THE PRESIDENT & CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs, Inc. Mr. Daniel Obst, has stated that the decision to hold this year’s Global Citizenship Education Forum and AFS Network Meeting in Ghana could not have come at a better time.
“This has been a very important time for us to come to Africa. It is a reflection point for our organization and as we formulate new strategies, Africa has to be a key part and at the center of our priorities,” Mr. Obst declared.
SPEAKING IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ME at the AFS NWM-Ghana 2017 which was held at the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel in Accra from October 10-14, Mr. Obst said the reasons for the general enthusiasm of the AFS fraternity about holding the Network 2017 Meeting in Ghana and for the first time on African soil in the organization’s 100-year history are very solid.
He noted that apart from Africa having a large youthful population, there is a strong demand for intercultural learning on the continent.
“There is a huge desire by people from other countries also to learn more about Africa,” he said. “Through the AFS Network Meeting we have seen what opportunities there are to enhance and expand our programs in Africa. I think this network meeting has really opened our eyes and encouraged us to do more in building the capacity of the youth as we embark on new strategic directions for the future. I am very optimistic about prospects for the youth on the continent and elsewhere.”
Mr. Obst commended the commitment, hardwork, and excellent organizational abilities displayed by Mr. Kwame Otchere (aka “Duala”) the AFSIEP Ghana National Director, Rev. Okumeng-Mensah, the AFS-Ghana Board Chair, and the entire team of staff and Volunteers whose efforts resulted in the successful outcome of the meeting.
The AFS President also commended the various delegates for their invaluable contributions which culminated in the production of THE AFS DECLARATION OF ACCRA, which will serve as the blueprint for the organization’s strategic direction from 2018 to 2022.
“Overall, I think it has been a very productive and fruitful meeting”, the AFS President said.
According to Mr. Kwame Otchere, AFS Ghana National Director, a total of 140 delegates from some 60 countries participated in the historic Accra meeting.
The countries and Partner Organizations represented include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovinia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, European Federation of Intercultural Learning, Egypt, Spain, Finland, France, Gibraltar, Germany, and Ghana.
Others are Guatemala, Hong Kong, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Republic of South Africa, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, USA, and Venezuela.
The Long Road To Accra Network Meeting
Giving the genesis of the AFS Network Meeting in Accra, the AFS/IEP Ghana Board Chair, Rev. Allan Okumeng-Mensah (aka “Bones”), told me that the advocacy for greater recognition for Africa within the AFS global fraternity started over a decade ago but gained momentum during the meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2011.
Ghana in 2013 won the Galatti Award for Exemplary Volunteerism. This is an award given by AFS International to the person adjudged as the best volunteer within the AFS Network in any given year. In view of the importance attached to the award, the then President of AFS Intercultural Programs, Mr. Vincenzo Molini, personally flew to Ghana to do the presentation to Rev. Okumeng-Mensah, who won the title and made AFS-Ghana proud.
“It was a humbling experience indeed for me”, said the AFS/IEP Ghana Board Chair.
According to him, Mr. Molini took advantage of his visit to tour the whole country and see for himself at first hand the work of the AFS Volunteer Force in Ghana. During the visit, an idea was mooted that AFS Ghana should try and put itself in position to enable it host a major international event.
Rev. Okumeng-Mensah revealed that prior to Ghana’s selection as venue for the NWM 2017, African member countries of the organization had in 2014 succeeded in forming a regional grouping known as “AFS in Africa” (A. A”). Countries involved include Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Republic of South Africa, and Tunisia. Lobbying by the various countries culminated in Ghana being selected at Peru 2016 to host the 2017 AFS Network Meeting (NWM) and Global Citizenship Education Forum in Accra. The NWM for 2018 is slated to take place in Budapest, Hungary.
