Violet Blake - General Care Projects in Togo
Little did I know what difference would be made in my life when I went to Africa last summer. I promised myself that I will go to Africa, anywhere in Africa, first before I travel and see the whole world. I decided to look into Projects Abroad organisation and I was convinced to be part of it. I sent an email and explained how I am deaf, and that I would like to work with deaf kids at a deaf school. I was given two possible choices: South America or Africa. Keeping my promise, I chose Africa, and to this day, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t choose Africa!
I have spent months and months wondering what it would be like spending 10 weeks in Africa away from my loved ones. To my own surprise, though, never once was I nervous. I was pretty much excited the entire time. Being the independent person I am, I could not wait to get out and have my eyes opened to a whole new world. And boy, don’t I remember just vividly the very night I finally arrived in Lomé.
The airport in Lomé was very small, and I was approached by a couple of Projects Abroad staff along with an interpreter and my host father. Just in a moment in their presences, I immediately felt warmly welcomed. We were all smiles in the pouring rain outside. Have met my host family and slept on the hard bed the first night, it all felt like a dream.
I use American Sign Language to communicate with people but Togolese people do not. They read and write in French so therefore, they fingerspell in French, and they have their own signs. This was one of the challenges I overcame over the summer. In the beginning, I could not fully understand my host father, who’s deaf, or the teachers or students at school because they sign differently than I do. But as time went on, I learned Togolese signs and they learned ASL. This was one of the many fun parts of my African summer.
At the deaf school I worked at in Lomé, the kids were amazing, and I shared so many heart-felt moments with each and every one of them. Because my host father’s the principal of the school, I went to school with him every day. This was actually my favourite part of the day—entering the school on a motorbike with my host father. It’s only because I always had cheerful kids running and chasing us until we are parked in the front of the school just so they could give me one of the many hugs of the day.
I looked at their faces everyday, thinking how they never to cease to amaze me. They were the kids who did not have much but they probably had the best smiles I’ve ever seen. They were also such happy kids. I keep on telling myself, “if only they knew there’s a whole world out there,” but then I learned to appreciate and value food, bed, family and love in a different way.
I taught students basic mathematics and alphabets. I educated the school about deaf communities in America. I spent time with my host family during my free time. I also had the chance to explore Togo and Ghana a bit during my stay. I swam in the waterfall in the mountains. I witnessed the birth of a couple of baby goats. I read books and I fell asleep to the stars every night.
To this day, I still grieve about leaving Africa. It was one of the hardest things I have done. The kids at school became my children. My host family was as if they were my family forever. Africa was a home to me.
Back in the states, I asked people to make donations of $1,000 so that I can help a student of mine have an easier transportation to the school. My student, Théodore’s father asked me to help him get a motorbike so that he and his son do not walk long miles to school anymore. I am with joy when I share that I have earned $1,366 dollars and all went to Théodore’s father!
I have received photos of them with the new motorbike. I could not be happier—it truly felt wonderful helping the people I felt like home. Ah, the simple joy of helping! My next goal is to do a fundraising to get money for the deaf school so they can have better supplies, lunch, etc.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Africa or the life-changing experience it had on me. I promised myself and my family that I will go back to home soon, and I will.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.