There was one four-year-old girl who ran straight into my arms the first time she saw me. She wouldn’t let anyone give her injections but me. That kind of trust makes you feel worthy.
When I left for Ghana with Crossroads, I was 66 years old. I had just retired, and I wanted to do something with my life. I had been working since I was 15. In all that time, I worked at the same job, I had never lived outside Montreal, and I was an extremely shy person. This was my first trip outside North America, and it was my first time on an airplane. Till this day, I don’t know what made me decide to do something so completely different from the life I knew.
I was working at a medical clinic in a SOS children’s village in Tama. The first three days were horrible. I had arrived at night, and everything was pitch black. That was a real shock for me. I had a small room that I used to call my motel that had no running water or toilet. I kept asking myself what I had gotten myself into. I think I spent three days in that room crying. But it gave me time to think – and I knew there was no use for me to stay if I didn’t at least try to make the best of it. If you want to do something and you let your fears stop you, I think you get nowhere.
Although it was not easy, it turned out to be an amazing experience – the kind that elevates you. Those kids really made me feel good. They filled me with so much love. I was “Auntie Ghislaine” to them and “Grandma” to everyone else, which was nice for me as I didn’t have children of my own. I remember there was one four-year-old girl who ran straight into my arms the first time she saw me. She was quite sick and had to take injections. She wouldn’t let anyone give them to her but me. That kind of trust makes you feel worthy.
I think the experience changed my personality. I was a very shy person to the point that I was afraid to talk to people. But I’m not that shy anymore. It also really changed my way of thinking. I learned so much about traditions and ways of living. I realized you cannot judge people you don’t know.
Because of Crossroads, I had an opportunity to have a very different and enriching life. I had this feeling that I had empty hands before God because I had no children of my own. I felt like I had not accomplished much, and I wanted to more in life. This experience fulfilled something deep in my soul. It was almost like a reward for me at the end of my life.
Following her Crossroads placement, Ghislaine went on to volunteer in Ghana for another six years. Today at 81, she still dedicates her life to full-time volunteer work, dividing her time between the Canadian Cancer Society and the Sisters of Charity in Montreal.