This is a project dedicated to enhancing the lives of the children of Accra's Art Center in the heart of Ghana's capital. The Art
Center is a large community of shops, workshops and homes. While the collection of talent, creativity and relentless perseverance is abundant and awe-inspiring, the resources are scarce and the living conditions are severely substandard. By teaching children drum-making, drumming and dancing, they learn valuable skills that can provide for them in their futures while
they develop a strong sense of cultural pride and heritage. The youth also develop a sense of caring and responsibility for each other along with the confidence that comes from self-expression. Michael Kweku Owusu is the project's founder and director. He grew up in the Art Center and knows first-hand how cultural awareness and skill-building save lives.
On July 7, 2004, Kweku was working with his mentor at the Art Center when he came to the conclusion he wanted to support the youth of his community. For the next three years, he secured funding to build the physical structure of the workshop studio by making and selling drums locally and abroad and by performing throughout Ghana. His enthusiasm grew as the actual workshop space took shape. In November of 2007, he had the opportunity to travel with a cultural arts group to the US for a month performing in South Carolina and providing workshops in New York. This experience along with the workshop space provided him with the impetus to launch the Drumming Up From Poverty (DUFP) project.
Since the end of 2007, DUFP has been an active drumming arts program that has offered a place where youth can learn drum-making, drumming and dancing. When the project began, approximately 25 youth ages 9 through 18 participated in the program which was operating 7 days a week. Most of the youth came after school several days each week, but those children who were not able to attend school for various reasons participated in the program during the day as well. Since its inception, over 45 youth have acquired skill-training and associated cultural awareness.
DUFP has been able to offer its services to the youth without interruption since it opened its doors. Shortly after the program was launched, Kweku hired a small team of young men who live in the Art Center to increase his drum-making capacity. This group of men have developed a strong sense of camaraderie that has translated into efficient and exceptional work. Orders of 35 or more drums can be completed within a week, and the quality of the work has led to ongoing business--primarily exports to the US. Not only has the selling of drums provided a way for DUFP to remain operational, but it has offered skilled young men at the Art Center ongoing employment and fair pay.
DUFP funding has also been secured by Kweku's extended stays in the US where he performs alone and with his group the Akoma Drummers, teaches youth workshops with fellow drummer and wife Kristen Arant and organizes fundraising events. While there have been periods when DUFP could not function the full 7 days a week, Kweku has been committed to keeping the project a dependable and consistent source of support for the youth.
In addition to Accra's drum workshop, Kweku has long dreamed of establishing an independent drumming arts center away from the city's hectic environment. Here he can provide the Art Center's youth with a more peaceful and recreational setting where they can learn and play, teach drumming arts to youth of a particular community, and provide a place for cultural exchange. For the past three years , he has explored land along the coast west of Accra. A particular area called Senya Beraku caught his attention, as it is an impoverished fishing and farming community with many children in need of attention and cultural education.
The community also has a chief and clan of elders who support new initiatives that's aims to develop their youth. Through the meeting with the chief and his secretary in which Kweku presented his vision, an arrangement was made that granted DUFP an acre of land on the coast within walking distance of the community's center at a discounted price. This property transaction has been finalized in a land agreement that specifies regular payment installment and requires the donation of a fotonfrom drum set to the community, a large family of drum and percussive instruments that accompany traditional rituals. Since January 2012, several payments have been made and DUFP is now developing the land and has cleared the brush, built a block border, planted 8 mango trees, constructed a small housing unit, built a temporary bore hole for water storage, and created a sign for the road. We're on our way!