Lisa Sheldrick - Human Rights in South Africa
I'm always asked about what it was like to travel alone, halfway across the world, to a country where I didn't speak the language. My answer is always the same; the best time of my life.
My first impressions of the Togolese started before I even arrived. Upon boarding my flight from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) I met an incredible Togolese man who went out of his way to make me feel welcome in a country I hadn't even arrived in yet. His efforts to teach my French and Ewe over the next six hours, his prayers for my safety and his gratitude for the work I was about to embark on astounded me, but this incredible friendliness was something I became accustomed too very quickly, it is the nature of the Togolese.
Arriving in Togo
The Togolese are by far the friendliest and most welcoming people I have met in my life and my travels. Coming from a bustling city where everyone seems too busy, my face lit up every time someone screamed out 'Woezon yo vo' ('welcome white person' in Ewe) from a distance or stopped me to simply ask how my day was.
Nobody was more welcoming than my host family. Hearing the calls of 'woezon' and 'Bon arrive' each time I arrived home, made it feel exactly like that, home. I was not a guest, I was family. I had more 'family' than ever; my house family, the Projects Abroad family and my Mercy home family.
My Care Project in Togo
Mercy children's home is an incredible place. Thinking of an orphanage I expected sadness, but what I encountered on my first day there, and the many more that followed could not be further from that; smiles, laughter, sheer happiness. The joy on the children's faces as they sung 'Bon arrive Tata' every time I walked through the door, the laughter as I tried to dance the Azonto, and the overwhelming gratitude that came my way when I came with a tub of fruit salad still makes me smile. The only time Mercy home ever made me feel sad was the day I left.
I quickly learnt that so much can transcend a language barrier. Smiles, laughter and football. The trips to the local fields with the kids are some of my fondest memories. Apparently there is nothing funnier than a white girl who cannot play football, but nothing more special than that girl's willingness to play with you anyway.
As my language developed I became the go to girl for English homework at Mercy. My acting skills when I couldn't translate never failed to draw a crowd. Teaching English helped with my French and I soon became maths teacher for the younger children, until we reached long division, how could I teach something in French that I didn't understand in English!
I can't pretend every day was easy, but it was worth every moment. As I desperately tried to learn French and Ewe at once, the support I received, not only from Projects Abroad, but also from the locals, was invaluable. With the translations provided by my 12 year old host brother and fellow volunteers, and the game the boys in my street constructed to teach me an Ewe word each morning, and test me when I return, my vocabulary grew each and every day and I quickly changed from a girl who could not understand to a girl who could hold a conversation in French and give simple directions in Ewe in the space of two short months.
My Togo Experience
I can try to explain Togo, but it is a place you can only explain so little of, because it is a place with so much heart and warmth, that it simply must be felt and once you feel it, Togo will never leave you.