Wednesday, October 24, 2018

At long last Welcome Home

Me and my little brother Josh about 21 years ago.

Twenty one years ago something happened that changed the course of my life forever. I was a Kiwi girl living in California with my three younger brothers and my parents. My best friend Natalie was an only child. Until she wasn’t. Overnight and seemingly out of the blue, she was given two brothers in quick succession. That was my first exposure to the world of adoption and it fascinated me.

Over the years it became more than a simple fascination, it became a passion. Reflecting back, I think what I loved about it was that my traditional view of family was blown out of the water as I watched their family come to life before my very eyes. From there on out I read books, watched movies and of course (like the detective I am) watched their family closely. Did Norb and Kathy love those boys the same as Natalie? Did their family feel like a ‘real’ family? Yes and yes. Around the same time I started learning more about the world we live in and the challenges people face in countries different to mine. We had people come and speak at our school and our church about what life was like for those living in developing countries. My heart was broken completely in two, my fate sealed. I would adopt a child from one of those countries.  Adoption was never a ‘second best’ option for me, it was my always my preferred option. 

Tim and I in our early dating years
Fast forward to my first date with Tim. Over an Oreo Milkshake from Denny’s (all class that boy), he told me that if I wouldn’t be willing to live in Africa that was a deal breaker for him. Never one to be shy with direct statements I shot back with, “If you wouldn’t be willing to adopt, that’s my deal breaker.” Spoiler alert. I’m typing this from my couch in Uganda with my two adopted children playing outside with their Dad, the aforementioned, classy Tim. 

The weird thing is, the child I’d dreamed about adopting was always a boy. If I told you I thought about this most weeks for the next 21 years of my life - would you believe me? If I told you I hired books from the library on this regularly would you believe me?  If I told you I bought clothes for him over the last 15 years – would you believe me? I truly, earnestly did. Ask my Mum and Dad, Kelly Anne or Sarah. They’ll testify. God’s had that little boy on my heart for decades. I wished for him so badly. Prayed for him so much. Had his name doodled in each diary I’ve owned. If I had one wish as I blew out the candle on every birthday it was for us to one day find each other in this great big world.

See I’ve always believed that we serve a God that sits up there in the heavens looking across the whole earth. He saw my heart (a heart I believe He gave me to adopt) and he saw not one, but two children coming down the pipeline that for whatever reason wouldn’t be able to stay with their biological families. Trauma and deep loss for those two children. And yet, he’s in the business of restoration and redemption. And what I’ve discovered is that this God is so extravagant that sometimes he’ll send people from one side of the earth to the other for another. He saw Tim and I with our hands up in the air, asking God that if a child ever needed a home, we’d be there in a heartbeat.  And one day, that day came.

Suffice to say when Hope entered our family I was most confused because she was most certainly a girl. A beautiful, wonderful, precious, adored baby girl nonetheless. But did I have it wrong? Did I hear incorrectly, did I need to feminise the doodled name? What on earth was I going to do with the boys clothes at my parents? I’d never hear the end of it from my brothers! Nothing made sense other than the fact that I KNEW this little girl was made for our family. Maybe the ‘boy’ was supposed to be biological I hypothesized? But 18 months later our biological daughter, Eva was born. Also, most certainly a girl.

The little boy I'd dreamed of. 
So in April 2017 on our 10 year anniversary I asked Tim for permission to ‘knock’ one last time. He set (quite extreme) stipulations and off I went. I wish I could tell you the details of his case but those details are just that, his. What I can tell you is that August 31st 2017 was a day I’ll never forget because it was the day I met my son. The boy I’d been dreaming about. The wish I’d wished and the fulfillment of a dream decades in the making. It wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. Driving there we didn’t know if they’d matched us with a boy or a girl. We didn’t know the age or the background of the child. And so when he was carried through the door and our two worlds collided there was no drama, no fuss, no Eureka moment, just a little nudge in my heart as they read his file and I took it all in that this was indeed - him.

Our family 
And so here I type today friends. The day of his adoption. The day a judge in the High Court of Uganda looked me in the eye and said the three letters I’ve prayed for most of my life. 


There are truly no words someone can say to explain what it feels like to be given the legal right to be a Mother. I just shook her hand and let the tears fall down my cheeks, mustering up a squeaky “Thank you” as she kindly let me have a moment.  

