Holding On, Letting Go by Richard Botchwey

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey and I met in Salerno, Italy this past summer when we both attended the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Conference. Poets gathered from all over the world to share ideas, read poetry, and brainstorm how we can be effective agents of social change with our poetry. Richard stood out for many reasons, including his warm and welcoming smile. I immediately felt comfortable talking with Richard and wanted to know him better.  But what made me want to share his voice on my blog is his amazing story of survival and the way he has used his own trials and painful experiences as an orphan to help other orphans.

Richard Botchwey visiting New Life Orphanage at Nungua Barrier in Accra,Africa.
Richard Botchwey visiting New Life Orphanage at Nungua Barrier in Accra,Africa.

I asked Richard to write a blog post on the theme of holding on and letting go. Here is his take on that topic.

I think what has really kept me focused and always pressing on is this. When my mother was alive, we had no option but to eat whatever food she cooked. And I mean whatever.

Who are you to say that you don’t like something, especially any food on the table? My mother wouldn’t mind you. Who are you to pretend as though you are allergic to a particular food? You will sleep hungry. She wouldn’t waste her precious time pampering you. As a result, none of us ever went to her crying for toys, a particular type of shoes, or anything kids of our present day are zealous for. We wore whatever clothes she bought. We wore whatever shoes, belts, or underpants—anything she would get us. For shoes and clothes, she always bought twice our size for the reason that we would grow into them.

And we went to church and gatherings always looking like some caricatures. We were so embarrassed by our clothes, we felt like we were covered in blisters. 
No matter the number of holes in our clothes, despite their magnitude, we remained calm. We had to remain calm despite the mimicking and mockery because it was insane to cry.

It was suicidal to bother our mother to get us things she had no money for—like toothbrushes, as if without them we couldn’t grow. Kids in our world today ought to be grateful. We never had toothbrushes. Forget about toothpaste. And we didn’t bother Mom. We used chewing sticks, because she and my father both used them. She knew that whether we had toothbrushes and toothpaste  or not we would grow. For her, our growth was more important than things.

When I look back, although Mom died about 17 years ago, I think I’m still angry. We thought she was being so hard on us. We felt she was denying us the joy children expect from their parents. But no. Mom was doing the right thing even though we saw ourselves as victims of pain and suffering, poverty and hunger. She saw us as victors. Now I realize that she was training us to become responsible adults although we saw her treatment to be very brutal.

When I look at children in our world today, I marvel. When I look at American children, European children, Asian and African children—who are blessed with many things—I expect them to be grateful. I expect them to hold their parents in high esteem for the effort they are making to get their children a life they never had. I say, applause for all the moms and dads. And especially for single mothers. They are treasures.

The other day I was at Accra Mall (a mall in Ghana). I saw a scene between a mother and her child that I had also seen while I was waiting to board my flight in the Istanbul airport last year. A little boy was pestering his mother to get him a toy car.  This wonderful mother didn’t give in. She stayed in the queue. When we finally boarded the plane, the little boy was still crying and sniveling. And I could tell that this elegant looking mother was greatly disturbed, because her son’s tears were attention-grabbing and quite frustrating. When we landed at Heathrow Airport, she rushed into a toyshop and bought her son the car he wanted. I didn’t see this mother to be rich. The little boy was just fortunate. As I was passing by, I saw the price tag and I was thunderstruck. £200 sterling? For a toy car? That’s my yearly rent back home.

I have also seen kids crying out loud for pizza in pizza shops. “Mom, buy me pizza.” I have seen children crying for all kinds of things. “Mom, I need chocolate.” “Dad, I need a new iPhone.” “Mom, I want to go to this-or-that University.” If we had said things like that to my mother, she would have given us a reason to shut up, if not a slap.

Sometimes I wish I were in that little child’s shoes. Anytime I see kids—and even some young people—behaving in that same way, it irks me. Sometimes, this feeling makes me mad. It makes me feel like I was imprisoned in my childhood days. It makes me feel like I missed my lucky days. For me, I see it as if my parents ruined my best days. But no. I have come to realize that Mom did her best for me .

