A special event called Return to Africa in August will reprise a project that was initiated 15 years ago.
According to a media release from Jan Padgett, who was a participant in delivering aid to a village in Africa, the event will feature a return to the village of Manda in Chad, to revisit Willing Hearts International’s project featured in the film From Under the Bushy Trees.
Padgett stated that 15 years ago, Powell River residents gave their generous support to establish a school and help with the economic development in rural Chad. She stated that Willing Hearts founder Gerri Graber inspired many to give, including the Rotary clubs, various schools, children doing bake sales, seniors collecting and sorting clothing, and many others pitched in to help.
Padgett and Moira Simpson travelled with Graber to Chad to film the process of delivering aid.
“All did not go as planned, but a story grew, and became the film From Under the Bushy Trees, which premiered at the Powell River Film Festival, and was shown again in 2011 as the fundraiser Into Africa for the Sunshine GOGOs, who are affiliated with the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF),” stated Padgett.
According to the SLF website, the organization is a progressive, feminist organization rooted in the principals of social justice, international solidarity and substantive equality.
“When in Chad, young Mokuh [Njizokokeh Bartholomew Mokuh], became our trusted guide, translator and invaluable source of proper protocol,” stated Padgett. “Adopted as Gerri’s son, he completed university as a teacher. He is also featured in the film.
“In the 15 years that have passed, much has happened in the village of Manda, and much has changed in Mokuh’s life and circumstances. He now lives and works in the United States, is married and has three children.”
Padgett stated that this summer, Mokuh and his family are all coming “home” to Powell River, to visit with auntie Gina Devlin, (Gerri’s sister), and to meet the community that has meant so much to them.
“And so, while here, they will join us at a special event, Return to Africa, on August 13 at 1:30 pm at Patricia Theatre,” stated Padgett.
From Under the Bushy Trees will be shown. Mokuh and his family, filmmakers Padgett and Simpson, as well as Devlin, will be in attendance.
“A discussion with Mokuh will follow the screening, and he will update us on the developments both in his own life, as well as the village of Manda,” added Padgett, who indicated that the event is being organized by the Baha’i community and Sunshine GOGOs, which is part of a Canada-wide network of grandmother-to-grandmother groups, as part of SLF.
According to the Sunshine GOGOs Facebook page, the group raises awareness and funds to support African grandmothers caring for millions of children orphaned by AIDS.
Attendance at the event will be by donation, and the proceeds collected will be sent to SLF.
The release stated that to date, the GOGOs have forwarded $108,000 to the organization, which has done so much to help the grandmothers and orphans of Africa.
Also in the release, Devlin stated that when Graber was invited by friends to assist in a teacher-training program in Chad, she had no idea her life would be completely changed, as well as the lives of her family, friends and everyone she met.
“In the town of Manda, there were many orphans, among them a family of children who were cared for by a young volunteer from Cameroon,” stated Devlin. “Gerri returned to Powell River armed with photos of students attending ‘school’ under a tree. It was a challenge she couldn’t ignore.
“She appealed to churches, schools and service clubs. Children were inspired to sell their baked cookies and flower rocks to raise the needed funding.”
Devlin added that Graber created Willing Hearts International Society, which guaranteed that every cent collected by the charitable organization would fund the project, a school for Manda, trades training for orphans so they could live independently, and university teacher training for Mokuh. The society was granted a charitable number so donors could receive receipts for income tax purposes.
“The project was completed in five years,” stated Devlin, “just as Gerri’s life on the physical plane came to an end.”