Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Creature Called Inspiration

“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere.” - Frank Howard Clark

I've been thinking a lot about my motivations for volunteering in Ghana, mostly because the path there has been, at times, rather challenging. Being a project of my own creation, each time I am confronted with a difficulty I need to pull myself up by the bootstraps and remind myself why I am going through all this trouble. 

Last night I went to a talk by Peta Hall, whose work in Ghana has included spearheading the building of the Atorkor Vocational Training Centre, a new skills training centre that will change the lives of so many in the impoverished coastal region.

The talk was a fundraiser where people could purchase tools for the centre, sponsor a student, or donate towards larger purchases needed by the centre. There were also some Ghanaian items for sale, and I picked up this little guy:

I saw him and my heart melted. I love his imperfection, his quirkiness, his bright batik colours. The tag says he was made by Regina at the Dzidefo Women’s Cooperative. Wherever you are, Regina: thank you. You have given me a talisman for my journey. If I feel discouraged I will look at this creature’s little yarn smile and remember that this type of wild creativity is exactly why I am going to Ghana, to work with the little ones of your country to use their hands to create joyful objects. There will certainly be some other outcomes for myself, my project partners, and the children we work with. But for now, creativity is more than enough.

Creature, I shall call you ‘Inspiration.’

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Single Step

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Confucius

It was New Year's Day, 2012, and my friend Isabel was having an afternoon open house at her condo in downtown Toronto. My husband Milé and I stopped in for a glass of bubbly before starting the long drive home to Prince Edward County. The weather was unseasonably warm and it was easy to feel optimistic about the new year ahead.

When Isabel introduced me to her friend Jamie, she mentioned what we'd have in common: volunteerism. I'd been volunteering for ArtsCan Circle, travelling to Northern First Nations communities to do puppetry with school children. Jamie, as I learned, volunteered regularly on development projects in Ghana; she said "I've always thought I should bring a puppeteer with me." It was like a bell went off in my head. 

My champagne glass was empty; the New Year's Day crowd was boisterous and merry. Jamie and I leaned against a wall in the hallway, talking about her experiences in Ghana. Within half an hour I heard myself saying, "I'll go."

Rarely do I make such huge decisions so spontaneously, but what can I say? It spoke to me. Little did I comprehend at the time that this was the first step of a journey of some 8500 kilometres, the beginning of months of planning and seemingly endless fundraising. At that time I felt so completely compelled, especially when Jamie told me that the kids there had no art supplies. And I mean none at all. Art was such a huge part of my childhood, has brought me such joy, and indeed it's what helped me get through so many rough patches in my life. I can't fathom not having the tools to realize the visions that dance through my imagination.

Over the last eight months my plans have developed into a project called Puppets Without Borders, and in November I'll be heading to rural villages of the Volta region to work with kids there. I am so thankful that I'll be joined by two fellow adventurers, Susanne Larner and Tamara Romanchuk, as we travel about spreading puppet love. The project is being facilitated by Ghanaian NGO Disaster Volunteers of Ghana whose staff have been of great assistance in putting our plans together.

The goals of Puppets Without Borders are three-fold. The main project is to develop shadow puppetry plays based on traditional stories, which will be performed by school children for the whole community. Secondly, we're going to run an after-school program making hand puppets with kids. Finally, we are trying to round up as many art supplies as we can carry, so that the kids we meet can continue exercising their creativity long after we're gone. We've also just added workshops at an orphanage and a vocational centre to our itinerary, so our schedule is pretty full up!

My arm is still sore from the vaccinations I got earlier this week. I have a long list of things to do, people to talk to, favours to ask. So many good folks have given so generously to support this project, but we're still raising money and soliciting donations of art supplies. Please get in touch if you can offer support for our project (krista(at), and stay tuned to this blog to find out how it all unfolds. You can even subscribe to email updates and have them delivered straight to your inbox. Thanks for following - and wish us luck!