New Year’s Eve with Accra Kids

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On New Year’s eve, I went with a NGO started by Ghanaian Americans to a large slum area of Accra, ironically called “Jamestown” or “Usshertown”.  It’s actually situated right along the ocean with a lighthouse as the famous landmark. We started the morning preparing meals for 600 kids. It was the first time the NGO’s doing this, so we were all newbies.  When we got there, the number of people waiting for a hot lunch was a lot larger than expected. There were a half dozen riot police for crowd control already present.

Anyway, whenever something (either a box of food or candy or toy) was handed out, everybody ganged up on that person. The police forced the kids to stand in multiple lines when we were about to serve food. However the line completely degenerated into a human matrix when we opened boxes of goodies. Police had to use sticks to hold kids back but to no avail.The NGO workers had to eventually hold their positions inside trucks and SUVs to avoid getting completely trampled. It was a scene that will be etched in my memory forever- kids falling over crying, FIVE OR SIX YEAR OLD GIRLS WITH BABIES STRAPPED ONTO THEIR BACKS competing in the mix. It was like the most Darwinian scene you’ll ever see for the human species anywhere in the world – seemed like these kids were competing with each other literally for survival at the expense of every other person.  At some point, I was so afraid of a stampede with all the little ones falling over. I was also trapped inside the trunk of a SUV  and I felt besieged with kids banging on the window. The kids would sometimes enlist their parents to coax us into giving them more stuff, which for me felt like the more humane way to do it. But I guess many of them must’ve been orphans as well.

Anyway, after our vehicle carved a path out of the human shield, the kids were still sprinting after us. I’ve never felt so touched and fulfilled from giving away something, spending just a few hours and impacting the lives of so many so directly. Some pictures of those scenes are posted on Facebook – the kids also played musical chairs and participated in dance competitions, which showed their playful sides in addition to the OMG survival of the fittest moments.

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