City Students Forge Cultural and Educational Bonds in West Africa

IMG_0490[1] - CopyWhat did you do this Summer? For Miami Gardens’ students Dawn Millings and Gerre Barnwell, the answer might sound something like this: ‘We traveled and we experienced adventure, foreign lands, cultural exposure and now have a greater appreciation for African heritage.’ The two students joined City of Miami Gardens Councilman Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro for an almost two week journey to Sierra Leone, West Africa as part of the Rites of Passages program, which promotes international student exchanges focusing on African nations.

“Not only is Africa enriched with monetary value, but they have things that are good for the soul,” explains Barnwell.

At 17, this trip was Barnwell’s first airplane flight – EVER! For Millings, who recently graduated from Miami Carol City High School the excursion was her first International experience. Both were ecstatic for the opportunity.

The two young “ambassadors” were chosen as scholarship recipients for the honor based on academic performance and community involvement. The Rites of Passages program operates in conjunction with the Ingram African School Alliance and the Foundation for Democracy in Africa to offer such international experiences.

“We live in a global village and in this competitive global market, our children must be prepared to compete with their counter parts from China, Germany, etc.,” explains Dr. Ighodaro. “For over a decade, the Rites of Passages program has allowed our school district to live up to its motto of ‘giving students the world.’”

During the trip, Millings and Barnwell visited historic Sierra Leone sites of Laka Beach, Free-Town and Diamond Mine. Both youth were interviewed by a local Sierra Leone television station, and to make sure South Florida remained plugged-in; conducted live, call-in radio interviews with WMBM, Gospel 1490, every-other day during the journey to share stories and personal accounts.

“The hospitality and the love I received from those I lived with and the encouragement I received was overwhelming,” says Barnwell. I’ve never met such hospitable people and it made me want to go back.”

While every aspect of the trip left a strong impression on Barnwell, he says the food and a Church service will not soon be forgotten.

“I love spicy stuff and that’s all Africa gave me! Surprisingly it didn’t go against my system,” Barnwell says with a large grin. Of Church…”It was overwhelming and it was packed and I felt like I was at home. There was a lot of singing and dancing and I understood the word I received; the message was smooth.”

This excursion was not all about vacation. Students met with the United States Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Michael Owen.

“According to major economic indicators, 6 out of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa,” explains Dr. Ighodaro. “Considering the historical ties that bind Africa to the Americas, I believe it is an economic imperative that our students prepare for the global marketplace.”

Life lessons learned in Sierra Leone are already having an impact and greater reach as Barnwell shares his experience with other South Florida youth.

“Don’t limit yourself or your opportunities and don’t be afraid. And don’t let stereotypes or prejudgment stop you from attaining what’s out there, because there’s a lot of good stuff.” For more information on the Rites of Passages program, contact Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro at eighodaro@miamigardensfl. gov

Visit City of Miami Gardens YouTube Channel for a video of the Journey to Africa and Ohio – all African-American couples, described LUSHAN COUNTRY LIFE as one of the best shore excursions they have ever experienced! It was well worth veering form the beaten path and breaking from the herd.

For more information on LUSHAN COUNTRY LIFE, visit www.stluciatours. net

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