Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Friday, September 16, 2011

9/16/11: City of Hope Refuge, Doryumu, Ghana

Our last day in Ghana was spent on a service visit to the City of Hope Refuge, an orphanage and school about an hour north of Tema, in Doryumu, Ghana. The founders of City of Refuge Ministries, Johnbull and Stacy Omorefe, have taken on a significant and oft-ignored problem in Ghana: the selling of children into the fishing industry. Akosombo Dam at Lake Volta, the largest artificial body of water in the world, was built in 1966 and generates enough electricity for the entire country. A significant fishing industry exists in the Lake Volta region, and children are used by fishermen to dive underneath the water and retrieve the fishing nets.

The problem of selling kids into the fishing industry is a difficult and multi-faceted cultural issue that they are approaching on several fronts. First, they seek out children to rescue from the fishing industry, where the kids are essentially on their own, often sleeping in boats at night. Second, they are trying to approach the cultural aspect through education of the masses, many of whom either do not believe or do not understand how the children have to live once sold. To the parents or grandparents, it is money they can use to feed their other children, while some believe that the kids are being given ‘opportunities’ to work. The reality is far more bleak, and often when presented with the facts of the children’s existence (via video, etc.), they are upset and want their kids back. However, there is a significant portion of the population that refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem, and John and Stacy are thus trying to attach a cultural stigma to selling children as a way to prevent it from occurring in the future. Lastly, they try to perform follow-up with each rescued kid on a monthly or semi-monthly basis, continuing to provide things like school uniforms and books, attempting to prevent the kids from disappearing again.

Typical classroom

John and Stacy currently house dozens of orphans and single mothers. They are currently building a school, which will be officially dedicated tomorrow, and though it is not yet finished, classes are being held for both local kids and the orphans at the City of Hope. They also occasionally hold ‘feedings’ for populations that are in need.

When we arrived at the orphanage, they were preparing 300+ meals that we would distribute later in the day. John and Stacy talked about what they did, and showed us a video of their interactions with local populations regarding the selling of kids into the fishing industry. Sad to think that, in effect, slavery continues to be part of this country’s cultural fabric, despite the fact that slavery was abolished in the early 1800’s. After asking some questions, we walked around the grounds, then boarded the bus to head approximately 1 mile to the school grounds, the land of which was granted to them by the local chief.

The buildings were still under construction; concrete block, like so many structures in Ghana, with open windows/walls to the outside. Five or six classrooms were occupied by kids from kindergarten age up to about Year 6-7. We all walked around these grounds, then half the people headed back to continue preparing the food for the feeding, while we split up and went into each classroom to observe and help.

Molly the Owl

I went into the Year 3-4 classroom with two others from our group. We watched and helped as they finished up their mathematics lesson, copying tomorrow’s homework on reading the hands of the clock. Reading time came, and it was my opportunity to present the school with their own copy of ‘Molly the Owl’, so graciously donated by the author Eric Blehm (my brother-in-law). I read them the first few pages to give them an idea of Molly’s story, and then passed the book around for them to check out. They were really interested, and I was relieved to see that the page that had the globe illustration actually included western Africa (in addition to the U.S.). I showed them Eric’s picture at the end of the book and they were all very interested, making sure they knew which one he was, noting how much younger he was than I. Damn, I must be aging by the day, here! I digress, probably forgot what the hell I was talking about, didn’t even realize it…

Where was I? Oh yeah, once the book got all the way around the room, it was time for lunch, followed by recess. The kids all got a stew with some banku, and we then headed out to the concrete basketball court for some fun. Basketball, soccer, tag, and a hopscotch-like game the girls played called ‘umpu’ (if I recall correctly). One of the girls gave out some stickers, and kids seemed to latch onto a college student or two, following them around, getting them to play, etc. Reade and Tate had a blast, and after about an hour it was time to move on to the feeding, which was about a 30-minute drive back toward Tema.

As the bus neared the port we turned to the east, and headed down some very bumpy dirt roads, past shack after shack, finally arriving at a real structure, where we parked. Inside were several women with sewing machines that had apparently been provided by the City of Refuge Ministries, and the women had learned to make shoulder bags from local cloths. We bought one, and then we headed out to distribute the food, which was packed both in the back seat of the bus and John’s Toyota Sequoia. The students formed a ‘bucket brigade’ to get the styrofoam containers from the back of the bus to the front, where the local kids would come out of the building’s outdoor walkway. They funneled them from front to back, trying to ensure that each kid got only one meal, as there could not be enough for all.

