Rebecca Brandt '10
The University of Ghana
In the Fall of 2008, Concordia University began its Exchange Program with the University of Ghana in Accra, which is the capitol of Ghana located in West Africa. With over thirty thousand students, the University hosts an average of one thousand foreign students each year. The following is a glance into Rebecca Brandt’s experience who is an art major with an art education emphasis at CUI.
Left: Receiving a lesson on Kente cloth weaving. Right: Kente Cloth is woven by the Akan people of Ghana.
The Rafiki Foundation
In the fall of 2009, I had the thrilling opportunity to teach art at the Rafiki Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa. The Rafiki Foundation began in 1985 by Rosemary Jenkins, a recent CUI honorary doctorate receiver. As a Christian organization, Rafiki strives to help Africa’s orphaned and vulnerable children become Godly contributors to their communities and the world. What I found unique about Rafiki was their approach to create a Christian home environment as well as excellent education and medical care for their children. The Rafiki Village functions as a community of families. Each family consists of 4-9 orphaned children and a “Mama” to love, cherish and raise them up in a Godly manner. Although these families are not related by blood, they become brothers, sisters, mamas and children.
When I first arrived at the Rafiki Orphanage, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The property was beautiful and the students were remarkably well behaved; yet my role of creating an art program was still yet to be defined. About two weeks into my internship, I walked over to the room where I would be working. The room was completely bare and infested with spider webs, but as my first real art room, it appeared flawless to me. After a day's work, the classroom was stocked and ready for some creative students.
By studying the Rafiki and Ghanaian Public Schools art curriculum, I developed my own projects, which focused on the basic elements of art. As prepared as I thought I was, however, the students' caution and apprehension towards the subject caught me off guard. Art had always been part of my education, and honestly I had taken it for granted. These children were surrounded by beautiful African patterns and vibrant colors, but this was all primarily functional art and thus had little guidance towards innovation and creativity in the classroom. It didn’t take long for the students to show interest in their own ability and before long the walls of my first art room were filled with African masterpieces.
I feel blessed to have been given the unique opportunity to share my passion for the arts with the children at the Rafiki Orphanage. What a rare privilege to teach my own art classes while I am still a student.
Left: Christmas cards and envelopes for the students’ sponsors in the United States. Middle: Batik Dying Technique called “Marble.” Right: A first grader at the Rafiki Orphanage making a friendship bracelet.
Gracie’s Batik & Tie Die
East Legon, Ghana
Only a fifteen-minute walk from the University of Ghana resides Gracie’s Batik and Tie Dye Factory. A traditional wax-resist dying technique, batiking creates the exotic prints and vibrant colors often associated with Africa. Grace, traditionally referred to as “Auntie Grace”, began her business in her own home. Since then it has grown to one of the most respected Textile Factories in Legon, Ghana. Grace's property includes her home, shop, seamstress shop and backyard “factory” where all the one-of-a-kind textiles are produced. The business employs over thirty seamstresses, interns and professional batik artists. As a successful businesswoman, she has found great value in education and currently houses about fifteen family members, friends and international students while in school.
My experience at Gracie's was one I could never have imagined. When I first heard the term “Batik Factory”, I pictured machines and concrete, heat and serious business. Thank goodness, this was not the case. With a porch covering the length of her home, the batik artists work in the open air of her backyard. Our day always began by filling ten tubs with well water. Of course, the workers got quite a kick out of my attempt to carry the jugs on my head as directed. As the senior batik artists began stamping cloth with wax, the interns and newly hired would assist in any way possible. Whether the dies needed to be mixed, wax melted, clothes dried, I was expected to perform all the tasks required to run a traditional African batik factory.
By the end of my four months, working side by side with professional batik artists, I was able to successfully complete a small portfolio of traditional batik and tie-dye textiles. While I am proud of the handmade cloths I was able to bring home to the U.S., the friendships I made and knowledge I learned from my coworkers at Gracie’s is what I cherish the most. The sense of family I experienced as simply being a part of Gracie's team as an intern not only comforted me far from home but seriously changed the way I view my future occupation. Joy in the workplace was the biggest lesson I learned from Gracie’s Batik and Tie Dye.