I have the privilege to do this series Meet the Faces. The main purpose is to tell stories that I believe need to be told…and also to challenge myself to be intentional with the relationships I am building here in Ghana. Whether it be a friend from church or someone I randomly meet in the market. So today our setting is in Tetteh Quarshi market, a place Agustin and I go to almost every week. A couple of weeks ago, as I was leaving the market this beautiful little girl ran out between two “booths” and waved at me enthusiastically. I smiled back at her, was about to get into my car, but decided to grab my camera off the front seat and walk down to her. She couldn’t be much older than one year old, and she was so beautiful. Bright eyes..curly dark hair. Then a man comes around the corner, and a smile splashes across his face as he sees his little girl wave at the “abruni” (white person as they call me.) I then asked if he wanted a photo with his little girl, and he said, “Oh yes! yes!” I took a couple of photos and Mary became quite shy, but I loved watching this man with his daughter…his love for her was so evident. I asked him with my weak attempt at Twi, what was his name and he replied with confidence, “My name is Divine.” I looked down at his daughter and he said, “And this is Mary. I have twin girls. Mary and Messy.” That was my first interaction with Divine. Here are a few of the images of Divine and Mary from that day.
The following week I thought more about the series Meet the Faces, and when I started thinking who I should talk to first – Divine immediately came to mind. So I went back to the market to hang out with my friend from Wheaton College and fellow photographer, Taylor Horton (Taylor Rae Photography), who was visiting Ghana with a medical mission group (her visit, although short was such a blessing)! I told Taylor about this series and that I was hoping to see Divine, to hear a bit of his story, and that day..we did. I explained a bit about who I am, that I’m a photographer..a story teller. He was so excited to have a listener and was very enthusiastic to tell his story. So he invited me into his home. I followed him into a cement room no larger than 15 feet long and 8 feet wide which is the same place he works and his family sleeps and cooks. His wife, Agustina, welcomed me and offered some of their lunch that she was feeding the twin girls. I was honored to be invited into their home and to meet his family. He pulled up a broken plastic chair for me…and I got the privilege of hearing what Divine had to say. Now I couldn’t write as fast as he talked, so this is my interpretation (in regards to the exact wording) of what he said.
Me: Divine, would you mind telling me a bit about yourself?
Divine: I am a trader..or artisan. I paint, sculpt, build. I am a husband and father of two little girls.
Me: Where are you from?
Divine: I’m from the Volta Region. Do you know it?
Me: I have heard so much about it and heard that Volta Lake is truly beautiful and I can’t wait to visit.
Divine: I feel it is sad that so often when foreigners come to help…they only stay here in Accra. When there are resources here in Accra…the villages that really need help are places like Volta.
Me: Can you tell me a bit more about your village in Volta?
Divine: The village and the people are very poor. Yes, for me…life is hard, but I am so blessed – by God’s grace – I can be here with my family trying to make a living. One thing that is very common..is that people are so poor…they have to trade their children into slavery to pay back debt. My grandfather worked hard but could not feed his family, so this wealthy man offered to give him a loan. But my grandfather could not make enough money to pay back the debt. Then the wealthy man came back for his money…over and over. So the wealthy man said, ‘since you can’t pay me your debt, give me one of your children to pay the debt.’ So grandfather gave this man his son. So his son, my uncle, was given to the man, and was put into slavery.
Me: Child labor?
(For a brief explanation on anti-slavery/child labor – click here:
Divine: Yes. My grandfather was so sad. But he had no choice…and this story is common for most families in my village. Most families have to give up their children to pay back their debt. If I hadn’t had the chance to leave, I’m sure I’d be forced to eventually give up my little girls. I couldn’t let them go, I wouldn’t want to…but I don’t know what I would have done.
He looked back at Messy playing peek-a-boo behind him. I shuttered at the idea of these beautiful little girls, forced into child slavery.