Kids started showing up in droves, and were directed to the rear of the building to get in the queue. Tate, being the shy one that he is, was right at the head of the line handing a large predominance of the meals to the kids as they came out. And out they came! Dozens and dozens of kids, some kids with babies, a few young adults with kids; they just kept coming. Kids of all sizes and sorts, dressed in all kinds of things, much of it clearly donated (you cyclists out there take note of the image of the kid in a blue shirt, in the ‘Portraits of Ghana’ post that follows this one). Many of them smiled broadly after getting their meal, some just took it and ran.

Tate handing out meals

After about 30 minutes I walked around the back to see how they were coordinating all of this, and was astounded to still see dozens of kids in back, still waiting. I started smiling at the kids, engaging them, seeing if they were interested in the camera, which they were. As I started taking pictures of the ones that came over, more became interested in having their picture taken, every one of them wanting to see themselves on the LCD screen afterward. I just kept shooting and showing, shooting and showing. Whenever I would get a group of 2 or 3 together for an image, other kids would immediately run over and join in, kind of like rugby players jumping into a scrum. So fun to see the delight on their faces, seeing themselves on the screen, some of them running around to find a different friend to have a picture taken with. And they just kept coming.

As I returned to the front of the building, I looked off to the side where some of the shacks were, and noticed one adult male sitting on the porch, polishing off one of the meals. We had seen only a handful of men helping with the feeding, and I hoped that this guy’s kid got some of that meal. Who knows how many brothers/sisters each of those meals was shared with? I did note that I didn’t see a single kid stop right there and start eating; they all either held onto their container and hung out for awhile, or immediately disappeared into the innumerable rows of shacks, which apparently are rented out for 7-8 cidis a month, in many cases to single mothers, a chronic issue here in Ghana.

30 minutes later it was time to head back to the ship, and as we boarded the bus, there were still dozens upon dozens of kids still waiting to be admitted to the back of the building, waiting to get their meal. As we drove out, many kids waved at us all along the dirt road, and we got to look again--with different eyes--at the homes of the kids we’d just interacted with.

We got back to the MV Explorer well before today’s on-ship time of 1800 hrs, and were again met by our cab driver Eric. We walked around the vendors’ tents, chatting with Eric, looking to spend our last few cidis before departing later that night. Reade got a nice African-print collared shirt for 15 cidis, while Tate got a mini-drum for 7.50 cidis. We decided it was time for a shower, and bid farewell to Eric and the soil of Ghana, stepping onto the gangway, returning ‘home’ after our fourth day here. Later that night after the ship left the Port of Tema, we immediately crossed the meridian into the eastern hemisphere, the gateway to the bulk of our travel destinations for the next 6 weeks.

[Please note: images in this post merely document today’s activities; if you would like to see portraits of the kids described above, please see the following separate post: Portraits of Ghana.]

If you would like to learn more about the City of Hope Refuge, or better yet would like to help with a donation of time or money, please go to:

After witnessing it firsthand, I can assure you that the work that John and Stacy are doing in Doryumu and the Lake Volta region is worthy of your attention, and however little you might be able to give would be much appreciated. A little can go a long way to helping someone in need.


  1. Absolutely amazing what you guys are getting to do. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about these kids.

  2. Those photos and that story tell it all. It's so hard to imagine that we have everything here in North America and that there are children in the world who have virtually nothing. It's certainly a reality check.

  3. Bless your hearts from a Molly the Owl fan!!!!

  4. Awesome! And to think "I was part of the Molly the Owl" legacy. She is still spreading happiness. Enjoyed the blog. You and Erich are both great story tellers

  5. Wonderful pictures and your story is indeed inspiring!! So great to see Molly's book being shown----she really did bring our world closer together. Thanks for all you do.

    Lynne Townsend ( A faithful "Molly Watcher" from the beginning)

  6. Dear Warner family safe travels and Thank You for sharing Molly with those kids. God Bless You

  7. From the wings of hope may God bless all your endeavors and expand your horizons to bless many others. As you are blessed so will other be blessed in your path.
    a faithful Molly fan,
    Carol Ann
    cbosseme in the owl box chat

  8. Eric directed us to your Blog Isn't it rewarding to see what a universal appeal that photos of animals, let alone our beautiful Molly and McGee, have among children all over the world?

    Thank you for sharing your travels,
    Carlynne (aka littleguys in Mollyworld)
    Lakeside, California (east of San Diego)


You must have something to say after reading all that, eh? Please leave a comment! :)