Not many people can even locate Ghana on a map, but the small West African country is like a second home to Lauren Brick.
The 30-year-old Ferndale resident studied there in 2003 while getting her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and African studies at Oakland University. She then lived there for a year, from 2004 to 2005, while earning her master’s degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Ghana. Now she is giving back to the nation that has given her so much.
Brick is raising money for the Asebu Youth Ensemble, a Ghanaian cultural drum and dance group made up of about 20 underprivileged children ages 8-18 from Asebu, a rural village in south-central Ghana. She is seeking to generate at least $5,000 by Nov. 30 through the online fundraising platform Kickstarter.
“I had always wanted to do something to help them out, but I just didn’t have the means to do it before,” Brick said. “But then I learned about Kickstarter and what it can do, and I knew that was the answer.”
For this project, Brick is collaborating with two friends in Ghana, Afotey Otoo and Frank “Teacher” Otoo, who are unrelated. In the short term, their goal is to produce a pair of videos to help the Asebu Youth Ensemble get enough performances for the children to pay for their school fees. As Brick explained, by obtaining the necessary funds, these kids will be able to come to rehearsal, rather than working in the market after school — or instead of attending school at all.
“We want to give this group the little friendly shove that they need to become self-sustainable,” she said. “But our true vision is bigger than that; it’s about educating these kids, giving them career opportunities and preserving this amazing art form. With this group, they’ll be learning a ton of history and music that dates back hundreds of years. Afotey and Teacher don’t want this music to die, but they just don’t have the means to preserve it. Their ultimate goal is to open a cultural history school, and this is sort of the first step toward that goal.”
When Brick was living in Ghana, she spent much of her time researching youth and traditional music. She soon met and befriended Afotey and Teacher, performers and instructors in Cape Coast, and began taking drum and dance lessons from Afotey. In addition, she performed with the Asanti Dance Theatre, the adult troupe in which Afotey and Teacher were members, and became involved with Afotey’s traditional Ghanaian music group for children.
Brick said that she will remain forever grateful to her friends for their kindness, generosity and support.
“They are both really terrific, selfless people,” she said. “Afotey took a lot of ridicule for having this foreigner follow him all day, especially one who is of the opposite gender and color. But he just loves helping people, so he wants to make sure these kids have the opportunity for a successful life and career that he never had.”
Brick’s mother, Linda Brick, traveled to Ghana for two weeks in January 2005 to visit Lauren. The trip left a major impression on her, and she was especially blown away by the quality of the musical performances that she saw.
“It was just breathtaking,” she said. “These people are such tremendous athletes and musicians, and everyone there is so open and welcoming and respectful. I loved getting the chance to meet Afotey and Teacher. What struck me most about them was their spirit — all the children follow them around like the Pied Piper.”
Linda Brick also recognized, however, that many families in Ghana were struggling to get by, which meant that education often played second fiddle to putting food on the table.
“The schools are really overcrowded there, even though the fees are very expensive, but the attendance is really sporadic,” she explained. “Sometimes parents have to choose between feeding their family and sending their kids to school. They have to make a lot of really tough choices out of necessity.”
With the money raised on Kickstarter, Lauren Brick plans to help Afotey and Teacher create a couple of short videos for the Asebu Youth Ensemble. The first, which will be distributed for free to schools across Ghana as an educational aid, will feature five different performance pieces in which the kids will explain the history and cultural significance of each selection. The second will be a promotional video showcasing the group’s repertoire and talents that will help them book higher-paying performances. The remainder of the funds will be used to help the ensemble purchase appropriate costumes and instruments, as well as cover the cost of drum repairs.
Brick would love to raise around $9,000 for the project, as she admitted that $5,000 is actually the bare minimum that she will need in order to make it feasible. Still, Nov. 30 is fast approaching, and one of the downsides to using Kickstarter is that those who fail to reach their fundraising goal do not receive any of the donated money.
“We really need all the help we can get,” Brick said. “With the holidays approaching and people getting into the giving spirit, we just hope they might consider giving to some people in need all the way across the ocean.”
To make a donation to the Asebu Youth Ensemble, go to www.kick starter.com and type “Lauren Brick” into the search box. Then click on the project called “Youth to Youth: Ghanaian Cultural Drum & Dance.”