Today Jessica Hooten, a long-time Touch A Life supporter, shares her story of her recent trip to the Touch A Life Care Center in Ghana.
I remember the first time I went to Ghana, I thought I was living a dream. I could not believe I was flying to another continent (also, my first time out of the country – yikes) for three weeks with a carry-on size suitcase and a backpack as my only belongings. I was strangely excited about all of this. And also, terrified. I had no idea what to expect. I had a million questions ranging from, “What will we be eating?” to “Should I pack toilet paper?” The answer to that last question is YES, in case you were wondering. Our plane to Ghana flew for what felt like an eternity, and then we drove another 12 hours (the last two without AC in our van), and arrived to a little village called Kete Krachi. It was like something I imagined I would see only on National Geographic rather than in real life. Exhausted from our days of travel and hair tinted red from the clay being kicked up around our feet, I had never felt more alive.
I would spend the next two weeks engulfed in a culture I knew nothing about with children who had lived through unimaginable circumstances. I came expecting to encourage and bring hope and I found what so many others do when they set foot on African soil: I found Joy.
I’ll never forget leaving that place and thinking, as the wheels of the plane lifted off the ground, that this would be an experience I’d never forget and one that would never happen again. Five years went by, and then…
My husband and I lost our second daughter, Priscilla Joy, at birth. She was diagnosed with a rare birth defect that allowed her only a short time on this earth, 87 minutes to be exact. Despite learning of her diagnosis at 20 weeks pregnant, there was nothing that can prepare you for that moment. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and we were living it. It wasn’t long after Priscilla passed that I came across the Touch A Life 2013 video on YouTube. I had seen it before, but it looked different now. Before even finishing the video, I was texting Rachel (Touch A Life’s Director of Project Development), “when can I go back to Ghana?” Loss of any kind feels like a black hole. It can suck you into a place where time and space don’t exist and you stop caring about anything and everything. I could feel that darkness pining for me and I felt desperate to escape it. I needed Joy.
A trip to Ghana is not easy on any front and it’s also not free. With medical bills piling up at my doorstep, coming up with $3500 was not going to happen. Rachel told me that Touch A Life was having a garage sale contest/fundraiser that would earn a plane ticket to Ghana for the person who raised the most funds – that was it! That was my answer! I quickly got the word out about what I was doing and my community rallied around me. We were able to raise over $5,000 for Touch A Life, and by golly, I won that ticket.
Meanwhile, (because pulling off a ginormous garage sale wasn’t enough to keep me busy) I had the idea that I wanted to have something to give the kids when I went back. I’ve been working as an Independent Designer for Origami Owl for the past two-and-a-half years and have found so much Joy and purpose in using my business to bless others. We had a necklace with the word “FREE” engraved on it and I just knew that was it would be the perfect gift for the Touch A Life kids. There are approximately 56 children at the Touch A Life Care Center and I wanted each child to have one. Again, I had to ask for help. I started asking my Origami Owl teammates if they would donate a necklace (or a few). I even contacted our headquarters to see if they would donate some and they sent me TWICE the number I had asked for. I was blown away and so incredibly excited to have something to take back to the kids.
When the time finally came to get on a plane and head back to Ghana, it was a much different experience. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t unsure. I was ready. It had been five years since I had seen their faces, but it felt like I had seen them every day since. They have no idea that their hands are healing, that their singing brings Joy to a weary soul, or that their smiles are pulling me out of the darkness that seeks to consume me. As I handed each of them their necklaces, I had thought that the inscription of “FREE” would be a constant reminder for them that they are indeed, free. In hindsight, I don’t know that they need a reminder. We do. This is what freedom looks like. Their faces are the faces of people living in freedom from their past. There is nothing in this world that I wouldn’t trade to have Priscilla back here with me. We miss her every day and will carry her with us forever. But I want to live like these kids. I want my hands to heal, my singing to bring Joy, and my smile to help someone else out of the darkness. They show me what’s possible. They’re proof that God is good.