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from Dr. Cindy Swenson via e-mail
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E-mail from August 18, 2006
Dear Friends, Family, and Loved Ones:
We are back on U.S. Soil in NYC!
Our last days in Ghana were very memorable and filled mainly with street children-related activities.
In Cape Coast, we had an opportunity to tour the Elmina Slave Castle-a very sobering experience. We had a wonderful local guide that told us stories related to the sad history of all that happened there. Later, we conducted a performance at the castle with 4 other groups including African Footprints and the famous traditional flag dancers of Cape Coast. One of the groups conducted an AIDS-related performance showing AIDS being spread through sexual assault-again sobering.
On the way back to Accra from Cape Coast, we visited an orphanage. Some of the children going down to age 1 were there because of loss of parents due to AIDS. We played games with the children led by Powerful and our dance teacher, Na Na in the Ga language. These were similar to “duck, duck, goose” and “head, shoulders, knees and toes”. I was so proud of our children – even those who usually stay back and to themselves joined in and gave the children quality interaction. Many of our kids did not want to leave the orphanage. AND certainly, most of us wanted to tuck these little guys in our bags. But Mama Grace there takes good care of her 87 children. They have clothing and get at least some food. Two of the women in our group are talking about an initiative to help the orphanage.
When we arrived back in Accra, we visited the Children’s Hospital. We talked with the Doctor in Charge and toured the hospital. There were hundreds of people in the outpatient part of the hospital and they were all served by this one physician. Most of the children who come to Children’s Hospital do so because of malnutrition due to starving. The visit to the hospital give the doc a chance to check them for other diseases and HIV/AIDS. This is how a lot of pediatric cases are discovered. However, there is little treatment, so the discovery is painful for the docs. A pediatric intensive care does not exist. They struggle just to have basics such as a blood pressure cuff. We visited with several very ill children and their mothers. Some of our children saw a very sick child having an asthmatic attack and this was difficult. He was to be transferred to the adult hospital to get some of the services that he needed to recover. This visit had a profound effect on all of us. We knew that some of the children we saw would be lost due to basic illnesses that we would view as routine in the U.S.
On our final day in Ghana, we conducted an AIDS performance at the Street Children’s Academy. Sounds like a large compound with resources-huh? However, in reality it is a one-room building with a partial roof and no electricity. The children from the academy conducted a performance for us and then we delivered our HIV/AIDS performance for them. Djole youth had a lot of interaction with the kids. It was difficult for us knowing that they come to the school by day but are on the streets at night and some of them are preschool age. Our kids were also impacted by seeing children their same age that are much smaller due to malnutrition.
While we let the kids shop and have a bit of down time at the Arts Centre, Dr. Eve and Dr. Jim visited the teaching hospital Children’s block and met with a pediatrician that treats 350 children under the age of 13 that are HIV positive. She said that 30% of these children die before the age of 1. They are now able to get some of the needed retroviral medications to treat AIDS thanks to an assistance program.
Both hospitals, the school and the orphanage can use some basics such as paper and pencils and we will send some of these things to them at a later date. We brought some games, extra clothes and medical supplies that were delivered to these places.
Before heading back to the hotel, Powerful and I met with the head of the Ghana Dance Association for a wrap up. He told us that the children are very talented and did an excellent job. He was very pleased with the performance and the collaboration and expressed a wish that we would return and conduct further work on environmental cleanliness and HIV/AIDS.
We slowly made our way back to the village of Nungua-our home away from home. Being only able to travel 4 miles in 41 minutes teaches patience. Welcome to Africa!
On our final night in Ghana, Nkabom artists continued their usual level of excellent care of us. Kari Kari, the flute player conducted a flute workshop. This will be a new addition for Djole with some development. Nkabom pounded cassava and plantains to make fu fu for us. They also presented us with peanut soup and okra soup. The night was filled with drumming, dancing, and discussions of the future.
