Posted on February 8, 2012 by Sarah Joy:
On Friday, January 27 the first group of children from Challenging Heights Hovde House was re-integrated. Which means that we took 13 boys home to their families after 3 months at the shelter and months/years of slavery.
Each of them was given a brand-new duffle bag for holding their clothes, the photos Jessica took of them, the watercolors they painted with me, their school books, and any other belongings that might have.
The image of the 13 of them standing together behind a heap of too-big-for-their-possessions, navy-blue duffel bags is forever imprinted in my mind. It struck me all over again what a beautiful thing it is that Challenging Heights does – rescuing these children from slavery, helping them start to heal, then taking them home.
Even though there were plenty of seats on the bus, five of the boys crowded into the same row that I sat in, leaving empty seats in front and behind. Even now, two weeks later, my heart still squeezes at the thought of it.
I sat between Kwame, who wouldn’t stand out in a group of men, and Ekow, who has one dimple, two missing teeth, and four baby-fat creases in his neck.
I’m going to miss those creases.
The kids inside the bus, going home, and the kids outside the bus, staying at the shelter, called out encouraging good-bye messages to each other, reaching through open windows for a final high-five or handshake. What had begun as a group of fighting, beating, crying, insulting children had morphed into a family in 3 months’ time.
Kweku, his jeans cuffed a good 4 inches at the ankles and accordion-folded under his belt at the waist, stood up and cried brokenly, his eyes fixed on the shelter staff and children standing outside the bus waving goodbye. (Slavery is horrible. Even a good thing – like reuniting a child with his family – causes pain, because it must be accompanied by another separation.)
The rest of the boys sat, and as we drove away from the shelter, stared straight ahead (if they were tall enough to see over the seats) or out the side windows. The villages we passed through were within a few kilometers of the shelter, but they probably hadn’t seen these places since the day they were brought here three months ago and they were mesmerized.
Some of the boys were silent, some talked with each other, some sang quietly to themselves. Kweku stood and cried.
30 minutes out and Ekow was swaying back and forth in his seat. I reached out to steady him and he immediately turned and snuggled himself down into my lap, sound asleep within seconds. The motion of the bus sent his right arm swinging out from where it had been tucked under his head, and for the first time I noticed the puckered, inch long scar on the inside of his little round wrist.
When I remember supremely happy moments in my life, this will be one of them: Cuddling a sleeping boy in a bus on a road somewhere in Ghana, the warmth of his breath mingling with the chill of the air conditioning, the scratchiness of his recently barbered head rashing my arm.
And looking at his baby-fat neck creases (almost) to my heart’s content.