This dirt path, worn thin from thousands of footsteps, wants to tell us a story. It is a story of men and women and boys and girls who work harder than we can imagine. It is a story of large buckets of water on heads, suffocating sweat on brows, and back breaking labor that never seems to end. It is a story of poverty. Vicious, soul crushing, cyclical, take no prisoners poverty. This path, like much of life, is filled with painful irony and powerful juxtaposition. It is on this path that the people journey to their life source: the lake, where water abounds. And it is on this path that the people journey to the source of their figurative death: the lake, where dreams, and sometimes even people, go to die.
But this day is different. Today, today the path tells a new story. You can see it in the smiles on their faces. You can hear it in the clapping and music that floats through the air. You can feel it in the small hand that clings tightly to hope. Today is different. Today, Francis, Comfort, Nice, Winfred, Patience, Kwabena, Amelenyor, a second Francis and a second Nice will walk this worn and tired path for the last time. Today, the path will take them to places they haven’t been in a long time. Today, the path will take them home. Literally.
But this is the end of the journey. To really understand how far these feet have come, we need to start all the way back at the beginning.
In Ghana, Africa, thousands of children from impoverished families with little food and even less hope are trafficked into the fishing industry where they are forced to work, day after day, on fishing boats. These children have no future—they cannot imagine a world in which they will not have to labor under the merciless sun.
Sadly, life is nearly as dire for the men and women who buy them and make them work. Many of these men and women were actually trafficked children themselves. Fisher boys and girls who grew up but couldn’t outgrow the only way they knew how to work and make a living. So here they are, repeating the vicious cycle again. And again. And again.
Mercy Project, a Bryan/College Station based non-profit, walked into Ghana five and a half years ago with the bold and audacious dream of ending child trafficking there forever. Our mission is to rescue children from slavery. We partner with families and communities trapped in the cycle of poverty, empowering them with sustainable economic solutions in order to free children from forced labor. In practical terms, this means we teach them a new and better way to fish (called aquaculture) which effectively replaces the need for the labor of the children. We are literally teaching men how to fish. In doing so, we are helping them experience newfound economic freedom. What about the kids? We are able to reintegrate them back into their families where they can begin attending school and start dreaming about what they want to be when they grow up.
Our fourth village partnership and child rescue took place just a few days ago. Those nine children whose names you read above make a total of 67 children Mercy Project has now rescued and reintegrated. 67 children who now walk dirt roads to school every day instead of dirt paths to a dangerous and futureless lake.
But the story, and that dirt path, continues for many other children and families in Ghana. Our work has just begun, and there are thousands more children and hundreds more fishing villages who need our help. So together we say “yes.” We say “yes” to freedom and hope and new life. We say “yes” to new paths that lead to joy and laughter and peace.
Opportunities abound for you to say “yes” with us. Just here in Bryan/College Station we host numerous local events throughout the year. These include a casino night, a Guinness World Record event. a mommy/son dig day, and more. We also started the BCS Marathon Race Series, which hosts races throughout the year, as a way to raise funds for our work. So you can attend an event, donate, volunteer, run a race, or even just spread the word. All of these are important “yes’s” on the journey to more freedom.
Wherever your path may lead, we hope you will say yes, too. Because the world is changed forever when our desire to take risks and make a difference outgrows our fear of failure. So walk on, friends, walk on. The world needs us all to be more brave.
***Editors note: Readers can join Mercy Project THIS Saturday, April 9th when they attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Dessert Party. The event will take place in the grassy area at the Northeast corner of Reed Arena at 3pm and is free to all participants. This is Mercy Project’s 7th annual Guinness World Record attempt. You can also learn more at www.mercyproject.net.