Ethan spent the summer as an intern with FOA’s programs team. Over the course of his stay, he formed a strong bond with both Norviwo and Street residents through his dedication and commitment to advancing the mission of FOA. His internship experience was one of love, self-discovery, and learning.
When I embarked on my 100-day internship program from Toronto, I knew I would meet new people, try new things, and form new memories. I expected to play games with the youth that Future of Africa (FOA) served, as that was one of my primary responsibilities, and share laughs with the children and staff alike. What I did not expect was the love I would develop for the children I interacted with and Future of Africa’s mission as a whole. I am still surprised by the emotional void I experienced upon bidding farewell to the FOA children and staff on my final day as I left the place I proudly called home for over three months. Nevertheless, I believe that to lament deeply is to have loved fully. Thus, I am beyond appreciative of every moment spent with the FOA family.
I first learned about FOA after becoming a beneficiary of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship program through Wilfried Laurier University. Being enrolled in this scholarship program afforded me the opportunity to travel to Accra, Ghana, for 90 days of volunteer work during the summer of 2023. They were one of the multiple organizations that I had to rank based on which NGO placements I found most desirable. After spending a little time on their website, I realized that FOA was a no-brainer vis-à-vis where I wanted to spend my summer in Ghana. The mission of fighting child poverty by equipping street youth with skills that would contribute to society struck a chord with me. Furthermore, the many pathways in which FOA fulfilled its mission excited me because I know that every child is different and no cookie-cutter solution exists for each child.
In preparation for my placement with FOA, I thought of various topics I wanted to teach the youth and how I wanted to teach them. However, there is no doubt that the staff and children of FOA taught me far more than I could ever teach them.
Chief among these lessons was the importance of family, no matter what shape or form it comes in, and the impact a bit of love can have on a child’s confidence. Since many of the FOA youth have run away from abusive or negligent home situations, FOA makes a priority out of ensuring their youth feel that they have a family at Norviwo that will guide and support them through hell or high water. The love and affection given to the children are integral in making them understand that they are valued members of a family and are worthy of achieving their dreams. The unrestrained and genuine love that embodies the FOA family makes it such a unique organization for anyone lucky enough to experience it.
The children that FOA serve prove that street youth can become great individuals, despite their background and circumstances, when given a chance to thrive. Street children in Ghana will not only positively impact their communities after transforming their lives, but they will also improve them and bring them to new heights. Therefore, the mission FOA is engaged in is crucial to break the vicious cycle of poverty and give street children the chance to be catalysts for positive change.
Leaving FOA and saying goodbye to the Norviwo residents was one of my most afflicting experiences. In ways I never would have imagined, these former street children of Ghana have been some of the greatest teachers I have ever had the privilege to learn from.
Although each day brought new experiences and surprises, I look back on my first day at the Norviwo centre as one of my favourites. Coming in, I believed that, having lived through harsh and often abusive living situations, the former street children staying with FOA would be withdrawn, bleak, and suspicious of newcomers. Consequently, I expected to be up against a hurdle regarding breaking the ice with the children and becoming comfortable with them. My preconceived idea of street children was horribly wrong. When I arrived, all the children seemed happier than ever and wanted to know about me just as much as I wanted to learn about them.
Despite going through brutal and often inhumane childhoods, their pure joy was more remarkable than most people I knew stemming from much more advantageous backgrounds. It quickly shifted and grounded my perspective. We laughed and talked all day, squashing any nerves I had about getting to know the kids. I felt at home. What I did not realize at the time was that building relationships with these children would mean more to me than any other activity I would engage in while in Ghana. I became a member of the FOA family the moment I walked through the door, and everyone made sure to treat me as such. Whether it was helping with maths, showing pictures of my life in Canada, or (admittedly) chatting instead of doing school work, I will always hold the memories formed on my first day at FOA close to my heart.
Another day with FOA that stands out and makes me reminisce about my time at Norviwo was the first time I played music for the children, then only girls. With each new song that came on, I was in awe of how much energy they had to dance and how carefree they became when doing so. As the dance-filled afternoon turned into evening, I left the centre that day with a deep admiration for the FOA children as well as their culture, which I had become immersed in. Since this day was early in my placement, I took it as an indication of good times to come and a summer packed with joy. This hunch, of course, turned out to be totally accurate.
A final memory I would be remiss not to mention was more of a recurring activity that the kids came to know me by - neighborhood walks. What started as an idea to cheer up one girl who was feeling down turned into regular outings of 10+ people to the nearby store, which often saw me return with a lighter wallet and everyone with fuller bellies. These walks frequently included music and sports, and were excellent times to learn about the FOA children as they were prone to letting their guard down. I feel I got to know the best version of FOA’s children during walks as they seemed to reveal their true colors outside the walls of Norviwo. I will sincerely yearn for the camaraderie of the FOA family as I stroll through my own neighborhood in Canada, even if my wallet does not!
As I now take on a more hands-off and supportive role for FOA, I want to see more of the impact they envisioned for street children after going through their program(s). For example, a graduated scholar starting a business or someone equipped with exceptional vocational skills starting a family and being able to support them through their occupation. Additionally, I would love to see the scope of street outreach increase. As street children are not isolated to 1-2 hot spots, expanding street outreach into more areas where the youth congregate would be a massive advancement in tackling child poverty. I know FOA can achieve these goals, so I am excited to see their next steps in the coming months and years.
Future of Africa has changed not only how I view others but how I view myself. Having spent time at Norviwo during a time in my life when much of my future was still uncertain, I now know both the kind of life I strive to live and the difference I want to be. I thank Future of Africa for their mission and for providing meaning and direction to the lives of countless street children as well as my own. Until the next time!
Written by Ethan Thorogood (aka Kofi Nyarko)