Greener pastures

Local activist helps give back to Africana Dance Company

ART OF THE MATTER<br>Rochelle Norwood has helped raise $1,300 so far for the African Village Peace Project with a silent art auction, including photos from locals and art from West Africa.

Rochelle Norwood has helped raise $1,300 so far for the African Village Peace Project with a silent art auction, including photos from locals and art from West Africa.

Photo By C. Moore

Moxie’s Cafe & Gallery

128 Broadway St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 345-0601

Rochelle Norwood’s short blonde curls and blue eyes give her an angelic countenance, and when she talks about her aspirations to simply “contribute” to the global community in a positive way, you believe her. She exudes an enthusiastic, completely altruistic belief in the greater good of the world.

An art education major and founding member of local environmental group The Cause, the 25-year-old Norwood has added yet another mission to her to-do list: aiding Ghanaian dancers in building the Africana Village Peace Project, a sustainable community on the coast of West Africa.

During a trip to Ghana in July 2005 as part of Chico State’s Study Abroad program, Norwood volunteered on a mango plantation and met some friends, with whom she shared a love of dancing. Subsequently, she got introduced to Mawutor Akpobi and the Africana Dance Company. While taking lessons and dancing with the troupe, she was motivated by their vision of community and sustainability. Ten months later, Norwood was on her way back home to the States intent on helping her newfound friends bring their vision to fruition.

“He has this vision for Africana; it’s beautiful,” said Norwood of Akpobi. “They want to create something more.”

Performing dances from their native Ghana as well as other African countries at least once a month, the Africana Dance Company practices three times a week. It is renting space to teach dance classes in poverty-stricken Accra while seeking to buy arable coastal land in a region of Ghana known as Ningo.

The land is sold in 70-by-100-foot plots, and the dance company is looking to buy 10 of them. The coastal area is lush, providing a hospitable atmosphere to create their ultimate vision of sustainability, wellness, dancing and peace.

Enlisting the aid of local artists and philanthropists, Norwood has created a silent art auction that will run until May 22 at Moxie’s Café. The items being auctioned include imports from West Africa, photos taken by Chicoans in Ghana, and original local art that has been donated to raise money for AVPP. Other offerings—huge acrylic paintings, matted color photos, ceramics and hand-carved wooden masks from West Africa—are on display at the café.

So far, the silent auction has raised $1,300. Norwood explained that the money raised in the auction is split between the artists and the village, focusing on the importance of helping locally while helping globally.

Her efforts reach a peak with “A Night of Culture,” a traditional Ghanaian dinner including a Ghanaian dancing and drumming performance. Hoping to raise the $50,000 needed to buy the desired land, Norwood said she will do what it takes to continue fundraising until she goes back to help build the community.

“How can you not want to help somewhere? They’re amazing vibrant dancers, and they’re happy,” she said. “But they have nothing.”

Plans are in the works for more fundraisers this year. Norwood is currently organizing an authentic Ghanaian dinner for hundreds, complete with dancing and drumming around Labor Day. The dance troupe is working to raise money as well, with plans to tour Europe and the United States, albeit in limited numbers due to travel costs. Approximately one-third of the 50-person troupe will also travel to Israel to perform.

Once the land is purchased, Norwood and the Africana Dance Company will welcome visitors, students and volunteers to the land, encouraging positive contributions and ideas in making the community sustainable.

“I always envisioned connecting the world through dance,” Norwood said of the open invitation.

With plans to return this winter, Norwood speaks from the heart when she says she can’t wait to stay to help build the village.

“They’re a dance troupe, they’re a family, they’re community,” Norwood said. “They have it on the inside. Sometimes you just need an outside person to help.”