And my best days are still ahead of me. So there is no need for me to blame my mother for whatever she did or didn’t do. Because whatever she did or didn’t do, I have grown, and I am still growing.  This realization has helped me to let go of the pains I suffered, the shame that befell me when I was growing up. This realization has helped me to put my past behind me. I used to get mad at my parents for failing to take us to the cinema, take us abroad, or even take us the mall to shop. But my parents never even heard of a mall.

Now that I am a man, I appreciate the efforts of Mom and Dad. They did not harm me. Instead they helped me. And this is why I cannot hold on to my childhood insecurities. Why hold on to those thoughts and feelings when you can let them go?  My past is behind. Today is mine to enjoy. Stop holding on to your childhood setbacks, pains, insecurities. Cut your attachments. When we hold on to the terrible experiences we had as children, we only ruin our future. We become hurtful adults with no sense of belonging. Today, let go.

Richard with orphans in Odumasi Krobo, a village in the Eastern Region of Ghana
Richard with orphans in Odumasi Krobo, a village in the Eastern Region of Ghana

“The place of great promise at times is the place of great pain as well. What you can do is more important that what you cannot do.”

~Richard Botchwey, The Tale of An Orphan: A Lesson to Learn

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey is an internationally published Ghanaian writer, a poet, and a social entrepreneur. His first book, The Tale of an Orphan a Lesson to Learn, was officially published in the United States on April 1st, 2012, by E-Magazine Publishing.  He has appeared on the Pauline Long Show (SKY TV UK) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in United Kingdom as well as several television and radio shows in Ghana. Through his non-profit organization, Orphan Trust Movement,  Richard has helped many young people across Ghana with his amazing life story. He is currently working on several charitable projects and writing his next book, If I Were an American.

To learn more about Richard Botchwey and his work, please visit his website at http://richardbotchwey.com.

What Can Poets Change?

I just returned from a wonderful conference called 100 Thousand Poets for Change in Salerno, Italy. The event organizers and driving forces behind the international gathering of poets for social change are Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion of Guernville, California. Their idea? Invite poets and organizers from all over the world to gather in Salerno–to  meet, socialize, and network to discuss ideas for how we can all facilitate social change. And they made it all work in a beautiful place called the Santa Sofia Complex, the site of a former monastery now used as an exhibit center and a gathering space.

Unlikely, you say. What can poets change? I used to think that as well, back when I was an activist marching in the streets and demonstrating at politicians’ offices. Show up, resist, use civil disobedience—that’s how you change things. And, yes, that’s still a vibrant and important model for social change. But we’re not all called to engage in the same way, especially as we move through different seasons in our lives. The poets that I hung out with in Salerno are an eclectic, international group of activists who are using the power of words to change hearts. And often a change of heart is more powerful than a change of mind. This week and next week, I’ll be sharing stories of two amazing poets I met in Salerno. I hope the following story makes you smile.

Michael Rothenberg, Richard Botchwey, and Terri Carrion
Michael Rothenberg, Richard Botchwey, and Terri Carrion

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey is a bright, friendly, and kind young man from Ghana who has a warm smile and lots of wisdom to share. He impressed me with his story about being an orphan at the age of 7 and how he used his faith and determination to overcome all the hardships a child alone is faced with. Richard is one of those people about whom you might say, “He didn’t just survive, he thrived.” And Richard is passionate about taking his message of hope for orphans on a grand tour. In 2013 he published his memoir called The Tale of an Orphan: A Lesson To Learn and received much praise and critical acclaim for his personal story of triumph. Richard now works to help other orphans, especially in Ghana, and has established a trust called Orphan Trust Movement, which has helped over 10,000 young people in Ghana. Richard calls all of us to action with his quiet courage when he says, “You are the one who can stand up and do something to bring everlasting difference. …if you are not an orphan, you can still use this book to learn how to stop reflecting on the past and improve your life today.” Richard is changing the lives of orphans and many others with his book, his poetry, and his quiet determination.

Dear Readers, whose writing has inspired you? Whose work has touched your heart in some profound way? I love to hear your stories, so please share in the comments.