The Senase Project
905 S. Hill Street
October 11, 2012
My life-changing experiences in Ghana’s Senase village unfolds in this exhibit. One cannot help but be overcome by sadness at the scarcity of this barren place. And yet, despite its bareness and poverty, this is a place rich with people whose generous spirit and hospitality inspire us.
These photographs depict …
DISCOVERY: As I walked through the villages with my camera, the same phenomenon occurred, again and again. After having their photos taken, adults and children alike were shown the backscreen image on the digital screen. They focused on the screen at length, captivated by the faces staring back at them. They were not studying their facial expressions or the image composition. They were mesmerized because it was extremely rare for them to be seeing themselves. For some of them, it was the first time … ever. I eventually realized that there were no mirrors in the villages. The self-discovery was beautiful.
JOY: The children. Time and again, pictures recorded the children’s faces and reactions wherever our group visited the classrooms and farmlands. The emotions ranged from guardedness to trust and eventual excitement as they grew more comfortable with the 29 strangers visiting them from a land so far away. Captured were the moments when our group failed miserably to learn the Ghanian dance-and-drumming routine while the little ones stood on the sidelines giggling. Captured was the excitement when we presented the One World Futbal, an indestructible soccer ball that would assure them endless hours of play. Captured was the joy when we attempted to teach them the Hokey Pokey only to be outdone by their unsurpassed synchronized chanting and dancing.
PURITY OF MIND: Midway through the visit, as I was standing next to my blonde Caucasian friend, Amy, my host sister noticed our close-knit bond and asked in her distinct accent, “Is she your sista?” It was simple, yet beautiful inquiry; one sparked by a mind so pure that it knew of no racial or ethnic boundaries. I believe these images showcase the beauty of this pureness.
TRADITION: Even before we visited the village, drums and costumes were made for us by the local craftsman who had learned of our stay. The elders of the village welcomed us and requested that we learn – and perform – a Ghanian dance-and-drumming routine. We were invited into their homes and warmly welcomed during our visit.
KINDNESS: The overflowing hospitality and generosity from this community – which had virtually no excess for itself – often left us speechless. We were fed 3 meals a day, but the villagers ate only once daily. While we consumed the food we had graciously been served, they tended to daily chores.
How I arrived …
Like so many times in my life, I followed my heart and jumped in – feet first – not really knowing what I signed up for.
Through a random 2010 Facebook posting, a very small group of Semester at Sea students had found Fred, a self-made tour guide who brought these volunteers to his home in the Senase village. This group returned home with heavy – but hopeful –hearts and a solid mission to help the villagers by forging a path for another group of volunteers to return in 2011. As fate would have it, I found myself in 2011 group.
I was in Africa. Already so far from home. I had no expectations and was guided only by a hunger to immerse myself into another world.
I didn’t know what to expect. I had just said yes to a trip, far far away from where my Semester at Sea ship docked. But I had a good feeling, a sense that something powerful was about to happen. I guess I had a hunch.
And my hunch was right. It was powerful. This trip changed my life …
It was a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call to catch a 4:30 a.m. bus. As the crisp morning air swallowed us, I and the small group stumbled along the dirt road, eager to meet Fred. Fred, was a warm, extremely gentle and kind hearted 19 year old young man.
The bus ride to Senase was going to be seven hours long. The ride itself was an adventure. There were none of the comforts we Americans are accustomed to on our vacation road trips. No abundance of radio stations playing various genres of music, no DVD players, or even pothole-free roads to lull passengers to sleep.
We stopped for a heartbreaking tour of the Elmina Castle, which was used for slave trade in the 17th century. The excursion was the beginning of my emotional journey.
Elmina Castle -”The Door of No Return” -
the last doorway where slaves passed to board a ship to a foreign land
Back on the road, we soaked in what we had seen with all of our senses. We were unsure how the days ahead would be, other than a loose schedule of volunteering in the farmlands and schools. What we knew was that we had this incredible opportunity to immerse ourselves entirely, so any agenda would weigh down the experience. I have no recollection of what time we arrived that night in Senase. We were overcome with hope and excitement. What I do recall was the massive number of children and villagers who emerged from their huts, running to greet our bus. Bits of dirt flew through the night air as their little feet scurried along the road toward us. They were cheering, waving and squealing with electrifying energy.
This shot takes me back to that night.
Over the next few days, we visited different schools and ventured into the farmlands. We met with village elders who asked about our intentions. By the time our group left, we were steadfastly dedicated to continuing and strengthening the mission that the 2010 group had begun. We would bring a medical clinic and classrooms to the village.
After I returned from Senase, my commitment to this community was iron-clad. I want to raise funds and donate money for things that we just take for granted. Clean water for villagers. A classroom for the kids. A medical clinic for the families in need; families like our guide Fred, whose mother lost her baby while walking to a faraway clinic while in the throes of labor pains. The resulting medical conditions left her unable to bear more children. Therefore, she took on 17 children who were in need to raise as her own.
The head of my group, Casey, is a passionate student who organized this underground trip. I watched Casey speak with the elders about our goals to support the village. She exuded utter grace, excitement, and conviction. They, in turn, regarded her with such trust and confidence that she – and the rest of us – will deliver on our promises. They trust us, mere strangers from a foreign land so far away, to help them.
The faith that the villagers have bestowed on us touched my heart and has never left my soul. Their belief in us inspires me and my October photo exhibit.
To learn more about The Senase Project, a non-profit organization founded by the first band of (Semester at Sea) students watch this video. It spotlights the mission of the group, highlighting why and how this project was adopted.
Medasi (thank you) for stopping by. The rest of my journey will unfold through my photography. I hope to see you at the Exhibit and Fundraiser!