Welcome Home baby boy, at long last, Welcome Home.

Thank you Jesus. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Good Magazine Story - October 2018

It is an honor to have my work featured in this month's Good Magazine.

Lake Volta in Ghana is the world's largest man-made lake. It sustains thousands of lives - but its fishing industry is built on the backs of vulnerable children, most under 10 years old. Compassion and Tearfund are there to stop that.

View the Good Magazine story as it appeared in print here. 

The online version is here 

 His name was Ebenezzer. And as I sat next to him on the rickety bus rumbling its way down some red dusty roads in West Africa, we got to talking. Turns out that at 19 years old, Ebenezzer had spent three years of his life on the lake we were now heading straight towards.  But for those thousands of hours of labour and heartache he was paid a total of $75 NZD for his work. He was a child slave. 

Ghana hosts the largest man-made lake in the world. It's absolutely beautiful, but there's a dark underbelly to its beauty. The slavery of thousands of children that are brought here to work on it. They are recruited as young as five for their little fingers to untie nets, their ability to hold their breath for long periods of time and their inability to fight back. Behind every net is a story. This, is Ebenezer’s.

“Shortly after I was born my mother died. My Father had been killed months earlier by the witch doctor and so my Grandmother came to take me. I was one of nine grandchildren in her care and she found it difficult to take care of me. When I was six years old a distant relative came to our home.
He promised a good job, a steady wage, enough food and a safe place to sleep for young boys who would work with him. Those first few days I was so scared. I would dream at night about going back to my Grandma but I had no way to reach her. We used to wake up at 4am each day and then comeback by midday for something small to eat. Then we would work again until nightfall cut up fish, bait them, put them in the water, collect the nets, bail water out of the boats, untie knots and dive deep. Sometimes the man who owned the boat would beat the other boys with paddles or bamboo on their backs.”

“One day our boat capsized in a thunderstorm and the man who took me to the lake could not operate his business anymore. He called my Grandma to pick me up and she spoke to (Tearfund’s partner, Compassion) the local project in our area about helping to get me back and into a school.  When my Grandma came to get me she began to cry as she realised what had happened out there on the lake for those years. She said that if she had realised what was going on she would have never sent me with that man.”

Trafficking is illegal in Ghana. But on the water, there is no law. Children like Ebenezzer are routinely beaten with paddles, heavy ropes, and electrical cables. Many have spoken about sleep deprivation, malnutrition, sexual assault and abuse, and grievous injuries. They are deprived of medical attention, education and recreation. When they refuse to dive to free the tangled nets, they are pushed or bludgeoned overboard. When they fall asleep or move too slowly to do their masters' bidding, they are beaten. When they complain or try to escape, they are denied food and water. They are slaves.

Tearfund New Zealand has been working on Lake Volta and it’s surrounds through their local partner, Compassion International to release children from poverty through child sponsorship. With over two million children sponsored worldwide, their overarching goal is to make sure these children are known, loved and protected. In every developing country that comes to life in a slightly different way. But in Ghana, on Lake Volta it looks like setting up projects within walking distance of the lake. It looks like ensuring that all the children in the project are placed in school, given nutritious food, and a safe place to play aware from the allure of evil traffickers preying around their villages. And if a child is ever unwittingly taken, they work relentlessly to ensure their immediate and safe return.

Now in his final years of high school, Ebenezer hopes to become a mechanical engineer one day. But for now he’s protected by the project, living safely back with his grandmother and encouraged by his sponsor. "I have suffered enough in my life and so I don't want my family or my future children to suffer. I want them to acquire some knowledge so they can lead a better life, If not for Compassion, I would be on the lake still. But because I am now with Compassion I can talk about what happened and my future with confidence.”

As I reflect on the week I spent with Ebenezzer and his friends on Lake Volta, untangling their stories and listening hard to learn what life was like for them -  I couldn’t help but think how every child on these shores should be sponsored. Needs to be sponsored. Deserves to be sponsored. As a Mum of three children, the right to a childhood for my own kids and countless others is something I’ll fight for all my life. Join me.

Helen Manson is a Kiwi humanitarian photographer and storyteller living in Uganda.
For more information on sponsoring a child visit 
Please note: Other than Ebenzzer and his grandmother, the children pictured do not work in the fishing industry; they recreated scenes of life on Lake Volta willingly and with permission.