Initial AFS Exposure in San Diego, California
My personal relationship with AFS dates back to August 1969 when I was one of 19 students made up of 12 boys and 7 girls constituting the third batch of Ghanaians who benefitted from the American Field Service (AFS) Intercultural Educational Exchange Program during the 1969/70 academic year. Among the group were Joel Odonkor, Richard Nketia, Effie Simpson, Ivy Agyarko, Emmanuel Bediako, Ekua Budu-Arthur, Evans Awalime, etc.
Under the direction of Mrs. Nina Opel, then AFS Ghana National Representative, we flew by Lufthansa Airlines via Frankfurt Airport, where we were joined on the flight to New York, USA, by students including Hella Rogalewski of Germany, Paolo Betachi of Italy, and many others from France and other European countries. That first intercultural encounter was during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, who was later impeached and replaced by his Vice-President, Gerald Ford, in the wake of the infamous Watergate wire-tapping scandal.
The unique exposure gained from the experiences of my stay with the Donald & Patricia Rucker family at 113 South 35th Street, San Diego, California, while attending Abraham Lincoln Senior High School with Howard Jenkins, Diana Toliver, Brenda Jackson, Elizabeth Nichols (Libby), Deniese Rayford, Diane Franklin, Travis Tinsley and others, has no doubt played a major role in moulding my character and general attitude to life. I lived with Sisters Doree and Leslye, Brother Darryl Rucker and their cousin Linda. We fellowshipped at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, with Rev. J. H Oxley as the Senior Pastor.
The First Touch Of A Live Elephant
In addition to the numerous school activities, some of my most memorable moments included visits to the famous San Diego Sea World, the San Diego Zoo where I first saw and touched a giant live elephant, and a trip to California’s capital city, Sacramento, where I met Governor Ronald Reagan, who later became President of the United States. Senator Melvin Dimally was then representing California in the US Senate in Washington.
Our most cherished sports hero at the time was American Football Quarterback O. J. Simpson, while the favorite musical personalities of choice were soul sister Aretha Franklin and soul Brother James Brown of “I’m Black and Proud” fame.
Apart from playing host to my late Classmate Bruce Moriyama from Lincoln High School and Lisa Goodwin from Point Loma High School for brief periods in 1973 and 1974, after my return to Ghana, I have been communicating with my host family, classmates and friends since those days, in line with the AFS motto of “walking together and talking together”.
I also had the opportunity to spend America’s Independence Day, July 4, 2014, in San Diego with my son and some members of my host family including our 87-year-old loving Mom, Mrs. Patricia Rucker, who was called to glory last year. Among the several thousands of animal species I found on our trip to San Diego Zoo in 2014 was a young, beautiful seventeen and half feet tall giraffe, which really amazed me as part of the wonderful beauty of God’s creation.
The Role Of Some AFS Ghana Pioneers
As the first Publicity Chairman for AFS-Ghana Returnees Association, (1970-1975), I worked with Mr. John Sherman and Mrs. Jane Osafoa Dankyi, who were then referred to as AFS National Representatives (NR), before the late Dr. (Mrs.) Gladys Osae-Addo took Office with the designation as National Director.
Returnees such as Leonora Agyarko, Setri Nyomi, Gyamfi-Aidoo, Selete Nyomi, Effie Simpson, Nina Baeta, Godson Mensah, Papa Kwesi Ndoum, Djaba Nyakotey, Joe Baidoe-Ansah, and others were also actively involved, with Setri becoming the first African member of the AFS Intercultural Board of Directors. Having served as National Director for many years after Mrs. Osae-Addo, Emmanuel Annan was succeeded by the hardworking Kwame Otchere (aka “Duala”), who has successfully steered affairs of AFS/IEP in Ghana for about 10 years.
After surviving from three attacks of stroke by God’s grace, it was for me personally such an awesome joy to be alive to see Ghana hosting the AFS Global Network Meeting on African Soil for the first time in more than 100 years of the organization’s existence. It was an additional blessing for me to be part of celebrations marking the 50th Anniversary of AFS/IEP in Ghana, which had Mike Opong, Simon Abingya, Leonora Agyarko, and Ted Goh as some of the pioneers.
