Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trip Highlights ~ Doug & Dawn

Doug Vander Weide ~ Owner of VW Advisors, L.L.C., West Des Moines; husband to Dawn; father to Emma, Grace & JD In Doug’s words ~ Day 5: Today we are back from the village of Asikuma and in the capital city of Accra. We’ve got much work to do and we have our vision of how to accomplish our building projects.

So how do you go about building a medical clinic and library in a remote village of a foreign country 6000 miles away? You tackle it swimming hole style - take a running leap and jump in!

Today Chris and I went to the town center to begin bargaining for supplies for the medical clinic. We negotiated for and purchased some of the beginning essentials: a sink, toilet, hammer, nails, and cement block molds. In Ghana, EVERYTHING is negotiated. White people can easily be taken advantage of because they assume all of us have endless wealth. They clearly saw us coming too, I think we were the only white people we saw today. Bargaining became somewhat of a game to us, and we got very good at it. I’m confident we are getting the best deals we can on all of our building supplies. We priced lumber, cement, roofing, and electrical supplies. In August, I’m planning to arrive a few days earlier than the rest of the group to make sure we are as construction ready as possible. I’ve gladly accepted the role of being Chris’s right hand guy. I can see why this guy is a good home builder. He’s organized, straight shooting, and could outwork 10 men. We’ve literally been going 16 hours a day.

Yesterday in the village we had the amazing experience of getting to sit through a village council meeting. Picture seven town elders in a small village room-at best 200 square feet. These are not plush meeting room accommodations. So Chris and I walk in and start shaking hands (ending the handshake with the traditional Ghanaian “snap” is a must and a sign of respect.) The meeting was chaired by Chief Nana and assisted by his Linguist. It is necessary for the villagers to speak to The Linguist rather than to The Chief. Since The Chief is Peprah and Yaw’s father, we get to speak directly to him and he is grateful for us. Nana is great about including us, making sure we get the full experience of his culture. Picture a West Des Moines Planning and Zoning Meeting. Now picture that in a small village in remote Africa. It’s quite different.

Chris and I presented our thoughts on how we should partner together to help the village, describing in detail our Phase 1 building plans. The council was most grateful for our efforts and all of the elders voted to proceed. It should be noted that during our part of presenting the master plan and the value it would provide to the village, I actually saw Nana tear up a bit. This is clearly a big deal to him. He paused and began to speak to us. In a very emotional and heartfelt way, he described that every Chief’s responsibility was to do something significant to better his village. Given financial restrictions he had so far been unable to do this during his tenure. He said now his dream was being fulfilled and he thanked us. In a later conversation, Esi pulled me aside to thank me and said Nana confessed to her that day may have been the happiest day of his life.

And now on to the second part of the meeting. Also in attendance for the council meeting was a woman, a mother of 9 kids. The youngest was her baby, who was with her and attached for his mid day feeding. Turns out, this town council meeting was called for two reasons. One, so Chris and I could present the Phase 1 project. The other was to try the case of this unfortunate woman's 8 year old son. Planning and zoning turned quickly to court. As we learned, the son had killed a neighbor’s goat when the animal wondered into his family residence. The kid, in an effort to shoo the animal out, beat the goat on the head with a stick, killing it instantly. (It should be noted, the poor goat should not garner much of the blame for such an honest mistake of wondering into the wrong residence; it's home looks the exact same as the family, dirt floor and all.) So the issue in this council meeting turned- dare I say, Kangaroo Court hearing, was what to do with the the young boy. They take this type of incident very seriously. Had this been an adult, said event would have been criminally prosecuted.

So we listened to the woman plea her case for leniency. As she exited, she pulled out a bottle of gin and gave it to The Chief. All of this was occurring in their native tongue. Nana later interpreted for the benefit of Chris and me. Given her contrition, and the gift of libation, they agreed the family could simply repay the man with another goat and pay a small fine.

You can't pay money for this and I can’t make it up. Africa amazes me.

