Few freshmen arrive at Stony Brook with the life experience that Allison Shaw has accrued. The Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey native, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering degree in chemical and molecular engineering, spent two parts of two summers building bridges of hope for the children of Ghana at the Mephibosheth Training Center in Ankamu.
The first time Allison traveled to Ghana was as a parishioner of the Bergen Bible Baptist Church in 2013 through a Vacation Bible School program overseen by Pastor William Hegedus, just after she finished seventh grade. On this trip Allison was surrounded by adults and teenagers who had anywhere from a few years to decades on her. She was shy with her elders when she arrived but is now completely at ease interacting with people of all ages thanks to the experience.
Her second trip to Ghana involved a leadership role — as a missionary for the Good News for Nation Ministries also begun by Pastor Hegedus. She and her fellow team members taught the children dance moves, songs and put on puppet shows to entertain and educate them.
Allison explained that a number of American churches have partnered with their Ghanaian counterparts in an area of that country that is predominantly Christian and minister to children and families in those villages and schools.
“The students at the Training Center all have some disability their parents are unequipped to handle and Mephibosheth takes them for 10-and-a-half months of the year to give them the education and care that they need to sustain themselves in Ghanaian culture,” Allison said. “That being said, I have never encountered a happier group of children in my life. For five straight days I was surrounded by a sea of kids from five to twelve years old all singing and dancing in unison with me.
Allison said it was easy to make friends by asking Ghanaian mothers if she could hold their babies. “In Ghana it is customary for a mother to hold her children wrapped in a piece of cloth around her waist and back. One of the mothers allowed me and a few other girls on the team to give it a try, laughing at how nervous we were that the children would fall off our backs. We wound up sticking to the American way of carrying children.”
Immersion in Ghanaian culture made the time pass quickly for Allison and her team. “Being disconnected from the world back home without the internet and cell service and just the love of the people around me made me feel blessed. It was a different plane of existence then everything I was used to and I could have stayed another month before getting even a little homesick,” she said. “All I can think about is when I’ll be able to go back. Trust me, my roommates hear about it all the time.”
Someday, Allison hopes to combine her love for teaching and children with an engineering background, but for now, it’s “nose to the grindstone” time for her as she takes on a demanding curriculum in her major. She hopes to sneak in another mission trip to Ghana during a summer or winter break.
— Glenn Jochum