June 3, 2016 was a great day of celebration in South Jamaica, Queens. Two New York based nonprofit organizations formed a partnership and launched a shared working space to help fight illiteracy and poverty in New York and Africa. BASICS International is excited to announce the beginning of a new chapter in our story.
The launch commenced with an electric performance of African drum and dance by Asase Yaa Cultural Foundation, inviting people to celebrate the partnership between B.A.S.I.C.S International and The Thomas White Jr. Foundation.
Both organizations have joined forces to strategically fight against illiteracy and global poverty one child at a time. We will work hard to provide opportunities, programs and services that are well-needed in our communities. Together, we are committed to providing solutions on issues that plague our community such as education, health, community development, job placement and career development, etc.
BASICS International has over 15 years of experience in the fight towards ending illiteracy, poverty and hunger in Ghana, West Africa. The Thomas White Jr Foundation has over 30 years of experience servicing communities in NYC on issues concerned with drug prevention, education, and health and wellness. Both organizations have signed a MOU, which outlines our commitment to broaden community providing services that the two share a passion for; EDUCATION and COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT.
During the opening, Mr. Bryan White, Executive Director of the Thomas White Jr Foundation stated “There is no need to “reinvent the wheel,’ ie; replicate what each other is doing. Funding is scarce, but both our needs are great; so it only made sense that we support one another; sharing resources and networks to maximize our impact in the community. We believe non -profits should not be competitive but should rather work together to make a difference.”
B.A.S.I.C.S International will now work from the The Thomas White Jr. Foundation Building, Inc. located at 162-04 Tuskegee Airmen Rd. (formerly known as South Rd.) in Jamaica, NY.
This kind of cooperation might appear to be common, but it was only recently that local nonprofits started coming together. Competition for resources between nonprofits has led to organizations taking claim and being somewhat possessive of what they do.
Mrs. Jennifer Diamond, the President of the Diamond Family Foundation joined us at the launch and delivered an astounding message of inclusion. She highlighted the dangers of excluding people from cooperating in causes, both trivial and major. Everyone has something that they can contribute to a purpose to further refine it. “Without inclusion, we create radicals”, Mrs. Jennifer Diamond stated. Radicals have untapped potential and a need to feel accepted. It is crucial to rally them to work together to achieve a common goal.
The Diamond Family Foundation Fellowship provides funds to B.A.S.I.C.S International programs and capacity building. In 2015 funds were provided to launch a Fellowship program which provides university graduates an opportunity to serve with B.A.S.I.C.S International for one year in the field of Business Development, Programme Management and Academic Officers.
Sandra Bright, Board Chair at BASICS International, spoke passionately about her involvement with the organization for the past 15 years as a volunteer, donor, sponsor, board member and now currently as Acting Chair. “I know the children by face and name, and have seen them grow because of the support they receive through BASICS’ donors, including myself. It truly is making a difference.” She encouraged others to get involved and to help in any way they can.
Pat Wilkins, founder of B.A.S.I.C.S International, delivered a powerful speech about her 15 year journey with the organization thus far. Her speech was preceded by a short video that sent tides of emotions throughout the audience. It showed the lifestyle of an average child living in the urban Ghanaian community of Chorkor. Wilkins highlighted both the highs and the lows of her decision to pack up and leave the community she was born and raised in to go and help those in need. She described it as “answering a call from God”. The trials and tribulations she faced were no obstacle for her resilient character, and did not stop her from serving her purpose. When Pat first decided to sponsor children she knew that she could not do it alone, so she sent out email blasts in search of support to fund the education of 4 potential students. When she received over 100 responses she then realized that she could help 100 more children, whom otherwise would not have the opportunity for a quality education. Pat stayed connected to her roots and continued to visit her alma mater, JHS 192 in Hollis Queens, and volunteered at the after school center at Springfield Gardens United Methodist Church. For the past 5 years, Pat has researched and sought out ways to bring BASICS International to the forefront in her hometown but initially did not have the resources to make it happen, until she met Bryan White.
Bryan White, The Executive Director of The Thomas White Jr Foundation chaired the event and stressed the need for nonprofits to collaborate. Mr. White stated, “This partnership will allow young people in our community to compete in a global job market by exposing them to a world outside of their local neighborhood and serving others. Giving them the ability to have options made readily available to them as they pursue their education and after graduation.” The Thomas White Jr. Foundation legacy centers on changing lives by providing hope and opportunity for a better tomorrow. This partnership will add to the legacy.
Former volunteer Opare Agyeman packed his bags in January 2106 and left Ghana after spending one year serving as a tutor and mentor for BASICS. When he read there was a Fellowship program he jumped on the opportunity to apply. With one year experience under his belt, he was a great candidate to fill the role in any of the three positions posted.
