Friday morning, the Challenging Heights bus rolled out of the Hovde House with 17 children and the Challenging Heights Field Team. The children are on their way home to their families after months at the rehabilitation shelter, after years doing forced labour on Lake Volta.
This reintegration comes with much anticipation. Challenging Heights staff spent months with the children, helping them catch up in school and prepare to join their families after they had been working in often dangerous conditions with fishermen on the lake. It also took time for our Field Team to monitor the families, to make sure they are ready and able to provide and care for their returning children.
There were tears of joy on Friday, as parents and family members hugged the children who had been gone for so long.
Two days earlier, just before lunch on Wednesday, a regional social worker arrived to the Challenging Heights Hovde House check on the 17 children who were ready to leave the shelter and get back to their families and communities.
During a brief meeting, he let them know they would be saying goodbye to their current classmates and roommates, but hello to their mothers, fathers and care givers, on Friday. Screams, shrieks and squeals rang out across the courtyard as giddy children ran to tell their friends and siblings they were going home.
By lunchtime, others, however, were hit hard by the news. One girl arrived to the dining room late, explaining that she was sick, but she began sobbing after just a few bites of food. She told the shelter care staff that she wanted to go home herself, and that she will miss the younger children, whom she’s enjoyed learning and living with.
In the afternoon, one of the teachers at the shelter came back with his barber kit. He called out the names of the 17 children who were to be reintegrated so he could cut their hair.
While the children were preparing to go back to their homes; their parents and care givers were, also. The Field Staff held an open forum on Wednesday to let care givers know what to expect from their children, some of whom have been working on the lake for five years. The lifestyle on the lake, teaches many children aggressive behaviours or reactions. While shelter staff believe these children are ready go back to their families, some of their past experiences may affect the way they interact at home.
The Field Staff also assess the families’ economic well-being. They want to make sure that families do not consider re-trafficking children in order to make money. Micro-grants are available to families who would like seed capital to start a business, so they can provide for their newly reintegrated families. The intention is to allow families to sustain themselves and prevent child trafficking in the future.
As staff at Hovde House waved goodbye to 17 children, they welcomed 12 more on Sunday who had been rescued by Mercy Project.
The rehabilitation shelter is only a stop on the children’s path to rejoining their communities and participating in society as they grow. We want the children to get back to their homes and lives as soon as possible, but we do our best to prepare them for a successful future.