URBANA — The issue of abused children has always been close to Urbana resident Debra Crabtree's heart, so she's heading to Ghana in November to help children caught in the human-trafficking trade.
She's going with two friends she met through an online book club. There, they will assist a team from Partners in Community Development Programme, which rescues children from slavery, one by one. The organization runs Village of Life, where the freed children live after being rescued.
Crabtree became involved when her book club friends — one in Canada and the other in Michigan — started writing online about their upcoming trip to the west African nation and Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake in the world, and the Ghana site where children are sold into slavery.
"I fell in love with the faces I saw and (felt) heartbroken over the stories I read," Crabtree said. "I pored over the articles and harsh truths of trafficking in the Volta region of Ghana."
She said she felt called to the trip when she was looking to serve in a meaningful way, "something that was bigger than me and something that was bigger than being a mom or a wife."
She wanted to learn, grow and "develop an empathy for others that would be an example to my children."
Crabtree has worked with children in other countries before. After she and her husband were married in 2004, they served two months in Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico, building water tanks and teaching vacation Bible school.
"It was also the first time that I realized the difference between our poverty and the poverty in less developed countries," Crabtree said. "It was eye-opening, and changed how I viewed poverty. It changed how I viewed people. I have had a passion since then to help the vulnerable in our world when I could."
As a part of her efforts, Crabtree is raising money through an organization called Interlink Ministries. Her group hopes to raise $30,000 for a new school for the Village of Life.
"They have run out of room in their current school facilities and need a new school building to allow them to rescue more children from slavery on the lake," Crabtree said.
She's also looking for sponsors to help pay for shipping boxes of school supplies and books to Ghana, estimated at $200 each. She now has five boxes to send.
She's also asking for donations of soccer balls.
"They can be given to both the children in the orphanage and to the kids on the lake," Crabtree said. "These children live and breathe soccer."
Crabtree said she believes the Bible instructs people to care for orphans and the innocent.
"My heart breaks to know there are children out there who are not afforded the opportunity to have a childhood and an education," she said. "The kids on Lake Volta and at the Village of Life have become our children in so many ways and I just can't not do anything to help them. ... If I can help a team get even one child out of that situation, I feel like I need to seize that opportunity. I would hope someone would do that for my children if they knew their rights were being violated."