By Conor Robinson
Humanist Service Corps Program Coordinator
When I first began planning for the launch of the Humanist Service Corps, I assumed that I would need to spend at least three to five years on the ground in Ghana to ensure program stability. Thanks in large part to the efforts of our incredible inaugural team and the reliability of Songtaba’s staff, that estimate proved to be conservative–very conservative. After being in Ghana one year, I will be returning to the United States at the end of the month to focus on recruiting, training, and fundraising for the program. This is a necessary pivot as the program enters its second phase of development: solidifying and expanding HSC’s Ghana office while working to identify the location and partner organization for the second Humanist Service Corps office.
Cleopatra Blacke and Wendy Webber will take over the administrative duties of HSC: Ghana. Cleo is a member of the Humanist Association of Ghana, and the only Ghanaian on the inaugural HSC team. Wendy was a member of Pathfinders Project, the international humanist service trip sponsored by Foundation Beyond Belief as the first step toward the Humanist Service Corps. Wendy currently serves as FBB’s Beyond Belief Network Coordinator and Humanist Disaster Recovery Coordinator.
The next phase of HSC development requires superb organization and volunteer management from the administrative team, and that’s exactly why Cleo and Wendy have been chosen. They are driven. They are meticulous. They are excellent coaches and communicators. I can’t wait to see where they take HSC: Ghana.
Cleo and Wendy will be managing a team comprising two volunteers from Ghana’s Northern Region and three from the United States. The two Ghanaians are Baako Alhassan and Lukeman Domba. Baako served as the research assistant to Leo Igwe, the Nigerian humanist who recently completed his doctoral thesis work on Ghanaian witchcraft accusations and who originally suggested Pathfinders Project visit Songtaba. After translating for Leo at the Northern Region’s camps for alleged witches, Baako became a fierce advocate for the rights of accused women and other marginalized communities. Baako will likely be one of the HSC volunteers who support Songtaba’s reintegration efforts in the coming program cycle.
Lukeman is an ambitious do-gooder with a background in agriculture. Whereas most Ghanaians teach during their required year of national service, Lukeman approached a mentor at GCB Bank with a proposal to bring in 1,000 new small business loans and bank accounts from farmers. Lukeman knew that the farmers needed the capital and the banks needed the loans. He surpassed his goal of 1,000 loans with a high rate of repayment that first year and, unsurprisingly, the bank asked him to stay on. As he continued working at the bank, Lukeman started a poultry farm. Lukeman now employs four people at Harl Farms and hopes to expand in the near future. For the next program year, Lukeman will bolster Songtaba’s livelihood programs for women’s groups in the Northern Region by organizing business and agriculture trainings.
From across the pond, Baako and Lukeman will be joined by George Gold, Warren Alan Tidwell, and Jude Lane. George is a lifelong activist from Northern California. He was a lecturer for Men Against Rape and spoke at high schools and colleges throughout Santa Cruz County, resulting in his appointment to the City Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women. George has served as President of the Atheists of Butte County, as a mMember of the Chico Interfaith Council, and as the Coordinator of the Butte County Coalition of Reason. George has worked for the past 25 years as a computer systems engineer and brings a wealth of other experience to Ghana. He taught various grades in Long Beach schools and the Los Angeles County Juvenile Justice system. He has also worked as a dish washer, factory worker, construction worker, bus driver, and professional photographer. Though we will try to use as many of George’s skills as possible, we will probably tap him to help Songtaba design and implement data management systems in general and support Songtaba’s Community-Based Advocacy Teams and Youth Campaigners, key resources in the day to day fight against gender-based violence and discrimination, including witchcraft accusations.
Warren is a lifelong Alabama resident. Since the advent of the internet, Warren has used blogs and social media to organize thousands of volunteers and secure millions in financial and material donations for disaster relief and recovery efforts. He worked as a volunteer in rural Hancock County, Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and drove over 11,000 miles in 12 weeks to create a network of small non-profits in the southeastern United States after the 2011 tornado Ssuper Ooutbreak. As a result of these extensive networking efforts, Warren was also able to help set up operations when subsequent tornado outbreaks affected Joplin, Missouri and Piedmont, Oklahoma. Warren sparked a worldwide movement when he started 26 Acts of Kindness after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. In addition to his social media savvy, Warren is a talented writer and speaker. He’ll likely be working with Songtaba to continue developing its internal communications procedures and external communications strategy.
Jude Lane was born and raised in Arkansas. He began volunteering internationally when he was eleven with food and clothing distribution projects in Mexico, Bolivia, and El Salvador. Jude obtained a degree in Spanish and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from Evangel University with the intention of returning to Latin America for more humanitarian work. While researching opportunities, Jude discovered another love: working with children. For the past two years, Jude has worked as a youth care specialist at a Springfield, Missouri children’s emergency care facility for children in poverty stricken, drug afflicted, or abusive homes. He lights up when talking about the relationships he formed with the children under his care, and I suspect he’ll be a perfect fit for supporting Songtaba’s education programs.
The seven-person 2016-2017 team will come together for the first time in early July, meaning that they will overlap with the final few weeks of the inaugural team’s commitment. This overlap will allow the current volunteers to contribute to the adjustment and learning process of the new volunteers as they enter into their immersive language and culture program at the Tamale Institute for Cross-Cultural Studies. In addition to providing immersive language and culture training, the Humanist Service Corps demonstrates its commitment to diversity and effective, culturally responsible service by providing living stipends to each volunteer and covering all program-related costs. This allows volunteers from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds to apply and places the emphasis on the skills the volunteers bring to the program rather than the experience the program provides to the volunteer.
There are already plenty of religious and secular volunteer service programs that exist to please paying volunteers. Most of them focus on creating the context for volunteering instead of selecting and training volunteers for the context. Doing the right thing – the humanist thing – is undoubtedly more expensive, but I hope you’ll agree that he integrity is worth the price. Please consider sponsoring an HSC volunteer to stay connected to our work and guarantee a regular source of support for impoverished communities in Ghana’s Northern Region.