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Dawn Vander Weide ~ Co-owner VW Advisors, L.L.C., West Des Moines; wife to Doug; mom to Emma, Grace & JD
In Dawn’s words ~ My highlights centered around the relationships I formed with several young men, most from the Khoops Ghana bball team. I got to talk with these boys for hours and hours with the intention of really getting to know them. We talked about all kinds of stuff: their religious beliefs, their families, their living conditions, how it’s different in the U.S. Emma and I taught several of the boys how to waltz and fox trot!

It’s been easy for Jake to identify kids who are good at basketball. It was my charge on this trip to identify kids who could also do well in the U.S. educational system. Our hosting program is based on achieving student visas. The kids can stay in the U.S. so long as they are in school, so they have to be bright enough and hard working enough to make the program a success, to give them futures and for our program to grow.

In preparation for the trip, I worked on outlining the process, every single step, in getting a student here from Ghana. It is so complicated that it makes me crazy if I think about it all at once. I had to break it down into small, achievable steps. I won’t bore you with the details here. Instead, I’ll tell you about a few of the boys.

James Okine – I spent a lot of time with James. His visa application was denied in December 2010 because he forgot to take his birth certificate to his embassy appointment, but also because he didn’t really know how to answer the questions the U.S. embassy asked him about his plans to study in the U.S. He has been invited to attend school at Pella Christian, and his host family will be the Baughs. I’ve probably skyped James 10 times, and we’ve sent hundreds of e-mails back and forth. He calls me Auntie, and he worked super hard to prepare for his May 16th embassy appointment – we’ve done mock interviews, and he’s ready!

Cyril Clarke – took and passed the Dowling exams that I proctored – math and reading comprehension. Our family will host him for his junior and senior year, starting in August. We email and skype often, and he calls me “mom.” On my birthday, he sent me the neatest poem ever. He treats Emma, Grace, and JD like his siblings, and we are so hopeful that he passes his embassy interview so he can come live with us. He is a gentle giant with academic and basketball smarts.

Riyaz Adams – has been invited to attend school at Iowa Christian Academy. Our family will host him starting in August, just like Cyril. He and Cyril are really good friends at home, so having them live with us together will be a really neat thing. We skype and email a lot too. He calls me, Mom, and really means it. His birth parents died in a fire 4 years ago, and he is a true orphan. His Godliness amazes me, and I know we were meant to meet and support this young man. He has great charisma and humor!

Obie – this kid is AMAZING!! Jake is looking for the right school for him, he’ll need a college because of his age. He’s got great basketball skills, but more importantly, he is SO Godly. He is basically a young preacher. His insight is beyond his years. He asked if he could call me “mom.” Of course, I said yes!!!

McMartey – this boy is beautiful inside and out. He practiced math and reading with me for hours because he wanted to improve academically. He is SO capable and smart, and he can dunk with serious finesse. We’re looking for a host family for McMartey. He also calls me “mom.”

I could go on and on. I can think of 10 boys who call me Mom, just off the top of my head. Many of them have asked me for advice on improving academically. They want to learn, and they are SO hard working!

If I could, I would host every one of these boys and several others: David, Henry, Prince, Michael, Mike, Rubin, Muhammed…. If you are interested in the hosting program, please email me at I’m hoping to match several of these boys with families and schools that are a good fit.


Janel said...

Doug & Dawn ~ It’s been so fun getting to watch God open up your heart to Ghana and to see how you have immediately taken action to act and help. Your passions have come alive, and I know God is using you in so many ways to plan out, implement, and organize all aspects of our Foundation’s work in Ghana. Your faith being lived out in this way is going to impact so many of your friends, co-workers, and family members to do likewise. LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These were GREAT highlights!

Lori said...

I truly love how God aligns your gifts with the needs of the people. God's plans are higher, wider and more extreme than we can ever imagine. So thankful that I know this family and their passion for serving.

Susan said...

Doug and dawn. I lve to follow janels blog, while I don't know her or Jake personally my heart loves these stories. I love to pray for e requests I often find on here. I've been loving these latest Africa posts. My google reader shows when there is new ones and I jump right on over. Today it was a privilege to read from both of you. People we consider friends, even though we rarely see you. Love seeing your hearts for God and for serving. Love watching your family grow their hearts. You are a dynamic duo. Love seeing you using your talents and gifts togeter to serve. Xo to you. From the Shislers