“I know what it’s like to be hungry and to have nothing. I had to work to pay for my own school fees, and I could only afford one meal a day. No breakfast, no lunch, just dinner. Along the way, people would help me the best they could, so I promised God that if I ever made it out of poverty I would do my best to help children the way others helped me.”
These are the words of Kojo Forson, Bethany’s country director in Ghana, where, according to UNICEF, more than one million orphans currently wait for the love of a family. Readers of this blog already know that the primary objective of these posts is to demonstrate how we are all One Family when it comes to preserving families and caring for the world’s more than 150 million orphans. One of the keys to combating the global orphan crisis we are facing is to create sustainable foster care systems in developing countries, such as the one introduced in Ghana in October 2011, after local government officials visited Ethiopia to witness the positive work being done there.
One of the crucial components to building a successful foster care system is finding local families willing to open their homes to waiting children. Families like the Forsons, who, along with raising four biological children, have taken in 12 foster children. Two of the Forsons’ foster kids, Becky and Stephen, recently shared their story with us. Following are brief excerpts to better illustrate the hopelessness that many youngsters in Ghana face and how the love of a single family can mean the difference between hope and despair.
Prior to being named Bethany’s country director, Kojo served as a school teacher in Ghana. It was in this role that he came across Becky, a lively teenager destined for a life of poverty, petty crimes and social vices. Unable to afford school – roughly 15 percent of Ghana’s population tries to survive on wages of $1.25 (US) per day – Becky caught Kojo’s eye one day while she was hanging out around the school. Given books by Kojo to sell to raise money for school fees, Becky instead used the money to buy other things for herself. Instead of being angry with Becky, Kojo took her into his family as a foster child so that she could go to school. “I was shocked and surprised,” Becky said. “I never thought anyone could be so generous, especially after I stole the money from selling the books he gave me. It made me so happy that someone believed in me. If Mr. Forson had not taken me in, I would be on the street today.”
For Stephen, circumstances were more dire. “I was a street kid,” Stephen said. “I had no one to take care of me. I knew if I could get an education I could make something of my life.” After being beaten by the wife of a man who had welcomed him into their home, Stephen traveled to the Ivory Coast to find work and make enough money to go to school. However, upon his return to Ghana he was robbed by thieves. His situation seemed hopeless. Fortunately, he met Kojo, who brought him into his family. He has completed his education and vowed to become a foster parent one day so that he can provide hope to an orphaned child, just as the Forsons did for him.
While the Forsons are doing all they can to make a difference in the lives of children in Ghana, additional families willing to open their homes are in great demand. To recruit families, local churches throughout the country are working with Bethany to provide training and financial support in hopes that families become economically independent within three to four years. Many churches have even started their own orphan care programs, which is remarkable given where things stood in Ghana less than a year ago.
Kojo and his wife’s commitment to the children of Ghana is an incredibly inspiring story. The love his foster children have received and hope they now have for the future are but two examples of what a strong foster care system can accomplish with the support of local families. If more families come forward to support children, whether by opening their homes or providing assistance to those who do, we can make positive strides in the combat against the world’s orphan crisis.