Jeff Reitzel is a long-time friend of ours. He’s a highly-respected real estate agent, mortgage broker, and investor in Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, and the surrounding area, but he says his “best investment by far” is an orphanage he purchased in Ghana, Africa, to help care for abandoned children. 

Giving back to our local and international community is an important part of who we are at Fibernetics, and helping children has always been near to the hearts of our founders, so John Stix reached out to Jeff to ask how we could help. We’re excited to announce that Fibernetics is now partnering with Jeff to support the ongoing costs of the Assurance of Hope Children’s Home. Read our interview with Jeff to find out more.

How did you first get involved with the orphanage?

It was during my first trip to Ghana, in the fall of 2013. I was just completely overwhelmed with the level of poverty to the point where I didn’t sleep for five days in a row. I would lie awake at night and look at the stars and think, How is it possible that this is the same world that I live in? I just didn’t get it. And what impacted me just as much was how genuinely happy people were in most of the places I visited.

One of those places was an orphanage, where I was struck by the deplorable living conditions. There were forty-five kids sleeping on concrete with a few blankets and thousands of cockroaches. I started fixing up the property over the course of the year and then at the end of 2014, I got word that the owner wanted to sell the property. I didn’t want the kids to be uprooted again (they had already moved around a lot), so I got on the phone with the owner to discuss purchasing the property. We came to an agreement but the deal ultimately fell through and I decided that I could find a better property on my own. I flew down to Ghana the next day and found a two-storey home in a compound. It wouldn’t be nice by our standards, but to these kids, it’s where the rich people live. 

Were you there when the kids first saw the new house?

Oh yeah, that was crazy. They were so excited, especially when they found out the house had a second storey. It’s obvious from the outside that the house has two storeys, but they had never seen a two-storey home so they didn’t even know it was a possibility until we got inside and told them. And the location is great. It’s only about 2km from their old home, but that’s a big deal when you’re walking to everything.

It was an amazing day; I’ve had a lot of great days there. I usually head over 3 or 4 times a year. I had a trip booked for the end of March last year, but obviously I wasn’t able to go. The kids don’t know I own the property, they just know me as “the fun guy from Canada” who gives them attention and plays with them; it’s gut-wrenching to not be there with them.

The Assurance of Hope Children’s Home, Ghana, Africa

What is life like at the orphanage?

There are about 50 kids and the number is pretty evenly split in terms of gender. The old orphanage had all the kids together in one room but this house has 5 bedrooms and we’ve grouped the kids together by gender and age, with an average of 10 kids in a bedroom.

The conditions would be considered poor by our standards, but the home is always clean and they have running water. They have hydro-electricity about 90% of the time, which is good because in the old home they didn’t have electricity, but it’s also bad because now we have to pay for hydro!

Rhoda, who runs the orphanage, has the kids helping with chores. They all do laundry and help with the cleaning and she teaches kids as young as 3 how to cook. It’s really neat to see – they’re very skilled children.

Rhoda’s dad started the orphanage many moons ago, and he and Rhoda’s mom are still involved. But Rhoda is the one who is there 24 hours a day, seven days a week and she says she feels blessed to look after them all. She’s absolutely amazing. She has four children of her own, all under 9 years old, and they help out as well.

Rhoda’s also really good with teaching them sex education; she’s never had a pregnancy in her orphanage which is unbelievable because girls are often pregnant by the age of twelve.

How do the children end up at the orphanage?

Rhoda has a degree in social services and it’s through that network that she hears about villages where children have been abandoned. She’ll go to those villages and search for kids who need a home.

Social services actually wants all orphanages in Ghana to shut down, because they want the villages to look after their own. So, they’re trying to make it more and more difficult to operate by, for example, making sewage requirements harder to meet. So I just keep meeting their demands to keep the orphanage running and stop them from closing us down.

On the surface it seems like a good idea for communities to look after their own.

