Recently, a delegation of African-American journalists was invited to tour Ghana by the Consulate General of Israel in New York City. Ostensibly, their mission was to explore various development projects between Israel and Ghana, but it was also an opportunity for some of the journalists to discover their ancestral roots.
Interwoven in the visits to a number of sites where Israeli-Ghanaian cooperation is of enormous productivity, the journalists had an emotional introduction to the slave trade at Cape Coast Castle. Mark Tetteh, a tour guide at the Castle, led them through the dungeons, where the captives were held until loaded on the slave ships. “They were often shackled in these fetid, cramped quarters, as they were in the holds of the ships,” Tetteh explained.
Near the end of his lecture, the journalists were led to the “Door of No Return,” and unlike the millions of captives, they were allowed to step back through that door where the African past and the African-American presence converged.
That convergence continued when the journalists, still feeling the terror embedded in the walls, left the castle and arrived in Winneba, located approximately half way between Cape Coast and Accra, the nation’s capital. At Winneba, they met with the staff of volunteers from Israel, led by Ori Schnitzer. The volunteers were involved in teaching the children—a dozen or so—the rudiments of language. “For four days a week we work with about 40 some students on various subjects,” Schnitzer said. The volunteers, on average, serve three months in Project Ten, as the program is called.
From the school house, the journalists walked a few yards to where a patch of land is under development as a garden, where sprouts of various vegetables are emerging. “I have only been here two months,” said Michael, one of five currently active volunteers at the site. “But as you can see, we are at the early stages of development.” He was joined by a young local Ghanaian who was excited about learning the intricacies of farming. “We have much to do, but I am glad to have this opportunity to help my community,” he said. The seeds have been planted, and in a few weeks they will have a fresh harvest of basil, peppers and tomatoes.
On the following morning of their four-day itinerary, the journalists—Stephanie McNeal and Bobbi Booker, both out of Philadelphia; Brandon Gates and Chad Ubiwa, of New York City; and Maudlyne Ihejirika of Chicago; and this reporter—were flown to Kumasi, a 35-minute flight from Accra. Much like the children at Winneba, the young kindergarten students at one of the projects sponsored by MASHAV, a Hebrew acronym for Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, were full of energy and desire to learn. Victoria Erskine, the school’s principal, led the journalists to each classroom where students were actively engaged in learning their body parts, both in Asante and English, the history of light and washing dolls with lessons in cleanliness and child care.
“They are chanting a nursery rhyme I learned as a child,” said Nicholas Asante, our overall tour guide. For a moment he chanted along with them.