I have officially spent one full week at the Challenging Heights Hovde House: a rehabilitation shelter for child victims of labor trafficking. It has been so amazing so far, and I cannot believe a week has passed already.
The shelter is located about a fifteen-minute walk away from the edge of a town in Ghana. While that might not seem very far away, the shelter is nestled among deep rainforest. The shelter is essentially invisible to the town and vice versa.
There are currently around 50 kids staying at the shelter between the ages of 5 and 17. Four languages are spoken predominantly: Fante, Twi, Ephouto, and Ewe; however, most of the teaching is in a miss of English and Twi (or Fante). The mixture of languages has led to many offers of me learning the various languages, specifically Twi and Fante. At this point, I have learned enough random words from different people that I am really not sure which language I am trying to speak when.
Similar to the diversity of languages, the kids all have unique personalities and roles in the shelter. Hannah and Steven, both much older than the rest, take on a huge mentorship role. Promise is younger but similarly takes a leadership role in helping to translate and direct kids. Roland and Esi, both unbearably cute and small but demonstrating shining and rather mischievous personalities once you get to know them.
All these kids have their own roles and personalities in the shelter that set them apart from everyone else. Still, there is one thing that ties these children together and also sets them apart from other kids their age: their trafficking background.
Each kid shows it slightly differently, but still the ramifications of the abuse they have suffered are evident. Some kids have physical demonstrations of the abuse: one child has a scar that curves around the top of his forehead and ends in a long line down the bridge of his nose and many have large scars all over their heads where the hair will no longer even grow back.
For many kids it is in their behavior. Many of the boys and even the girls carry themselves with a tough and almost threatening demeanor. Many are quick to react sharply to others, resulting in yelling or physical violence. Fights, especially among the younger boys, are very common. In opposition, many kids are overly quiet and fearful. There was one point where I raised my hand quite slowly and close to myself to give a kid a high five. Before my hand was even halfway up my body, the kid had flinched and moved away. I responded by lowering my hand, trying to display a soothing demeanor and show that I would never hit him.
I understand why the kids react this way, and I appreciate all the backgrounds and personalities they bring to the shelter. Everyday, I am met with a new challenge or amazing experience. Still, interactions that remind me of what these children have been through break my heart many times a day.