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09.05.2006 Health

Ghana student-run gala raises $12,000

By Katy Donoghue

ACCRA, GHANA — A student-run nonprofit organization in Accra hosted their first annual Kid's Fair and Gala and raised over $12,000 for the West African AIDS Foundation on Friday, April 28.

The nonprofit, Freedom for the Future, is a nationwide poster project aimed at educating and inspiring schoolchildren in Ghana. Jamie Parra, a junior in CAS, and Kate Otto, a sophomore in CAS, started the group in early February after they were motivated by other projects NYU students had coordinated with WAAF, an non-governmental organization that provides medication, education and counseling for those living with HIV and AIDS.

Inspired by WAAF's Passion Squads, an after school HIV/AIDS education program, Otto had an idea early on to raise money and educate the younger generation of Ghana.

The project started with an anti-discrimination workshop that reached over 25 schools and about 1,700 children. At the end of each workshop, taught by both NYU in Ghana and Ashesi University students, Ghanaian students were asked to design posters that best portrayed how to fight the stigma surrounding those living with HIV and AIDS.

All 10 finalists of the poster contest were invited to the gala on Friday night, held at Ghana's National Museum.

The grand prize winner, Humphrey, 13, received a $1,000 education scholarship. His poster, which depicts rows of people of all colors with the virus holding hands in front of a crayon-colored green and blue globe, was chosen because it “best expressed the idea of a future free of stigma,” Otto said. It dealt with stigma globally, Parra added.

The Kid's Fair, sponsored by Nestle, was coordinated by NYU in Ghana student volunteers and consisted of relay races, raffles, an emcee battle and a dance contest. About 250 students attended. Prizes for the games, contests and raffles were donated by small businesses in Accra.

The gala began two hours after the Kid's Fair. Despite some minor set backs, “it went spectacularly well,” said Parra, who was mopping floors wet bottles of water earlier that afternoon because there was no running water that day. Parra and Otto also faced problems with the electricity and with the chairs. Though, at event-time, they were adorned with white linen and red ribbon, they showed up late.

Still, Parra said he was impressed with how things came together.

“Both of us had to put on a different set of cultural glasses,” Otto said. Ghana's slower-paced environment and New York's fast-paced atmosphere clashed — the two realized that getting frustrated over unreturned phone calls and missed meetings was futile.

“We knew it wouldn't go perfectly,” said Parra.

Keynote speakers at the gala included Akosua Anyidoho, the director of the NYU in Ghana program and a representative from Accra's Ministry of Women and Children.

Musical performances by Brittany Larson, a senior in Steinhardt, and Brittany Manor, a Tisch alumna, were interspersed by two fashion shows by local designers. Twenty percent of the profits from the sale of the clothing that NYU and Ashesi students modeled on the runway went to WAAF. NYU in Ghana students worked with Parra and Otto at the event, and CAS junior Britt Keay modeled some of the clothing.

Otto and Parra looked for sponsors and donors for the event, in efforts to minimize their expenses.

“We worked hard to have companies realize that their help equaled medication for people,” Otto said.

Sponsors included Barclays, IPMC, OneTouch, Safetech and Accue Computers. Donations were solicited at the project's website — designed by Kiell Reigstad, a junior at Pratt University — and came in from Africa House at NYU, university administrators and other private donors.

The money will go mainly to medication, and the rest has been put into a trust fund for future NYU students' projects.

Otto and Parra plan to put together a comprehensive report that will help pass the event on to future semesters of students.

“There is a positive buzz now among the more affluent Ghanaians,” Parra said, adding that this will help Freedom for the Future continue.

The pair are now looking into ways to get students excited about taking on the project and making it their own.

“Stigma is a problem particular to Ghana but a valuable discussion to have in any culture,” Otto said.

Otto was awarded the Catherine B. Reynolds scholarship for social entrepreneurship, which was announced last Friday, May 5. Otto, and nine fellow undergraduate Reynolds scholars and 17 graduate fellows, will further study the field of applying business entrepreneurial skills to addressing and solving social problems.

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