Yesterday, Nkabom took us to the airport and walked us to the front door. Only ticketed passengers can enter the Accra airport. This is when the crying and wailing began. Our kids did not want to leave Ghana but mostly were very sad to leave our new friends and Ghana family. We said see you again instead of goodbye and cried our way through our first check point.
Once in the airport we met a whole different reality – mega security. We ended up going through security about 6 times and even having body and hair searches. Our shampoo, toothpaste, gel, braid spray, lotions, batteries and lots of other things were taken away. Our children are concerned they are in trouble for not coming home with these things. So parents, here is the notice—our children did an incredible job keeping up with their things. Due to recent terrorist activity and heavy security, we left many things in Ghana. One of our 10-year-old kids had a cane flute taken away with the comment that it could be a weapon. We spent a lot of time talking with our kids, helping them understand the security as it is very distressing.
After the 11 hour plane ride and much crying, talking of memories and future plans, and trying to sleep, we arrived in NYC. We had grand plans to hit Times Square but with the intense need to call family, hit Burger King, and sleep, we ended up calling, eating and going to bed. Interestingly, after being in a peaceful country for 2 weeks and seeing no crime (though we know it exists), no drugs, no fighting, no inundation with constant bad, sad and devastating news of the state of our world… in NYC, we immediately were met with a prostitution sting, police lights… as one of the children so aptly put it…”honey, we’re home”!
Your children had a wonderful, incredible experience and made an impact on Ghana with this initial development work. Also, Ghana had a big impact on us. Please parents.. take some time to sit down as a family and let your child tell you of the experiences we have had. Also-VERY VERY IMPORTANT – please make sure your child continues to take malarone (anti-malaria pills) for the next 7 days. We are all still at risk of malaria and need to take the medication for the next 7 days. Thanks for making sure this happens.
See you later today.
E-mail from August 13, 2006
Dear Friends, Family and Loved Ones:
We are in Cape Coast, West Africa now. The past few days have been filled with workshops and rehearsals. We were in Kumasi for a couple of days and had a chance to visit Bonwire - the birthplace of Kente Weaving. We watched the weavers and the kids experienced negotiating prices. We learned that a lot of the children trying to sell us stuff were doing so to be able to buy pens and pencils and attend school. It was a bit overwhelming the number of people trying to make a living by selling stuff. Learning the value of education when it is not easily attained was an important lesson for our kids.
We made our way back to Accra from Kumasi on Friday. What would have been a 4 hour drive under normal conditions took us nearly 9 hours. The roads are slow and you have to stop for the occasional herd of goats or giant holes in the road. Oh well, Welcome to Africa.
Yesterday (Saturday) was our big performance at the Arts Centre. We played to a packed house. There were 7 other dance and performance groups at this 5 hour show. Djole performed alone and then we conducted the AIDS performance with Nkabom. The kids were incredible and were extremely well received. Turns out the Ghana Broadcasting Company filmed the whole show and it was broadcast throughout the country. The Ghanians love Djole! They want us to stay but we will be back home on Friday.
Our kids have risen to the next level-The boys are dancing. Tony Mack did a back flip in the performance. Tre' danced and Royland did a hand stand. Lavazia, Cy'Aira, Tre and Tony Mack made a pyramid in the performance. They are really liking some of the acrobatics that the artists here are teaching them. Shamekia played the role of the young lady who contracted AIDS. Mariah was the doctor. Lavazia was the nurse. Kayla and Tre were Shamekia's siblings. Windell was the teacher. Tony Mack played the role of AIDS. All other kids in the company were either drumming with Powerful or had group dance scenes. The entire event was also filmed by our film crew-remember we are making a documentary..... Can't wait for you all to see it.
It is amazing that in 6 days our kids leasrned and gave a high level performance. The teachers here are fantastic. They and we view this as a first step in our work together in the fight against AIDS.
So, here we are in Cape Coast. We have another dance workshop tomorrow and a performance at the Elmina Slave Castle at 4 pm (your noon) tomorrow.
