When I first arrived at Challenging Heights and saw the children, their eyes were filled with curiosity, wondering who we were and what we were doing there.  We received a few shy smiles and some hand waving.

During the children’s free time, I observed them in the courtyard laughing, chasing each other, chatting and playing foosball on a broken game table.  As I stood watching the children play, it was hard for me to imagine the horrors they had been rescued from.  Horrors that have left marks physiologically and sometimes physically.

When a child is first brought into the home, no questions are asked other than their name for the first two weeks. This sometimes means the name they go by, and not the name given to them at birth.  The slavers rename the children, and they are beaten if they don’t answer to their new name.  They do this to make it harder to identify a child for rescue.

After two weeks, the child is evaluated by a phycologist for PTSD.  This evaluation is usually done through art.  Art is also used to teach lessons in correct social behavior.  For one lesson the children drew an outline of their hand and colored it in.  The theme was “Hands are not made for hitting”. The artwork from that lesson hung on the walls.

The children are also evaluated physically for signs of illness or infections.  Almost all of the children are treated for Hepatitis B and Bilharzia.  Bilharzia is an infection caused by a parasitic worm that lives in fresh water in subtropical and tropical regions and is found in Lake Volta. Along Lake Volta, Ghanaian children are sold into a life of forced labor, malnutrition, and abuse. Parents are told their children will attend school in exchange for a few hours of work. In reality, children work 14-hour shifts with one meal a day. Bilharzia infects the urinary tract or the intestines. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool, or blood in the urine. There is a small medical room used to treat minor ailments and a specialized nurse comes to administer vaccinations.  If the ailment is too severe to treat at the home, the child is transferred to a hospital.

The workers at Challenging Heights are compassionate- and are committed to the wellbeing of the children. Routine, responsibilities and established boundaries help the children feel secure.

Due to the violence the children previously experienced from the slavers, Challenging Heights uses positive reinforcement to encourage positive behavior.  One way they accomplish this is with a point system.  If at the end of a selected time period, a child has enough points, they get a prize. Each child is given responsibilities and points can be taken away if one of those responsibilities is not done properly or ignored.  During the first two weeks of a child’s stay, they are not ‘dinged’ for chores not done correctly.  The children take these prizes seriously. The Recovery Manager at the home shared that one boy (17yrs) cried when he didn’t have enough points to get a prize.  The prize was a pencil.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that I could share. My heart was deeply touched by these children and by the dedication shown by all of the workers at the home. I learned that there are people who willingly put everything on the line to help those who can’t help themselves, sometimes at the risk of their own personal safety. These children are survivors and have been given a chance to have a better life. Knowledge is power and Challenging Heights is working to bring awareness to the slave trade and to put an end to child suffering and abuse. I am deeply honored that I was given the opportunity to work alongside these amazing people and interact with children that are having their destinies reshaped for a brighter future.

I will never be the same…


Christy Smith
Christy Smith