by Kimberley McCoy
|Amanda Pruitt of Syracuse gets her hair braided by a young woman in Worawora. They met in the courtyard of the house where we stayed. Photo: Kimberley McCoy|
Driving through the busy streets of Accra, Ghana's capital, we
advertising the quality and freshness of US poultry. The advertisement
seems moot in a city filled with chickens clucking and wandering about. Our
guide, Gordon, makes a joke about Ghana's commitment to the Western concept
of "free range." It's hard to imagine that a piece of poultry shipped
across the Atlantic Ocean could be any fresher than the chicken sitting on the
front steps, but that would be missing the point. The sign does more than sell
chicken, it sells "America."
Seven US citizens, including three youth, traveled together to Ghana, West Africa this past August along with our Ghanaian-American friend Kofi Addai. The trip was the first since 1991 for the Syracuse Africa Bound Program. This program aims to bring African-American youth to Africa for a cultural and educational adventure. The youth, along with their parents and the program's coordinating leaders work together to raise funds for the trip. This is a crucial part of the program as one of its goals is to bring youth who otherwise would not have the financial means for such an expensive trip. (The plane fare alone can cost close to $2,000.) Also, everyone on the trip is asked to raise $100 that will be donated to a Cape Coast orphanage and the Worawora community library.
After visiting Accra, where we see the blending of modern Hip-Hop and traditional African culture, we travel to Cape Coast to see the 'slave castles.' These 'slave castles' are the European forts that once held thousands of enslaved Africans prisoner before they were taken to the Americas. Today the forts are museums where visitors can walk though the dark and musty dungeons and reflect on the hideous past. We visit these forts as a way to come full circle, to connect with the spirit of ancestors who had their lives and freedom stolen in these castle walls. The emotional toil is obvious as the youth realize they can only bear to visit one of the two castles.
The highlight of the trip is our visit to the village of Worawora, a small town in the Volta Region, north of Accra. This is the town that Kofi Addai calls home. We have come to see the community library that Kofi helped create just a year ago as part of a project through Le Moyne College. The library exists today with financial support from the Central New York community. We are invited to meet the village chiefs, all of the secondary school students and teachers, the staff of the local hospital and the board of the library. We also meet many of the children and adults who are frequent visitors to the library. Here, we witness the desire to learn and the value for education that is held in this village. In Ghana, public schools are not free; access is only available to those who can afford the fees. The US youth observe an appreciation for education that is not shared at home. They feel education is often taken for granted by young people in the US.
The two-week trip is much more than a tropical vacation. The experience is huge in its ability to alter one's worldview. It is a chance to learn what it means to be a US citizen, African, and African-American. While the African-American youth are in a place for the first time where their skin tone is not the minority, it is apparent to everyone else that they are clearly Westerners. The word, 'abruni' meaning 'white person' is not reserved only for those with complexions as pale as my own. It is used to describe any Westerner regardless of race. The youth are constantly challenged with new experiences and frequently asked to step outside their comfort zones. The youth in this program gain a better understanding of US influence on the world, everything from popular music to economics. They dismiss the stereotypes of Africans they have learned at school while forming crushes on the young Ghanaians they meet. Moreover, they realize that poverty is not a personal choice as they meet smiling children in a crowded orphanage.
When they return to the US they tell their stories to friends and family. They are also called on to speak to the community. One youth from our trip recently spoke to a classroom at Ed Smith Elementary School about her impressions of Africa. In order for US youth to have compassion and care about the global community they must look beyond the images and views handed to them through our filtered media; they must see it for their own eyes.
This July five Syracuse youth plan to visit Ghana with the Syracuse Africa Bound Program. Please help them raise needed funds with your enthusiastic participation at the Cheap Art Action.
Donate Art beginning at 5pm on March 24th or call Kim at 422-4924 for other arrangements.