Serving disadvantaged communities in West Africa by empowering local leaders who have a positive humanitarian vision for their community.
This blog maps the evolution of the organization's vision through the thoughts, experiences, and collaborative projects of our team. Visit GroundUpGlobal.org for more information and how you can help!
Recently the SCHEFO team spoke with Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo of FAB Magazine about our work in New York and on the Buduburam Refugee Camp. During the interview, she posed a question concerning the apparent apathy of Ghanaian youth to the serious issues within their own communities. What did we think were the best ways to generate interest in community issues and increase volunteerism?
I cycled back in my mind to a conversation I’d had when presenting our work on Buduburam to some peers. They had asked me ‘Why Ghana? Why Africa, when there are pressing issues of poverty, illiteracy, and unchecked gang violence in America.’ All were valid points.
My response at the time was that I could not return to New York and allow the people who had transformed my life in such a profound way to simply fade into the background of memory. My emotional connection was with Keith, Semiria, Jerry, Ma Nancy, Josephine, Kebbeh, and many more on the camp. So it was with them that I chose to dedicate my time and energy in co-founding SCHEFO.
But why not people within my own community? And, similarly, why did the privledged Ghanaian youth shy from investing their own skills in their communities?
I gathered my thoughts and told Sinem slowly that I could not speak against the apathy she saw in Ghana because in some sense I had done the same thing - I have chosen to work on behalf of a community on a completely different continent, let alone country, from my own. I have volunteered in the past, sure, but not to the extent that I am now involved with SCHEFO.
Still, the question threaded through these two conversations tugs against the knot of it’s origin. What is it in us collectively that makes us turn a blind eye to the homeless man asking for food in the same hour that we write a check to “starving children in Africa?” These categories are deeply oversimplified but represent the cultural truth of our current relationship to aid, at home and abroad.
For me, the answer is in Kindergarten.
The lessons of sharing are part of our fundamental education. We are taught from congnizance to be generous with our toy blocks, our magic markers, our pb&j sandwiches. The process of disillusionment known as adolescence restructures this lesson, shifting values of gratitude and generosity to those proclaimed in fashion magazines and mainstream media. The topic is old, we all know the detriments too-thin models and steriod-muscled men have on our individual well being. What we don’t consider, however, is the effect that this shift in values has on our community at large: our global community.
On a scientific level, we share to create kinship bonds: to survive. Realistically, we share because each group is better off. It is a narcissistic fallacy to believe that the resources “we” as Westerners have to share are more valuable that what people in developing countries have. In fact, in our rapidly globalizing world, it is strange to create that separation of “we” and “them” to begin with.
Spending time on the refugee camp taught me to reimagine our value scale. Technology is important, but it is not of greater value than cultural practices that reinforce community.
Architect Jorge Otero-Pailos recently said that the greatest gift we can give future generations is inefficiency. He was not making an argument against the rapid spread of technology, he was looking at the scale of our collective cultural values in America and acknowledging its limitations.
If we put the practice of sharing at the core of our value system as Americans and as Westerners, then we can begin to move beyond the binaries of “us” and “them” to a space of equitable exchange.