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Hollywood (sort of) comes to Chorkor

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:

GroupDance

And look at all the SMILES at BASICS:

Volunteer_02WM Kids_Portrait_02WM Art_PaperMache_03WM

Here is beautiful little Thomas*, who is pretending to be “Aunty Jess” with my tripod:

Kids_Portrait_07WM

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…

DanceDance

And I wasn’t entirely without help. I had two wizards back home who were my international tech-support. Thanks Cam and Goldie!

SOS email

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.

All chiefs

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

Kids_GroupShot_07WM

*Names changed to protect privacy

A moment with Pat and Allotey

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

“Chorkor” by Tonya Ingram

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!

Chorkor

In Chorkor,
Fishermen of Ga
Salute the Ghanaian sun
With fire
While children
Spit their
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 &
Mud children
With dusted smiles
And sunset cheekbones
Dance azonto
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
Sometimes stumbling
But knowing it is part of the process
Of learning
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
In Chorkor,
Where fisherman salute
The Ghanaian sun
With fire

The Board of Directors grows

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
Ghana, DC

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!!!

Kewku Fleming

Dr Kehinde ‘Kenny’ Ajayi
Boston, Ghana

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

Kenny_BoardMember

Lily Kpobi
Accra, Ghana

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!

Lily Kpobi

Jess O’Farrell
Melbourne, Australia

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!


JessOFarrell

Student art work – Lillian Afladey

Lillian Afladey Drawing

Drawing by Lillian Afladey, 13 years old, 6th Grade

You’re never too old to Volunteer…

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.

Grandma dee

Grandma Dee

Student work – A poem by Augustina Nettey

Today we bring you more wonderful work from the students of BASICS.

In her poem, Augustina describes the people of her community Chorkor as happy and hopeful! BASICS is hopeful too.

Chorkor, the village in which we work, lives below the poverty line, suffering from lack of infrastructure, lack of funding, and social and cultural customs keeping the community trapped in cycles of poverty. Augustina is hopeful that her community will rise out of poverty with her, as she embraces education and empowers herself to create positive change in her life, and her community.

Augustina Nettey is 16 years old and is in Junior High school 2.

Sponsoring children like Augustina helps sustain her dream, and our dream; that no-one should be living in poverty. End hunger, end illiteracy and end child labor. Donate today.

Porem - Augustina Nettey

Student work – A poem by Freda Nettey

We are very proud of our hard working students here at BASICS!

Today we’d like to share with you a poem written by Freda Nettey. Freda is 14 years old, and is in Junior High School 2

Freda understands that her education is instrumental in shaping her future. Below she writes “I belong” and “[BASICS] is the stepping stone of my success.”

Freda is changing the story of girls in Chorkor! Freda says yes to education, and no to poverty

Poem - Freda Nettey

Celebration dinner with the 2nd lady

In January 2014, BASICS was recognised by the wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Matilda Amissah Arthur, for the work we are doing in Chorkor. A grand dinner reception was organised at the Fiesta Royale hotel, where esteemed guests gathered to celebrate our work, and fundraise for the vital funds needed for the upkeep of BASICS.

A selection of students enjoyed the dinner along with Pat Wilkins and other BASICS staff.

We are proud to share our impact!

Water Tanks

In 2009, the government water supply was shut off in Chorkor. Since then, BASICS has had no choice but to purchase water. TIt was an incredible financial burden on our centre. Water would be delivered via a truck to fill our tank. This cost approximately 200.00 GHC (equivalent to $65.00 USD.) With over 150 children in and out of the centre each day, we were emptying out tank twice a month. In addition, drinking water had to be purchased, as the source of the water being delivered was not secured, and we could not risk using it to cook or drink.   

In 2014, two volunteers; a mother and daughter duo witnessed this burden on BASICS, and decided to raise money on our behalf. The funds were used to purchase two additional tanks; which would harvest rain water; which can be used to flush toilets, clean and water plants. This has helped us tremendously. Thank you Audrey and Mia Hall (and Friends.)

WaterTank