Unfortunately the kids who get raised by communities get treated badly. They’re considered trash and they’re used as slaves and sex slaves. And Ghana’s a wonderful country by African standards; it’s the least corrupt, there’s very little crime, but bad things still happen there… just like they happen everywhere.

Where do the kids go to school?

There are several schools nearby. Part of the reason I moved them to their current home is because of the proximity to the schools. Before, all the kids needed transportation to get to their schools. Now, 80% of the kids can walk to their school.

Do they attend different schools based on age or gender?

They’re divided by age. Similar to here, there are schools for Kindergarten to Grade 8, and then Grade 9 to Grade 12.

Are the schools better now that the kids live in a better neighbourhood?

There’s no free, public school. But there are schools that are next to free and they’re pretty bad. The kids go to good schools, very well-respected schools where everyone has to be in a uniform. Some of the money that’s donated to the orphanage goes towards sending them to school. That was one of my biggest priorities; I needed to make sure that every child was in school because they weren’t all attending before, and they love to attend school.

How do you help the kids transition out of the orphanage?

Once the kids turn 18 they can’t be in the house anymore, that’s a government regulation. Rhoda and I talk each year about which kids are turning 18 and what they want to do, and then we figure out how to make it happen. We’ve set up some other properties in the community and I’ll rent a room where a few boys or girls can live together while they attend post-secondary and learn a trade and get a job. That’s the future for most of these kids. Some of them get adopted, but 95% of these kids never will because people want to adopt babies, they don’t want to adopt children that are 7 or 8 years old. 

How did Fibernetics get involved?

I’ve known Mike (Brown) and Jody (Schnarr) and John (Stix) for years. John started getting involved by sponsoring kids at Christmas and making donations, and then he asked how Fibernetics could be involved in a bigger way and contribute to the ongoing expenses of the orphanage.

How can Fibernetics employees get involved?

Money can be donated through Possibilities International, which is a registered charity here in Canada.* I’m set up as the Dream Agent for Ghana but none of the money flows through me, it all flows through Possibilities International. You can arrange to make a monthly donation and then those funds are held and allocated for Ghana. If Rhoda has, for example a 17-year-old who wants to go to knitting school, then the money will come out of the fund to pay for that. 

Since I’m so involved with the orphanage now, we have a unique situation where Fibernetics employees can sponsor a child and pay for their schooling or uniform and have a personal connection with the child through Skype calls if they want. We can set that up.

I know the blessings and gifts I’ve received from doing this and to think that more people could benefit in the same way is just amazing. I know that to give is to receive and I’ve seen it on the trips that I’ve led to Ghana. It’s the people I take with me who benefit the most, more than the people who are there. 

What does it mean to you to know that Fibernetics will help support the orphanage?

I feel really excited because it’s no longer just me. Now there’s someone else who has an interest in it and the extra support means that the orphanage is a place where these kids can stay and it’s definitely not going to get taken from them.

I invest in a lot of real estate locally, but this has been my best investment by far. Obviously Rhoda and the kids don’t pay rent, but it’s not that kind of investment, and not every financial investment needs to yield a financial return. Some of the greatest returns you’ll ever see aren’t financial. 

It’s such a big part of my life now; those kids are my kids. There are new kids who come all the time and kids who leave because they age out. I feel it’s my responsibility to look after them, but I can’t take care of everything on my own – sometimes I think I can and I don’t like to ask other people for help. For years when something needed to be done I would just take care of it myself, but then I realized I was robbing other people of the opportunity to be involved. Now that Fibernetics is involved, I see more opportunities being created for these kids. Together I know we can do more than what I can do alone. 

Jeff has such a big heart for kids and I feel it’s our privilege to be able to come on board as a significant funder and partner to help support these children for years to come. I want to thank Jeff and all those involved for their vision and trusting us with such an important opportunity to give. – John Stix
*the Possibilities International donation link is currently being updated and will be added to this blog when it’s ready