Organizers with the community-driven non-profit Say Yes To Education have realized the dream of sending 15 of its students to Ghana, Africa, for a trip that is part humanitarian mission and part self-identification.
The 20-member SYTE 2012 Africa contingent will leave for Ghana on Tuesday August 7, returning August 22.
SYTE had embarked on an intense fundraising campaign, and organizer’s faith never wavered, even as the vision of sending 20 students on this life-altering trip began to dim due to the early lack of traction with donors.
In the end, SYTE was only five students away from its target goal.
“I really never lost hope. I never thought that the students wouldn’t go; even if I had to personally finance the trip, they were going to go,” said Say Yes To Education program director Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza. “As with all things, [potential donors] wanted to see us put forward the equity and really push for it, but for the last month and a half, donations have really started coming in.”
Ongoza and the SYTE youth did just about everything imaginable to raise funds for the trip, including holding raffles, auctions and bake sales while hitting up the graduation ceremonies of area colleges, and selling bags of celebratory goodies. By all accounts, the youth going on the trip were very much engaged in the fundraising process.
“These kids were working very hard,” Sullivan-Ongoza said, noting that SYTE board members and other prime donors supported the effort as well. “The youth are very excited; [at the farewell ceremony] they talked about what they did to raise money, and how even their churches supported them.
“The village really stepped up; it really did,” Sullivan-Ongoza continued. “It is really happening and everyone is excited.”
This is the first time organizers with the Philadelphia branch of SYTE have taken students abroad, and the way Sullivan-Ongoza sees it, what the youth invested in order to go to Ghana will pale in comparison to what they receive.
“For the youth, they will be returning home, so there’s the historical aspect of learning about themselves,” Sullivan-Ongoza said, mentioning that her daughter once went to Ghana and returned forever changed. “Ghana is a major location since it’s coastal. Our ancestors came through there on their way to the Middle Passage. There’s the slave dungeons and Door of No Return, so the youth will have that emotional experience.
“They will also participate in some of Ghana’s cultural events,” Sullivan-Ongoza continued. “They are going to be immersed in the cultural lives of Ghanaians.”
Sullivan-Ongoza said the group will also take part in an oceanfront service which resembles native coming-of-age ceremonies.
The humanitarian portion of the SYTE Africa 2012 trip may even outweigh the historical and ancestral components, especially considering exactly where the group is headed during its Ghana sojourn.
“The group will visit several schools, and take donated goods to two orphanages there — one which serves the children of parents who passed from AIDS,” Sullivan-Ongoza said. “They will also visit a health clinic and community health center, where they will deliver basic medical supplies. So we are doing humanitarian-type things while reconnecting to our culture.”
Several issues are plaguing Ghana, including the lack of potable water. Many young members of Ghanaian families must walk for several miles to find water to bring back to their families — usually, it’s the younger members of the family that go on water runs both before and after school. The SYTE Africa 2012 group plans to assist in sinking a well in a Ghanaian town, which would effectively terminate those backbreaking trips.
“The well is currently being built. We are going to participate and get some money to help, but it takes time,” Sullivan-Ongoza said, noting that the well must be built by hand and diggers aren’t sure when they will strike water, but are confident that they will. “They don’t want to drink river water for the parasites, which will cause fresh river water disease.”
Sullivan-Ongoza — a lifelong educator with a deep appreciation for the Motherland, who has visited the continent several times on personal missions — believes the youth will be just as affected as she during her first visit.
“When I look back on my life, [SYTE Africa 2012] will be ranked right up there for me, as I know I played a chief role in making it happen,” Sullivan-Ongoza said. “During my first trip to Africa, I knew what it meant to be there. It transformed me, and I go every year now.
“You get an appreciation for what you have here, the creature-comforts you take for granted,” Sullivan-Ongoza continued. “But you gain a greater appreciation for the Ghanaians who have very little material things, but are very rich in spirit.
“You always get teachable moments with outside the country, and I want the children to experience that, feel that.”