Finding refuge

In the Spring 2010 voyage, Stephanie Kurica arrived in Tema, Ghana with Semester at Sea and, by coincidence, met Stacey Omorefe on the street.. In their brief conversation, Stacey told Stephanie about City of Refuge, a home she and her husband,John, had started to rescue children from child slavery situations in Ghana. Stephanie learned that child slavery is one of the fastest growing problems Ghana faces with thousands of children taken from their families each year.In Tema, poor mothers are targeted by slave traders, who promise an education for the children or offer the mothers money—a pittance by U.S.standards, but enough money to pay for food for several months in Ghana. The mothers hand over their children, hoping they will have a better future. Instead, they work as many as 14 hours a day doing hard labor on fishing boats and in fisheries.In the past 18 months, since City of Refuge opened, the Omorefes have rescued over 40 children from child slavery, mainly working on fishing boats and in fisheries.

Stephanie Kurica was inspired by the talk and returned the next day with friends from Semester at Sea (SAS) to help paint the facility.

She also promised to tell the orphanage’s story and bring more help. That help came in the form of Stephanie’s parens—Ken and Marty Kurica, lifelong learners on
the Fall 2010 voyage. Stephanie urged them to visit City of Refuge. Ken and Marty were already impressed by their daughter’s passion to help the organization so they
set up a visit for their arrival in Ghana. During a service leadership class he was attending on the MV Explorer, Ken described the visit he and his wife planned to
make to City of Refuge, to bring supplies, clothes and a donation to feed children in the home and the village. He gave the same talk to the 60-plus lifelong learners.

Within days, Ken and Marty had amassed a group of volunteers that shocked them — more than 30 students and lifelong learners wanted to join them on a five-hour drive from port of Takoradi to Tema to help. Even more lifelong learners donated money to extend a feeding program the Kuricas were organizing, so that they could feed 1,200 children from the immediate village and a surrounding village. The project was then in full motion. Ken and Marty got a bus to take all of the volunteers to Tema. They contacted the home to alert them about the number of volunteers and make sure everyone had a role to play. (Stacey Omorefe quickly replied with an organized itinerary of activities and duties.) They held several planning meetings to review the constantly changing logistics.In the end, the group left at 3 a.m. on the MV Explorer’s second day in Ghana to arrive at City of Refuge for a service project that has changed their lives.

For 16 hours, the SAS volunteers sang songs and played soccer and other games with the children at the orphanage, visited a nearby village, and cooked food with their hosts to make over 1,300 portions for the feeding program that they serve in separate Styrofoam containers. For nearly two hours, in the pouring rain, they
handed out food to waves of children.“I’m not a very touchy-feely person, but that day changed me so much. I wasn’t sure how to act with the kids at first, but by the end I just didn’t want to leave the kids,” said Greg Malamut, a student from Cornell. “I really knew I wanted to do more to help. That day really changed me so much and really wanted to make me do more.”

The SAS volunteers boarded the bus again that night for a drive that delivered them back to the MV Explorer at 3 a.m. They were buzzing upon their return and haven’t stopped since. “Never before have I ever felt so connected to kids. To me the biggest thing was that I’ve never seen a group of people come together so fast and work together for a similar goal,” said Mikael Rosenberger, who attends Univ. of San Diego. “We were brought into this family. It was incredible.”

In the weeks and months that have followed the group’s visit to City of Refuge, the students have not stopped working to tell the organization’s story and find a way to help.

“We were going to start a small drive at each of our colleges, but we thought that if we did more we could have a greater impact and help more children there,”
said Ariel Robinson who attends Cornell University and has been completely dedicated to the project since the trip in Ghana. With the help of the Kuricas, the students started a 501c3 nonprofit called Finding Refuge to help the orphanage and, over time, abolish childhood slavery. And they have mobilized a floating campus aboard the MV Explorer, educating their fellow voyagers about the extent of child slavery in Ghana, child workers in India and child prostitution in parts of Asia. With T-shirts asking “What are you Ghana do?” and a website created, these impassioned students have raised $13,000 to date and have enlisted 30 more classmates, lifelong learners, faculty and staff who were moved by their stories.“I didn’t have the opportunity to go to the orphanage, but you can help but be moved by all that they’ve seen and what they’ve done,” said Marcus Williams from the University of Rochester. “It cost only $1,000 to save a child from slavery.

That’s something we can all go back and do on our college campuses. I’m pledging to raise $10,000 at my university.”? McKenzie Lay, who attended the service visit,
isn’t surprised by the outpouring of interest in the new nonprofit and helping the City of Refuge “When I was there, I felt like I couldn’t do enough for these kids. I was so inspired by how much [the Omorefes] do,” she said. “They spent four months in negotiations trying to save one child. And they get threats sometimes. I remember going from a sense of helplessness and thinking ‘How do I help these kids’ to a sense of empowerment and feeling that I can. I have the resources to do something. I can’t just go back to my cushy little house in Oregon and go back to college and say that’s it.”? McKenzie, Ariel and several of her classmates plan to return to City of Refuge in the summer to volunteer at the orphanage for several months. “These Students have gone above and beyond what anyone could have expected,” Ken Kurica said. “I think it’s like what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said,” Marty Kurica added. “These kids give us hope that they are going to take care of the world and make it a better place and it’s because of these experiences.”

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