And what greater privilege and honor could there have been than to have the opportunity for a rare chat with Daniel Obst, President and CEO of AFS International, graciously facilitated by the AFS Ghana National Director, Kwame Otchere.
I was fascinated by the spirit of camaraderie that prevailed throughout the conference, and even more so by the newly crafted innovative millennium slogan for AFS: “Connecting lives, Sharing Cultures.”
Delegates Share Their Experiences
I also spoke with Urs-Rainer von Arx, Vice President of AFS International since 2004, himself an Alumnus who went from Zurich, Switzerland to Kettanning, Pennsylvania, as an AFS student in 1968-69, Ulrich Voss, who went from Krouberg, Germany, to Minnesota in 1982-1983, as well as Alexis Zlowoski, who went from Cordoba, Argentina, to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1990-91.
All the delegates I spoke with were unanimous in their observations that the Accra NWM was one of the best they have had. “The AFS delegates are saying this is one of the best Network Meeting they have ever had. Unofficially they are whispering it actually is the best”, Kwame Otchere said in a WhatsApp message.
The favourite quotation which guides Kwame Otchere in his work is from Mr. Harry Truman, one of the greatest Presidents of America. Harry Truman said: “It’s amazing what we can accomplish if we do not care who gets the credit.”
According to Palesa Ramatsepe and Mary Mlambo, both AFS Board Members from the Republic of South Africa, the significance of the Network Meeting Ghana 2017 in Accra, was that this was the first time AFS was holding such a meeting in Africa in 100 years.
“This is a good strategy for AFS to become more visible in Africa. It provides an opportunity for all to see that Africa is capable”, said Ramatsepe.
“We’re expecting an improvement in how the AFS Network sees Africa after this meeting and how we take forward the new strategy from 2018 to 2022”, Mlambo added.
Worldwide Impact Through Fruitful Collaboration
Sheryl Tucker, the New York based AFS Chief External Affairs Officer, said she was very much encouraged by the impact the program has so far made worldwide and the fruitful collaboration from UN agencies, other organizations and institutions, as well as the youth.
“Intercultural learning transforms students and prepares them to take action in any diverse setting to help make a positive difference,” Sheryl said.
Others I spoke with were Matthieu Henkens of Belgium who went to Russia in 2005-2006, Ruth Kwakwa of Jamaica who went to Spain in 1984-1985, Sercan Selvi of Turkey who went to Bosnia in 2009-2010, Greg Csard of Hungary who went to Venezuela in 2001-2002, Luc Manuel Estape, National Director of AFS Switzerland and his volunteer son, Cedric Carl Johan Estape.
Also interacting with me were Akiko Kato, Partner Chair of AFS Japan, Nina Nasution, Executive Director, AFS Indonesia, Zhang Ling, Vice Chair of AFS China, Ms. Tara Boyce-Hoffman, Chief Operating and Organizational Development Officer, AFS-USA National Office; Kirsi-Marja Erofejeff-Engman, Partner Director, AFS Finland; Robert Deslandes, Board Chair, AFS Interculture Canada; Marcel Krause, International Director, AFS Spain; and Alda Protti, Board Chair, AFS Italy.
One of my exhilarated interviewees, Aman Chee of Hong Kong, who went to Australia in 1986-1987, is President of AFS Hong Kong Alumni Committee, Co-Chair of Annual Giving Advisory Committee, and AFS Hong Kong Board Member. Atty Sulalman is National Director of AFS Malaysia, while Bert Vercamer is Chief Program Innovation Officer at AFS Intercultural Programs, New York.
Other delegates I interviewed were Mirian Hernandez, Board Chair of AFS Honduras, Simone Caporali, Executive Director of AFS Italy, Angela Roye, Board Chair of AFS India, Rosario Guttierez, National Director of AFS Colombia; Herman Jimenez, Board Chair of AFS Chile, and Hal Denton, who spent his AFS year (1971-1972) in Paraguay, and has since 1989 served as General Counsel (i.e. lawyer) for AFS Intercultural Programs, Inc.