Giving back globally

Students organize race to raise money for Challenging Heights

By Sarah Hillenbrand | 9/20/14 10:53am


Studying abroad has a different impact on every student as for what they’ve learned and what they hope to do with that knowledge in the future. For Grand Valley State University junior Stephany Zahl, taking a trip to Ghana with the Honors College Service Learning Program made her want to do something to help those she met now that she’s home.

While she was in Ghana, Zahl worked with the non-profit organization Challenging Heights. The purpose of the organization is to rescue child slaves from Lake Volta, and rehabilitate and educate them, Zahl said. The trip was seven weeks long, and the first week consisted of classes at the University of Ghana learning about non-profits.

Zahl then had the opportunity to work with Challenging Heights. She said the organization just got a brand new library, so she got to read and tutor the children.

“I had heard about the trip my freshman year, and I knew I wanted to go,” she said. “I had to do a senior project that would give back to them.”

For her Honors senior project, Zahl decided to organize a 5K run to raise money for the organization so they can rescue more children. She recruited fellow student Lindsey Crawford to help her plan the event.

“Stephany went to Ghana and was planning on doing a research paper, but decided she wanted to do something more hands on,” Crawford said. “She said it seemed like a big task and asked if I wanted to help.”

They decided to organize a 5K because they both enjoy running and thought it would be a good way to raise money. In total, it costs $5,290 to rescue one child – which includes the entire costs of rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating one child. The cost also includes providing over two years of support to ensure they are not re-trafficked.

“Students can relate the education to service and show they can contribute to the development of a country and do other things,” said Azizur Molla, associate professor in the department of public health and one of the leaders on the trip to Ghana. “Other students can be energized philosophically that if another student can do it, they can too.”

Christian Fredericks, living center director and one of the leaders on the Ghana trip, said that Challenging Heights always needs more exposure, which the race will provide.

“I think that exposure is good for the organization as a whole,” he said. “Trafficking of this nature continues to be an issue around the world. (The race) brings awareness to trafficking in general.”

He added that students who participate in the race can also be inspired to go abroad and help those they meet.

“It helps them recognize that they can help in any way; they can help without even going,” Fredericks said. “Engaging in this race is a stepping stone for some people – an opportunity to learn more about it and share that info with others.

“It’s our goal to create access and opportunities to engage deeper learning across cultural lines.”

The race will take place on Saturday, Oct. 4 at 9:30 a.m. on campus. Registration is currently open, and there are prizes for the top male and female finishers and raffle prizes the day of the race. See below for more information about Challenging Heights and race registration.

Online Exclusive:

Challenging Heights is a child rights organization that seeks to eliminate modern slavery in Ghana, West Africa, while promoting youth and family empowerment through education and freedom from forced labor. The organization operates a school and transition shelter. They have created their program based on these four pillars:

Education – The school provides education to nearly 800 students. Some are former slaves, while others attend so that they are not later placed into slave labor. They believe education is the key to ensuring children receive the rights that they deserve; a life of education and freedom.

Protection and survivor support – The rescuers of Challenging Heights remove child slaves from Lake Volta and provide them with the proper rehabilitation at the transition shelter, which gives medical, psychosocial and educational support. Challenging Heights works with families before and after rescues so as to ensure successful reintegration of the victims into their communities.

Challenging Heights rescue costs:

  • $15 funds one child's post-rescue medical screening
  • $60 buys a bed, mattress and bed sheets for one child in the rehabilitation shelter
  • $160 buys food and clothing for one child during their rescue from Lake Volta
  • $200 allows the organization to monitor a rescued child for the first year after he or she returns home
  • $350 allows one family of a rescued child to enroll in the business and microfinance program
  • $966 rescues one child from Lake Volta
  • $1,000 covers field staff costs for a 10 day trip to Lake Volta
  • $3,000 funds the boat to make a 10 day trip rescuing up to 20 children
  • $5,290 covers the entire costs of rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating one child, providing over two years of support to ensure they are not retrafficked

Empowerment – Challenging Heights helps communities to empower themselves by providing human rights education and sensitization on the issues of slavery. They offer a remedial program that provides information and communication technology education to members of the community, which, in turn, has helped them secure jobs.

Advocacy – Challenging Heights seeks to guide and influence national policy on child rights and slavery.

The organization was started by James Kofi Annan. He was a child slave for seven years and escaped at the age of 13. He found a way to get an education and create an organization to help save children like himself.

Grand Valley State University students Stephany Zahl and Lindsey Crawford are organizing a 5k run to raise money for the organization. The race will be held on Saturday, Oct. 4 on campus at 9:30 a.m.. Registration is currently open at

The event is sponsored by Gazelle Sports, AIM Construction, Mercy Health, Twin Lake Installations and Aerovision. There are prizes for the top male and female finishers ($25 Gazelle Sports Gift Cards) and day-of raffle prizes including BWW's gift baskets, restaurant gift cards, Frederik Meijer Gardens Passes and several others.

* Information provided by Stephany Zahl

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