Mr. Cunningham’s Africa
At the Sacramento Ballet studios last Saturday, Christopher Cunningham stood halfway up a staircase, backed by stunning color-saturated photos of ballerinas in mid-flight. Cunningham, the lean, goateed, 20-something son of the famed duo that directs the ballet, looked down on 50 friends and neighbors, many had known him since childhood. Authoritatively, he told the Land Park gentry about living in a tiny village in Ghana.
“‘Sustainability’ is a buzzword you hear tossed around a lot,” he said, “but it’s an important thing.”
Cunningham had spent nine months in Africa helping a newborn NGO, the Ghana Health and Education Initiative. There, he was one of two western volunteers promoting good health and education. To sustain the programs, Ghanaian villagers eventually would have to train and manage their own staff. But practically, the Ghanaians needed computer skills, medical tools and good study habits. The organization had built a community center almost immediately, offering village kids a well-lit place to study in the evenings.
While Cunningham spoke, a looped slideshow of his photographs played on a bare wall: a young boy wearing oversized western sunglasses and a toothy grin; spiky, sand-colored mosques; markets set up in front of tin and cardboard shacks; round huts; goat herders; children in open-air school rooms wearing sunny yellow shirts. A silent auction offered tables full of polished dark wood statues, vibrant paintings of women carrying heavy loads and dyed fabrics and masks covered in what looked like embossed aluminum. Bids were none too generous, ranging from $30 to $100.With unabashed awe, Cunningham explained that GHEI had been started by a couple of westerners with fiery ideals. One of the founders, Cunningham explained, used her Easter break from medical school to found the program. She hadn’t chosen to settle in the capital city; she went for a remote village.
Impressed as he was, Cunningham admitted that he was happy to be home taking hot showers and eating something besides fufu, the doughy paste made from plantains, cassava melon and African yams. He wasn’t on his way back to Africa—where his formerly long hair inspired villagers to call him “Jesus” and “Christ.” Instead, he’s flying off to D.C., where an internship with Senator Barbara Boxer’s office awaits.