Global Activism: 'A Better Life for Kids' helping orphaned and needy children in Ghana

July 18, 2013

Courtesy of Shelley Nizynski Reese
Kindergarteners in Ghana

During summer and winter breaks as a second grade teacher at the John Middleton Elementary School in Skokie, Shelley Nizynski Reese, travels to Ghana. There, she uses her teaching and sign language skills to educate orphans. Beyond providing for the orphans' basic necessities like food and medicine, Shelley, her group "A Better Life for Kids", strives to ensure that the babies and children there are loved and given access to education. Shelley is just back from Ghana and for Global Activism, she'll share what she saw on the ground.

Shelley received the “Power of One Award” from the Illinois Holocaust Museum in 2012. In her acceptance speech, Shelley summed up what drives her altruism:

"In 2006, I heard Princess Zulu, a Zambia born, HIV positive woman activist, speak at an event about how “compassion alone” is not enough – we must act. It was then that I decided…to volunteer my time in Africa. I researched and chose an orphanage with 205 kids – 25 of which were deaf. Having learned some sign language, I thought I would be able to help these kids...While I loved all of the children, I was especially drawn to Emmanuel, a little boy who lived at the orphanage who was sick with malaria and very sad…[H]is mom had abandoned him along the railroad tracks just days after he was born and he had spent his whole life never leaving the orphanage walls…On subsequent trips to Ghana, he was the first one I would ask about and the one I would want to see. We’ve always had a special bond.

I loved Emmanuel so much and I could see how much happiness our relationship brought him, but our time together was limited. I wanted him to experience this love and care every single day for the rest of his life…I believe that I have a responsibility to inspire others to recognize the powerful impact they can have in the world. When others see change as possible and tangible for them, I’ve learned it motivates them to act."

Also with Shelley is Skokie teacher, Jennifer Ciok from Oliver McCracken Middle School. Jen was so inspired by Shelley's work that she partnered her group, Aiding Children Together (A.C.T.) with Shelley.

Jen shared how much this work means to her:

"In 2010, after learning about child labor and child soldiers, my students became very enraged by what they heard. They found it heartbreaking that so many children did not have the same opportunities that they did to be safe and learn. After meeting with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who had responded to their letters and has visited many times over the years, the students asked me if they could create an organization to guarantee the rights of children around the world. At that point, Aiding Children Together, or A.C.T., was born. That year we had a student created walk-a-thon that raised $1000.

The following year our mission grew as we teamed up with Shelley and "A Better Life for Kids". We organized community events at school like restaurant days...[W]e have added more events like a Leap for Ghana concert, a family spaghetti dinner, and taught more and more of the community about the rights of children...The students at McCracken continue to inspire me each year. They come up with amazing ideas to connect the community with the children in Ghana...Such amazing dedication by so many of these students to think beyond themselves and make the world a better place..."

On Friday, September 27th, A Better Life for Kids will hold its 2nd Annual Golf for Ghana's Orphans charity event at the Mt. Prospect Golf Club.