It was early evening when the Rescue Team stepped off the bus in Yeji. They had little time to get everything in order to set off the next day.
The first stop was at the hotel, to drop off bags and wash away the dust and dirt from the 12-hour journey. Stephen, the Rescue and Community Engagement Manager then set off to meet with the local police, the navy commander, and the local director of the Department of Social Welfare.
He delivered a letter to each, explaining the plan for the coming week and asking for their support and assistance. A particular request for two navy officers to accompany the team on the lake required a bit of negotiation, but a plan was made for the following day.
Beginning the Search
The sun rose just after 6 am, but because of the thick haze of dust it was impossible to find in the sky. That dust made navigation on the water difficult and dangerous, so the team waited, hoping for it to clear up. By 10 am, after completing some final errands for food and fuel, the team set off in search of the first name on the list.
The long wooden canoe flew across the open water, the surface occasionally broken by long dead trees. The team spent more than three hours searching for the village they thought the child was in.
Stephen and Solomon landed in a small community, and went in search of the chief. He greeted them and invited them to sit under a canopy where they could discuss the business at hand.
“We’re here with Challenging Heights and we are looking for Kwesi*, he has a child with him named Kwame*. We want to take Kwame back to his mother,” Stephen explained.
After listening to Stephen explain the mission and about Challenging Heights, the chief asked some of the other men who had gathered if they knew Kwesi, the man Stephen was looking for. Each one shook their heads. They suggested that he may be in another village.
From Village to Village
Stephen and Solomon thanked the chief and returned to the boat, to travel another hour to the next village. They repeated their story and who they were looking for, but again found they were not in the right place. By now, night was falling and it was too dangerous to travel on Lake Volta at night.
Solomon knew the people in another small village, a 30-minute ride away. The team set off, hoping they would allow them to spend the night there, so they could continue the search for the child in the morning. Due to the strong community connections the team has cultivated in our years of working on the Lake, the team was provided a place to stay for the evening.
The next day, the team set off for another village two hours away. The community members had heard the name of the man in question in that area. When the team arrived, they again spoke with the chief, who called for a man to come to the meeting.
“That is my name, but I don’t know the child you are asking about,” Kwesi said.
After asking more questions, it was determined that this man shared a name with the man the team was looking for, but it wasn’t him.
“Sometimes, it happens this way,” Stephen said as the boat returned to Yeji. “Sometimes it takes three or four days to find just one child. But we have to.”
A Tip-Off Turns into Pay-Off
The Rescue Team checked in with the local authorities again and returned to the hotel room to shower and change before coming up with a plan for the next few days. They heard that there was another village on the other side of Lake Volta with the same name that they were looking for. Maybe they had mixed up the locations.
In the morning, after the haze cleared, the team set off. This time prepared to spend several days on the lake. Just as they were heading out, the Department of Social Welfare called with a tip about another trafficked child. They were in the vicinity of where the team was heading that day.
By early afternoon, the team was returning to Yeji, with nine rescued children, including Kwame.
“This is why we have to keep going,” Stephen said. “Because sometimes, we end up rescuing more children than we were looking for.”