No matter where I have traveled, to the far reaches of this big blue marble, I have always found someone or something that reminds me of family and home. In Ghana, that universal connection came in the form of one Patricia Wilkins, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY with the undeniable accent that comes with it.

After a very full first day visiting a slave dungeon and two afterschool programs, our media delegation was invited to dinner at the home of Ami Mehl, Israeli Ambassador to Liberia and Ghana, to meet some of the people essential to the development of economic, educational and media opportunities in the country. Not long after our introductions, I noticed a woman with similar complexion and hair texture to mine, similar enough to think that we could be related. So I made my way in her direction and was introduced to “Cousin Pat (pictured below in the orange blouse/green skirt).” For the next hour, she and I shared stories about heeding the call of our lives. Me, in the arts and media. Pat, following the pull of her faith to uplift children of the African Diaspora.

BASICS International is a realized dream to answer a need in missionary work servicing people of color. Pat paid her own money as a young college grad to travel to Russia and work in an orphanage through her church. After several missions in Europe and other Eastern Block countries, Pat knew that she was being led to a higher calling to be a light to Black children around the globe. That pull brought her to Ghana, to the village of Chokor.

BASICS International operates three separate facilities within blocks of one another. Our delegation was welcomed to the main compound, beautifully restored, where nearly 50 students gather weekdays after school for homework assistance, computer training, music lessons, literacy classes, entrepreneurial mentorship, a warm meal and communal uplift. The staff are a combination of Ghanaian natives and American volunteers, who connect with BASICS via their status as a U.S.¬†501(c)3 organization. And the Israeli government has been a necessary bridge to filter resources and staff training to the organization for its continued growth and development. It’s an all hands on deck collaboration for the greater good.

One of the delights of the visit was finding out that in the BASICS library was a copy of a Young Readers’ book on the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., penned by veteran journalist Herb Boyd, one of our delegation members. He found the book in the stacks, and was promptly asked to autograph it. The students were awed by the realization that a published writer was in their midst, and it was clear that his presence was inspirational to those students who might doubt their ability to share their ideas and influence¬†with a global audience.

We were also eager to invest in the future success of the BASICS program by financially supporting their work. Among the students were a group of older girls who had aged out of the academic programs, but remain engaged with BASICS by learning to sew household items like bedsheets and table runners, then sell their wares and use the profits to pay for college education and books, or contribute to their family’s income. Each item is bagged with a card bearing the name of the student who created it, so we were able to directly thank (and pay) the seamstresses. The entire experience was deeply gratifying and spiritually uplifting.

For 17 years, Pat Wilkins has heeded the yearning of her heart, investing money and sweat into bridging the gap between America and Africa, intention and execution, want and need. For more information about her organization and how you can contribute to its ongoing successes, email her at patwilkins@basicsinternational.org or call her U.S. number at 718.454.1273. Tell her “Cousin Stef” sent you, and that you want to be another link in the chain of filling a need and fulfilling her mission.