Divine: Life is not easy. I live here with my family, where I work because it is all I can afford. The mosquitos are so bad. Mary, one of the twins, now has Malaria and I cannot afford the medicine. Your brother, Felipe, bought masks from me last week…and I used that money to pay for the medicine, but it has run out. I do not know what to do for my little girl. I am praying for a miracle.
I looked over at Mary and she did not look like the same little girl I had seen the week before. I could tell she was aching in pain and she laid in her mother’s arms, never wanting her mother to let her go.
Divine: Please let me show you this.
He asked me to follow him through the maze of sheds and selling booths to the “creek” behind his shed. Full of garbage and a green slime…that use to be classified as water. It hasn’t rained in weeks, making for a perfect spot for insects to reproduce and bacteria to grow. Bugs were everywhere. He pointed back towards his home. The window in the room where they live, faces the edge of the creek.
Divine: We don’t have anything to cover the windows, so I cannot protect my family. It is hard. Money is hard. I must tell you…a white man came and talked with me for a long time, and became my friend. He told me he wanted to do a business with me, and asked me to make enough art pieces to fill a 20 foot container and he would sell it in the U.S. and give me half the money. So I used all of my money to get the materials, and worked for weeks to fill the container. He took the container and never sent me my money! Nothing! I called him, wrote him…I have the emails as proof…and he won’t return my calls. I have heard that he is back in Accra and is building a fancy hotel. I don’t know what to do. I have nothing.
I sat there, listening to his words…and experiencing so many different emotions at once. Anger..that this man took advantage of him and his savings, the injustice of what is happening in his village, sadness thinking of his little girl Mary..I simply wish I could do more.
Me: Divine, I am so sorry for what you have experienced. Through everything you have been through…it is amazing to see your love for God, love for your family…and the passion you have for being a good husband and father. I don’t know what will come of sharing your story… but I do believe in the power of prayer and community and I think sharing stories can make an impact. Thank you so much for being so willing to share openly with me.
Divine: I do not expect anything…but thank you. Thank you for listening. I just want my story to be heard. I just want people to know that the villages in Volta need help. I want to help my country. I want to make a living for myself so I can do my part and go back to my village and help. Ghana is my motherland.
I thought to myself… there is so much I want to say and so much I want to do. Sometimes we end up feeling paralyzed carrying the weight of the stories we hear, not knowing what to do or how we can help. There is power in community, and one person at a time..I do believe change can happen. My belief in the power of sharing a story is actually a large part of what led me to pursue photography.
So as I thought about Divine’s story, and how this is only a glimpse…my first thought was Mary needs medicine. Malaria, at her young age of a year and a half, is a vicious and fast disease and she needs help now. So I looked around his workshop and he really is a great artisan. I truly believe in supporting people, by asking and commissioning them to do what they do best. So after seeing his woodworking skills, I asked him to make me these beautiful bookends with an elephant carved into it, so he can use that money to help pay for Mary’s treatment for the time being.
So today… we met the face and story of Divine Agbenorwu. A husband, a father, an artisan, a Ghanaian. Please join me in praying for Divine and his family, specifically his little girl Mary. Additionally, to be praying and thinking about his village in the Volta region and for Ghana as a country. * I will also be posting updates on Mary’s condition, as I learn more.
Here are a few images during my visit with Divine and his family. These first couple images are of Divine’s daughter, one of the twins, Messy.
Divine showed me a photo he has of his family in the Volta region when he was young.
He then took me to the “creek” behind his home, most likely the reason Mary has been infected with Malaria.
Agustina, Divine’s wife, holding Mary, while Messy plays peek-a-boo. (this moment took me by surprise – hence its a bit blurry but still a sweet moment)
**The bookends cost 30 Ghana cedis ($15.00 U.S.). I will be posting images of Divine’s artwork and the great bookends he made for us, in case anyone is interested. If you’d like to know more about supporting Diving through his art or contributing towards Mary’s medical costs, please contact me for more information.