Ghana (2017)

International Study Program

This year our International Study Program (ISP) returns to Ghana. Over the course of 4 weeks, 12 members and two staff will visit major cities and small villages, including Accra, Kumasi, Wusuta, and Cape Coast. Throughout this time they will meet with students, educators, professionals and politicians to gain a broad perspective on the history, culture and politics of Ghana.

This summer’s journey to Ghana is our fifth in the last 2 decades. Throughout this time we have developed strong partnerships with the Ghanaian community based organizations that we visit each trip. This year, four youth from “Adagana” (one of our partner organizations in Wusuta) will travel with ISP in Accra, providing an opportunity for these youth to visit the capital for the first time. This is one small way we are able to support the organizations who have welcomed us with open arms throughout the years.

ISP is life-changing experience. Check out the photos and review the members' reflections. You will surely see why it is said that “travel is the best education”.

When we got to the top of the mountain there was a beautiful view of the town that we just drove through. It was at least 1500 feet above sea level, and there was a cross at the top where we had a photo-shoot. Godwin and the other kids from Wusuta were flying up that mountain, and I was just amazed by the whole experience.

The first thing I bought was a bracelet. After fifteen minutes of trying to bargain I realized the woman in front of me was a true hustler! I mean she tried to sell me a pair of earrings and a bracelet for 40 Cedis! Clearly she didn't know you can't hustle a New Yorker out of their money!

(Poem) The people are friendly and contain a smile. It distinguishes the kind from the unkind. Finding peace within myself. Being quiet sometimes helps. To take in the things with all five senses.

They all simultaneously banged their drums one time and I felt the reverberation through my body. I had to hold myself back from standing up and screaming "YES" at the top of my lungs. Personally, I love music ensembles that involve hard-hitting loud beats. Their music continued to amaze me as dancers gracefully stepped, leaped and rolled across the floor. Seeing the male and female dancers interact with each other on this new level was interesting and pleasing.

We did our thang thang on the dance floor! And what was better than the recognition of our efforts? Hearing the reflections of two members when asked by the ensemble director how they felt after the dance class. Awa answered, “I feel alive". Jihaye said that initially he did not see himself as a “good" dancer but the class helped him realize that he needs to expand - his perspective and his knowledge. Now isn't that what journeys like this are all about - feeling alive and expecting?!

As I pulled my seatbelt across my waist and watched the plane take off, reality had yet to set in, but the turbulence did. Being that this is my first international trip and my very first time on a plane, everything was coming at me to quick. I just couldn't believe that I, Awa Dembele, was on my way to Ghana.

Anticipating Wusuta. This place is special to me. I hope the smiles are as bright and as welcoming as 2011. I hope the embrace is just a strong, and the conversations produce the same amount of laughter and perspective on life as I remember. I hope that the young people appreciate the experience as much as their predecessors. I hope they remember me - the way I remember them.

As we walked down the street to our welcoming party, a young girl held my hand and smiled at me. When she held my hand I instantly felt something, an intrinsic connection perhaps. She would dance and cover her face everytime I would look at her. I saw so many children with so little - with huge smiles on their faces.

During our Day of Observation in Wusuta we met nice people such as Steven, Peace, and Opoko, who informed us about men and women and their daily jobs. Men tend to be the breadwinners in typical Wusuta households. Men's jobs often consist of farming and carpentry work. Women are more prone to domestic work.

While I was at dinner a surprise gift was presented to me. A friend that I made while on the trip named Godwin gave me a homemade bracelet and wrote a heartfelt letter stating how happy and thankful he was for meeting me. When I read the letter my heart warmed and in return I decided to give him a letter and a bracelet I bought from the bead Factory. Overall, all the love I've been receiving has been overwhelmingly positive.

When I first reached the lake I didn't want to be there, especially because the insects kept on following me. But I sucked it up and sat on the grass. I swear, that was the most peace I've felt since I arrived in Ghana. I don't know what it was, but those fifteen minutes (despite the bugs and everyone around me) I felt alone and at peace with myself.

Today we went out to visit the Vakpo Secondary School. The students welcomed us with open arms and were ready to converse and connect. It felt like I was famous, because many of them were running up to me with paper and pen in hand, waiting for me to sign it and put my email on it. At the same time it felt weird, because I'm just the same as them, I just live a couple thousand miles away.

Seeing all the pretty butterflies and creepy spiders was amazing. I took pictures of them as well as all of the cocoa plants and green leaves. Once we got to the actual waterfall it was so amazing because I've never been to one in my entire life. I got soaking wet and didn't even get in the water, that's how strong the water was flowing.

Farewell to Wusuta. When we arrived at the celebration we took our seats and watched the group performance before eventually being asked to dance with them. Throughout the whole time spent at the celebration the group danced and enjoyed the native music and people. Making friends in Wusuta and then having to say goodbye was difficult, but I feel like this group will be remembered and the connections built will last a lifetime.