During the opening celebration, Opare wooed all guests with his speech of witnessing the life of a young boy changing during his one year tenure as a volunteer’ teaching rap music. Although he didn’t think he was making an impact; he confessed that it was actually his life that was changed; as he was hit with a reality after graduating from York College ( BA in Psychology) , that he didn’t have a job nor a plan. He said “ it’s ironic as we are here celebrating, just across the street thousands of kids and their families are doing what he did just last year ( York College graduation ceremony). He joked “that we should all be over there asking them “ whats NEXT? And inviting them to sign up.
As a Business Development Fellow, Opare will seek new partnerships and strengthen existing ones (ie donors and schools). BASICS International and NYU Accra, have been working together for the past 5 years, providing study abroad students with internship and volunteer opportunities in Ghana. BASICS International would like to partner with more schools, particularly those in underserved communities’ and match students with an opportunity to serve in the local or global community. BASICS is committed to helping students completing university, gain experience, enhance their resumes and make a difference. BASICS would also like to help high school students enter university through building up their applications that will stand out from their SAT scores.
In an economy that has not fully recovered from the recession, thousands of students will graduate this year, joining the thousands that graduated last year, all asking themselves the same question “What’s NEXT?” BASICS international is saying “Serve and change a life– it might just be yours!”
Other voices from the event:
“NYU Steinhardt is proud to partner with BASICS International to provide international internship opportunities for our students. As BASICS expands its capacity through a New York-based office, we look forward to further collaboration.”
“Joining BASICS is one of the best decisions I made. I always looked forward to seeing the smart yet goofy children every week. I hope one day to visit the children there again and see the great changes BASICS brought!”
Charin Lim, NYU BS. Special Education , 2018 ( volunteer with BASICS International Jan- May 2016)
“ We are proud of our daughter; Pat and stand firm in helping her fulfill this calling. It took us awhile to understand what she was going in Africa, but after visiting and seeing her make the sacrifices of her own wealth and comfort; we understood clearly” We know she will give the same energy to her hometown.
Lenora and Eddie Gates; Parents of Pat Wilkins
BASICS International and The Thomas White Jr Foundation, future plans including visiting schools, community based organizations and host open house forums; sharing information on programs and services for young people. The next event dubbed “ WHATS NEXT” is scheduled for Thursday, July 21st at the TWF building in Jamaica, Queens. Interested parties can call 718-454-1273 for more information.
More pictures from the event:
Jess here, board member of BASICS. I am not long back from my trip to Ghana where I was shooting videos for BASICS to be used for marketing and fundraising purposes. After successfully crowdfunding the trip earlier this year, I set off for Ghana armed with a camera, a microphone and a life-time supply of batteries. I captured the day to day life of the charity, listened to stories of those who are passionate about their work, and explored the community of Chorkor where BASICS is located. Now that I’m back in Melbourne, Australia, the next step is to turn the many hours of footage into meaningful content that can be used to raise money and awareness for BASICS.
24 hours of flying across the globe brought me to Kotoko International airport in Accra, Ghana. My two flights featured hours of mind-numbing TV-watching, two unusually well-behaved toddlers, and one near-miss of sleeping through a meal. Lucky for me I had considerate neighbours to wake me up!
It was 7:30am on April 5th when I arrived. Pat was waiting for me at the airport. Pat is the Founder and Executive Director of BASICS, and an old friend. She greeted me with a big hug and a quick assessment, “You need to get some COLOUR girl!” Thanks Pat!
So Pat, myself and my pasty white skin climbed into the car and started driving to Chorkor. It was peak hour so we took the chance to catch up during the gridlock. The update on life in Ghana since I’d been there was that things had changed a little. The economy had suffered in the last six years, and there was tension in Ghana. Petty crime was on the rise. Things at BASICS had also changed, grown and improved. We had a new building since the last time I was there, more staff on board and many more children were achieving the grades to get into high school. Progress!
I observed the busy roads while we waited. Familiar sights greeted me of street vendors selling their goods amongst the traffic. Men, women and children walked between cars, with buckets perched above their head, offering the most convenient shopping possible. You could buy anything from snacks, to soaps, to electricals, right at your car window. I spotted an old favourite; plantain chips. Yum! I love Ghana!
As well as traffic vendors, there were beggars. People with disabilities and physical trauma looked desperately for someone to spare some change. Older men dragged blind children over to cars, tapped on windows and gestured towards their child. This wasn’t a huge shock as I’d seen it before. Funny how desensitised we can be to suffering.
