Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Robbins Family Builds School in Ghana

For most people, a family vacation means Disney World, Israel, or lying in the sun on a faraway beach. But Ghana? 

The Robbins family with the village chief
who had blessed Maya
The Robbins family – whose daughters Arianna and Maya are in the Golda Och Academy 10th and 6th grades respectively – travelled to Ghana, Africa during Presidents’ Week. And this was not a leisurely break from work and school. The Robbins family went on a mission to build a school in a village that is home to child slaves of the fishing trade – child slaves the Robbins family helped free.

“In exchange for releasing the trafficked children they would get a school,” said GOA parent Lisa Robbins of the deal made with fishermen in the village of Awate-Tornu. During the past six years the family, along with Mr. Robbins’ students at Metuchen High School, have raised over $75,000, allowing freedom for more than 30 children. A recent article in the NJ Jewish News featured their story.

Maya with new friends at a school where a formerly
trafficked child attended. 
Although the mark the Robbins family has left on these children and their families is priceless, an great impact has been made on Arianna and Maya as well.

“I feel it’s been good for them to see us embrace something that isn’t just a part of our lives,” Mrs. Robbins said. For Maya, the work for the children of Ghana has also been part of her bat mitzvah project. She collected soccer and school supplies from other GOA students and her soccer team to donate to the newly freed slaves. 

She recalled one boy in particular – Joshua – who the family was unable to rescue during a previous visit. He is now free. “I was playing soccer with him, and he was so happy to have a soccer ball,” Maya said. “All the other kids kept asking him if they could play. The kids in Ghana are so poor. They have to do a lot of work. I feel luckier now at home.”

Arianna with Bernice, who was freed about a year ago as
part of the arrangement with the school project.
When the village chief who oversees the region realized the significance of Maya’s bat mitzvah, she was made an honorary “queen mother” of the village. “They put clothes and jewelry on me,” Maya said. “I was given the name ‘Mama Divaketa’ which means ‘mother of development.’” The Robbins, along with their friends who went along on the trip, said Shehecheyanu as the villagers sang and danced.
“That day was unbelievable,” Mrs. Robbins said.

Although she does not like being the center of attention, Maya said she is proud she could be a part of the work her family has done for the Ghana children. “It’s good to help other people,” she said. “It’s important that all kids go to school.”

One of Arianna’s favorite memories of the trip to Ghana also involves Joshua. “Knowing that my family started all this makes it more meaningful,” Arianna said. “Seeing Joshua in real life, and when he jumped into my dad’s arms, it was so emotional. I really look up to my dad. It’s just an amazing cause.”

The Robbins family with Joshua.
She agrees with her sister that seeing the children in Ghana first-hand makes her appreciate her life in the United States much more than before.

“When I came back and people were complaining about the littlest things, I thought about my trip and got frustrated,” she said. “It’s very important for people to know what’s going on in the world.”
Arianna said she never thought her family could have such an impact on the trafficking problem in Ghana. The school the family helped fund will be used for children as well as the fishermen who oftentimes were trafficked themselves as children. Through education, the Robbins family hopes to end the cycle of child slavery.

“I never thought when we started this that we’d get this far,” Arianna said. “If you want to change something and are really interested in it, go for it.”