local northern regional food with her family, listening to Sandra’s childhood stories. We got to see the different sides to Sandra as we toured her hometown, and visited various places that hold memories for her. To end the family visit, we visited the Paga Crocodile pond and adventurously overstepped the border to Burkina Faso for a few minutes. I left Sandra’s hometown thinking in awe of her resilience and determination to build a better life for herself and her family; this  will forever continue to inspire me.

In the early stages of my stay, my feelings towards street children primarily revolved around pity and compassion. This has changed because I got to know them personally and I  admire their courage to persevere. Resilience, hope and strength are the words I believe should be associated with children and youth living in street situations.

Being part of FOA´s mission to transform the lives of children and youth living in street situations has impacted and shaped my perspective on life in many ways. It has taught me that we all have something to give, something to contribute to society, whether it be a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a hand to hold, advice to give, time to just sit and listen or knowledge to share.

The only words left to be said are Thank you, Medase, Danke! I am grateful for the lessons I got to learn, the challenges I got to face and the chance to be part of something that is bigger than just me. 

                                                                                                    [Written by Sarina Hohmann]

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