We arrived in Chorkor and pulled up to BASICS, which is located a street away from the beach. Chorkor has a great soundscape. It is symphony of hens clucking and roosters crowing, the horns of taxis, and the friendly honks of cycling ice-cream vendors. Then there’s the cry of a tro-tro driver, repeatedly yelling out his destination as he whizzes past (there are no bus numbers in Accra.) On top of that there are people on the street, busy working or sitting with their friends. And children, always active children running around laughing or fighting, or both.
I thought I’d spend my first day recovering from jet lag and adjusting to the stifling humidity. But when I arrived at the centre my tiredness was suddenly forgotten. I whipped the camera out and got stuck into it straight away.
I captured lots of special moments over the next three weeks, including the children dancing, singing, playing music, and studying hard. I interviewed staff, volunteers, locals, and some of the children. The kid’s interviews are outrageously cute. I look forward to sharing them with the world when they’re ready.
Thanks to the donations of family, friends and local networks, I had all the equipment I needed to shoot fun moments like this:
And look at all the SMILES at BASICS:
Here is beautiful little Thomas*, who is pretending to be “Aunty Jess” with my tripod:
It was around 32 degrees everyday, and the humidity at a mild 100%, so buzzing around carrying a camera and tripod everywhere was definitely a work out. But a necessary one. I was devouring rice and plantain EVERY day. Nom nom nom.
This was my first time running a one-woman-show. By that I mean I was responsible for all elements of production; shooting, recording sound, directing and time management. I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, or to ask a technical question when the camera was being un-cooperative. It was definitely a challenge, as I thrive in collaborative projects, and generally gain my energy from other people. I developed a bigger appreciation for all the creatives out there who operate in a lone-wolf-packs!
Of course I had plenty of people around me who energised me. The BASICS team are a diverse bunch, and the kids, well, you know…
And I wasn’t entirely without help. I had two wizards back home who were my international tech-support. Thanks Cam and Goldie!
One of the highlights during filming was when I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with the traditional chiefs of the Ga people. There are three chiefs that oversee the Jamestown Area, which Chorkor is a part of. In order to secure the meeting, I had to give an offering of money and schnapps to each chief. During the meeting I had to remove my shoes, greet everyone in the room from right to left, and greet and gesture with two hands. It is forbidden to point or to talk to a chief directly. This was a minor complication, considering I was there to interview them, but we figured out a work-around.
When I got there, my mind was buzzing with all the rules I needed to remember. I was so paranoid about offending them, that I forgot that they are also just human beings. Of course they probably weren’t going to be offended if I forgot some of the rules, however it was certainly a humbling experience. Luckily, I didn’t offend anyone. Though I may have bored them… I thought I noticed one of the chief nodding off for a second there…
After three weeks of shooting, I packed up my gear for the final time and flew out of Ghana with hard drives full to the brim. I am now embarking on the post-production journey, one which will take some time. I’ll be fitting in the editing around paid work in Melbourne, so I anticipate the process will take a few months.
A big thank you goes out once again to everyone who donated to this project, and to everyone who provided support in one way or another. Another thank you goes out to the entire team at BASICS who put up with me for three weeks. I pointed my camera in lots of faces, rearranged most furniture, and asked many many questions. I promise it was all worth it!
To read more about the fundraiser, you can read more on my website
*Names changed to protect privacy
Take a seat with Pat Wilkins (Founder and Executive Director) and Allotey Bruce Kanuah (Assistant Director)
Pat and Allotey have been working together at BASICS for almost fifteen years. During that time they have overcome many challenges together, and shaped the organisation into what it is today.
In this interview they speak about some of the difficult circumstances faced by the children of Chorkor, and discuss the challenges they have faced in working with the community, where education is too often seen as a privilege or a luxury, instead of a basic human right.
This video was produced by one of our NYU Volunteers in January 2014
In spring of 2012, NYU student Tonya Ingram volunteered at BASICS. She tutored children and brought her love of poetry to BASICS, creating a poetry class for the children.
Tonya was the 2011 New York Knicks Poetry Slam champion, a member and co-founder of NYU’s poetry slam team, a member of the 2011 Urban Word-NYC team, the 2013 Nuyorican Grand Slam team and the 2015 Da Poetry Lounge Slam team.
A note from Tonya:
While interning at B.A.S.I.C.S International, I learned how to laugh, live, learn, serve and love. Thank you for opening your doors and your hearts. I am proud of all of you and cannot wait to hear about your upcoming success.
I MISS YOU!