Everyone is well right now and we seem to have moved through the travelers stomach ailments. Everyone misses home but no one is upset, having gotten through the intense bouts of homesickness. Believe me, they appreciate their families and having electricity, water, and American food.
On Tuesday, we will visit a national park and walk across a bridge through the rainforest and then travel back to Accra.
On Wednesday, we will have a celebration and ceremony with Nkabom Artists. The kids will receive certificates for participation in this project.
On Thursday, we head to the airport to head to NYC. We have to be at the airport 5 hours ahead of the flight to go through security.
Your children have lots to tell you. They have grown a lot as people and many have matured from their experiences. Importantly, we have established a relationship with Africa that will call us to come back and continue be involved in global relations and issues.
We will e-mail from NYC or call you. It is virtually impossible to make phone calls in the villages we have visited. E-mail is rare.
Just remember all is well and everyone is ok and they all send their love to you.
See you soon.
E-mail from August 10, 2006
Dear friends and loved ones:
We arrived in Ghana on August 3rd. The flights went well and we made our connections well. Everyone enjoyed the flights and the kids did really really well. We had to repack a few things at JFK in NYC because they were extremely strict about weight.
When we arrived at the Accra airport, NKABOM was there and gave a welcome performance outside the airport. They have taken extremely good care of us.
We had a bit of sorting out to do at the hotel. We are staying in a village called Nungua. While the accommodations are good, they are not luxury. We have no phones and no nearby access to phones or internet. We don't always have electricity or running water. Everyone is learning that in Africa water is like gold. The kids are learning a great amount about waste.
About 50 percent of the group has had various stomach ailments and a little thing called travelers diarrhea that are common here. We are lucky to have a physician with us. No one has been seriously ill. ABout the 3rd or 4th day most everyone had a bout of homesickness-14 and 15 year olds were crying because they missed their mothers and fathers. We tried to call everyone and that helped a lot. Everyone is in good shape right now and we will try to call again when we can access a phone-it is hard to get access to things here.
We have had drum, dance, jewelry making and textile design workshops. But most important, we have had daily rehearsals developing the AIDS performance we are doing. It is coming together in an incredible way. Some of our boys are now dancing..like Tre, Tony Mack, and Keontri. Shamekia, Mariah, and Kayla have taken it to the next level in dance. Our dance instructor, Nana is marvelous and has many years experience teaching children. Powerful is very inspirational. The kids are getting more out of this time than dance and drumming-they are growing up a lot and seeing how privileged they are.
We have visited the markets in Accra. An older woman ran up to Miss Mit and asked where she was from. When she told her America, the woman said, "you have come home". Miss Mitt is getting so much respect here. It is fantastic.
Mr. Addison is viewed as a chief and he has been asked if he is kofi annan or george bush!
On one day we had to go to the village chief to get the journey blessed and approved. Quite a ceremony- we'll have to tell you all about it.
We had a performance on a stage at Labadi Beach on Sunday and the kids got a chance to swim in the ocean. They are giving the performances of their life - very sharp.
Yesterday we visited the land where we will build the centre. We planted all kinds of flowers and herbs and blessings were given for the centre. After that the local village of Okurase invited us to join them for a performance. We brought lunch with us and there were many little children who were hungry. Our kids gave up their lunch for the children--these are the kind, wonderful, truly great people our children are. Be very proud.
Today we are in a town called Kumasi. Here, they hand weave kente cloth. We will visit a palace later today.
On Saturday the 12th we will have a performance at the Accra Arts Centre. We will give our hiv/aids performance and dance a finale with the Ghana dance association. What an incredible opportunity.
That's all for now. Everyone sends their love. We are all doing well and having a true experience of Africa.
Love to everyone and keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we do this important work.
Djole African Dance and Drum Company
Gethsemani Community Center
2449 Beacon Street
North Charleston, SC 29405
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