Besides the lake and my lovely horse named Gaia, there was so much natural beauty to experience - butterflies, birds of paradise, plantain trees, and more. Along the trail, the residents along the route waived, laughed or cheered me on. There's no ignoring that we are staying in a community where accessing water is a daily struggle. And still, so many smiles and genuine acknowledgement.

The Prempeh II Museum at the Kumasi cultural center was really interesting. We got to see different materials and items that were used throughout the daily lives of the Ashanti people. We were given 20 minutes to shop at the market located on the premises. I got excited because I saw a couple of things that I liked from far away. However, it got a little more difficult to concentrate on them because the vendors from other shops were coming to us and distracting us with their offers. Commerce is real out here!

Today we traveled to many fascinating places, which has me craving more from this country that reminds me so much of home (Jamaica). After the very comforting breakfast of eggs with toast, we traveled through the labyrinth streets, waving to the beautiful people and offering rides to some, due to the difficult nature of traversing the road. Our driver is not only skilled, but also empathetic.

I've come to the conclusion that we can be selfish even when we seem to be selfless. We are ignorant, even when we pretend to be open; and we are ungrateful, even when our privilege is evident. Ås I write this, I hope no one takes offense because whether you like it or not, it is the truth.

Nobody can really answer my questions, “who am I”, “where am I from”, and “why my skin is so dark but hers isn't”. Our parents don't have the answers. They've been asking themselves the same questions for generations. Native African people are lucky. They know who they are from their customs, to their language, and even down to how certain food is made. They aren't lost at sea wondering who they are and how they came to be.

As an ISP facilitator, attention to detail is needed at every level. Adaptability, and most importantly patience, must carry the day. I am used to it. Whether it is New York City or West Africa, the members come before me without hesitation. But today, I just wanted to take a dip and reflect on the experience as well as sort out some things that have been occupying my mind – unfortunately, it was not to be. Such is life.

We got out the van, got our passes to the park, and followed the tour guide. It took us awhile to get to the top of the tree line, but we did. My mind was set on crossing all seven rope-bridges, but I chose to only do three. I took my first step, and the bridge started shaking. My hands were sweaty and I started to scream a little, even after I was told not to. I crossed that bridge and was on to the next. This one was longer and less steady. I was so nervous I started to slow down but I heard Cidra behind me saying, "you're doing great sweetie! Keep going!" which boosted my confidence, so I started walking faster, and made it to the end!

  • Juan Tavarez

    Chapter Leader/Teen Facilitator

    Juan Tavarez

    Chapter Leader/Teen Facilitator

    As one of the first youth members of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a founding member of the Knowledge of Self Chapter since 1995, Juan embraced the organization’s philosophy from its inception. He traveled with BHSS to South Africa in 1997 on our ISP.

    Juan Graduated from East Side High School and completed two years of college at the Eugene Lang College, The New School and in 2003 earned his certification as an Assistant Engineer from the Institute of Audio Research. He previously worked as a group leader for the Educational Alliance.

    Born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Juan resides in Washington Heights with his wife Judith, son Donovan and daughter Selaire. He joined our staff in 2004 and now works in our Teen After School Program; and co-facilitates four Brotherhood chapters, providing comprehensive support services to over 60 young men. In addition, he coordinates assorted summer activities including having co-facilitated our International Study Program to Ghana. His relationship with current members, especially the teens, demonstrates his ability to relate to and lead them in a positive direction.

  • Cidra M. Sebastien

    Associate Executive Director

    Cidra M. Sebastien

    Associate Executive Director

    Cidra M. Sebastien is the Associate Executive Director at The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis), a non-profit organization providing holistic and comprehensive programs for NYC youth, ages 8-22. On staff since 2001, she manages the Rites of Passage program for young women; Liberation Program for youth activists; College Advisory Program; and has co-facilitated International Study Programs in Ghana, South Africa, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Cidra is a graduate of Hampton University (BA), and a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School (MA), completing her thesis on the connections between education, social justice and the arts. In 2005, Cidra was a co-awardee of the Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World Award, co-authored “Taking Back the Work: A Cooperative Inquiry into the Work of Leaders of Color in Movement-Building Organizations,” and traveled to Brazil and the UK discussing issues of leadership and race in the US. She is a 2015 Ford Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project, and published articles about youth leadership development and DACA. Cidra was appointed to the New York City Council’s Young Women’s Initiative in 2015 as a Steer Committee member and Co-Chair of the Education Committee. She was also a co-planner of the 2016 Black Girl Movement National Conference in NYC, hosting nearly 500 girls, educators, advocates, artists, and academics for a 3-day convening centering Black girls. She is the recipient The Center For Research and Policy in the Public Interest’s 2017 Lead The Way Fellowship, and one of six national recipients of the 2018 College Board Professional Fellowship. Cidra is a marathoner, and a Board Member of the New York Road Runners.