Fishermen of Ga
Salute the Ghanaian sun
Castles back into ocean
And carry wind underneath tongue
Speak of belonging
To hills of trash
Empires of rubbish
Masked beneath sand
But I’ve watched
Brown bodies twirl &
With dusted smiles
And sunset cheekbones
Blessed is their head
How it carries
How it stores like an ark
How it is breaking cycles
Of the loss their parents
Were not taught &
As I sit
Adjacent to Belinda
I watch her read
But knowing it is part of the process
And as I depart
I take with me their stories
And leave mine behind
For the moments we realize
Time will meet us again
For though I am gone
We became family
Where fisherman salute
The Ghanaian sun
Fellow board members Ms Pat Wilkins, Mrs Sandy Bright, Mrs Stephanie Aladenoye, Mr Scott O’Halloran, Mrs Ronya Foy and Mrs Lenora Gates welcomed four new members in September 2015:
Mr Kweku Fleming
Kweku Fleming is a design consultant who collaborates with companies and inventors to develop new products and innovations to existing products. Since 1992, he has served in the consumer goods, telecommunications, and manufacturing, developing products that range from wireless telephones to designer luggage. Fleming earned an B.S. in electrical engineering and an M.S. in mechanical engineering and product design from Stanford University. He has worked with companies such as Walt Disney Imagineering, Embarq, Jet Blue, Alcoa, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Kweku’s Favorite Things: Sunny beaches, rhythm & blues, Live performances & prawns!!!
Dr Kehinde ‘Kenny’ Ajayi
Kenny Ajayi first learned about BASICS when she met Pat in Ghana over ten years ago. Since then, she has visited Chorkor several times and was deeply inspired by the commitment BASICS has made to supporting children in this community. She looks forward to becoming more involved in BASICS as a board member and is excited about the future of this dynamic organisation.
Based in Boston USA, Kenny is an assistant professor of economics. She teaches courses on economic development and her current research focuses on education and youth employment in Africa. She has spent several years studying the secondary school admission system in Ghana and is passionate about improving educational opportunities for underprivileged students.
Kenny’s favourite things: dancing, sunshine, mangoes, listening to the ocean
Lily Kpobi is assistant lecturer and clinical psychologist from Ghana where she works with various groups of women and children in understanding mental health and well-being. She first got involved with BASICS as an intern in 2012, and worked with the children and staff of BASICS in individual and group sessions. Despite the fact that her internship officially ended three years ago, she has continued to be a part of the BASICS families through child interventions and staff development.
Lily has two Masters’ degrees, the second of which focused on evaluating existing structures and systems in mental healthcare. Her research areas have included understanding the unique roles played by cultural factors in mental health in Ghana, in order to inform better interventions, particularly in women and children. She looks forward to sharing these insights to support BASICS in its drive for change at the community level.
Lily’s favourite things: traveling, all kinds of music and God!
Jess O’Farrell is a digital producer from Melbourne, Australia. She was first introduced to BASICS in 2009 when she volunteered for 2 months. During her stay she tutored girls in the IGAP program, and ran an extracurricular class with students who were interested in film making. The class wrote a script, and starred in their very own film: BASIC STUFF.
Jess studied Media and Communications at RMIT University and thrives on her job as a video Producer in Melbourne. She has worked on short films, feature films, documentaries and corporate video, and is passionate about video as a form of communication. Jess enjoys combining her passion for production with international development, and is travelling back to Ghana in April 2016 to create video content for us.
Jess’s favourite things: Harry Potter, Survivor, and Kele wele!
Give a little: Get a LOT
The story of Grandma Dee, 86 years old
I would like to share with you some of my experience volunteering in the BASICS International summer camp this past August and September (2015.) Although I was only able to be there two hours twice weekly, for six weeks, I found it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. A long life, I might add, now that I am 86 years old.
Most of my time there was spent with the beading class, who welcomed me warmly every morning. Two of the girls, Mercy and Joann designed and made a lovely green beaded bracelet (I helped a little) that I gave to my daughter for her September birthday.
A few times I was assigned to assist in the crocheting class. I informed the students that I was a knitter, and had never learned to crochet. Well, within minutes of sitting down, a pile of yarn and crochet hook was placed in front of me, and two girls immediately gave me lessons on how to make a purse.
Whenever I had to navigate the stairs to the different classrooms, (there are no hand railings to hold on to) within seconds one or two students or staff held my elbows and guided me safely up and down the staircase.
Staff members rescued me immediately when I looked lost or puzzled about where to go next. Someone was always there in the blink of an eye to guide me. I shall always treasure their warmth and welcoming.
The most moving experience was the farewell ceremony on my last day. The students and staff presented me with a certificate (framed and hanging on my wall here in California) two books made by the students, beads, a BASICS tee shirt, and several other goodies which I treasure. They started singing a goodbye song, which brought tears (happy and sad tears) to my eyes.
For a rich and rewarding experience to anyone who visits Ghana, volunteer at BASICS International, try it, you’ll like it.