Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An End

From the very first time I stepped off a plane into the West African heat, I have been led time and time again down paths I never could have imagined as an eighteen-year-old drawn to a continent I'd never set foot in, but already knew I belonged to. With each unexpected turn, I have felt the pull of that internal compass shift, assuring me of the next phase of the journey.

In the last year, navigating those next steps has become considerably more difficult. My relationship with the country and community I love so much has been challenged in every way possible. While my most recent visit to Ghana served as an incredible affirmation of my personal strengths and growth, it also demanded a high personal price. Until now I have avoided writing about the most difficult of these challenges, but the story is incomplete without them.

Last summer I experienced the breakdown of my Ghanaian family. Although I had always known it was an unhappy marriage, it came as a shock. The deterioration of Worfa and Victoria's relationship has likewise impacted my own relationships with them. I will always love my African parents, but I'm no longer sure what type of bond we will have. Although I expect I will continue to visit the little gray house in Awakorme, I doubt it will ever be my home again.

Karina and I were simultaneously restructuring SSF, which included our decision to end our sponsorship of the school Worfa and I built. It is hard to describe how devastating that choice was for me. But I did it with the hope that I could save my NGO, and with it my ability to support my community in the long-term.

From the beginning we have continuously struggled with all the typical hurdles of a grassroots NGO, in addition to the cultural and logistical challenges of working across borders. But with two years of experience on our side, Karina and I fought to rebuild SSF as something more realistic and sustainable, with simpler parameters and a stronger team.

But less than three months shy of our three year mark, we have made the decision to shut down Students of Success Foundation.

Despite the genuinely good intentions of all involved, we consistently failed to follow our internal protocols or maintain legal standards. This culminated in losing our placement with Global Giving recently. Karina and I realized it was less a matter of giving up, as of recognizing there was nothing more we could do.

I never wanted to start an NGO. How many hundreds of times have I said that?
It was true to the very end. And yet I am heartsick.
Not just because the life I have built in Ghana - my family, my school, my organization - has fallen apart piece by piece like a neat row of dominoes.
I am sick because I don't know how to tell my team that, although I can't blame any one of them individually, we have collectively failed.
I don't know how to tell my friends and family that their generosity and support and steadfast belief in our mission has ultimately come to this.
Above all, I don't know how to return to my community on Gomashie road and look them in the eye. They will welcome me back with open arms and hearts the way they always do - because they won't even know anything has happened. How could they? Nothing on their side of reality has shifted.

And therein lies the true heartbreak in all this.

Although it is sad that the organization I struggled to create has finally fallen apart, the fact is I can have a second chance. A third, a fourth, a fifth even. There was never any doubt I get to take this learning experience and refine it as many times as needed for it to be successful.
But what about the people who weren't born with the door propped open?
What do I do now that I've lost my last tool with which to fight for them?

Ghana will always be a part of me. I will always be drawn back. That is why, no matter what has happened over the last six years, I have always found a way to recover. Get back on my feet. Keep fighting.
But this time...I stand here empty-handed.
This path has ended, and I'm way too far off the map to consider going back.

Ghana may be the last thing I want to think about right now, but all I can think to do is book a ticket as soon as I can.
Go home, where that magnetic pull is strongest.
Let my meerkats run full speed into my arms. Sit under the rustling palms that have always reminded me of a church. Savor a bowl of fufu and groundnut soup.

Hope the needle of the compass shifts again.

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