By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One fun night in West Seattle can ensure countless safe nights for students on the other side of the planet.
We talked with the musician – a West Seattleite – and event organizers Susan Hunt Navarro, Alberto Navarro, and Ellen McMillin at C & P earlier this week. Susan is a board member for the Karatu Education Fund. She and Alberto first learned about the area while traveling in Africa more than a decade ago. Alberto wanted to build a library in memory of his parents, and they looked for a non-governmental organization to partner with. They found the Karatu Education Fund – and learned it already had a connection to the Northwest – a board member from Bellingham. It’s a small organization, they explain, taking on just a few projects a year, so the assistance goes a long way.
When they first visited the school in Karatu, it was lunchtime, and the students were just sitting under a tree, Alberto said – they had no food, no kitchen, no time to walk the long distance back to their homes. By the time they reached secondary-school age, only six percent of the girls were still in school.
So that moved them to action.
For this benefit, a friend introduced them to Naby Camara, who plays the balafon, an instrument that resembles the xylophone, made from a special kind of old-growth wood. Here’s a sample of his music:
He has lived in West Seattle for more than 20 years, and was born in the West African nation of Guinea. He is Griot, which, he explains, means he comes from a tradition of storytelling, of history-keeping, of moderating. “They call Griot people if there’s a problem to fix.”
The Karatu situation certainly qualifies. The distance between home and school they have to walk miles between their homes and a centrally located school. They are vulnerable to violent attacks. The new dormitory will mean they can stay at their school during the week and avoid that dangerous journey.
Bringing people together is another Griot specialty. Naby has done that through his music and teaching for many years. In 1995 and 2004, he was honored with JUNO Awards – Canadian awards akin to Grammys – for Best Global Album.
His music will be the centerpiece of the event, but you’ll also be able to bid on silent-auction items including travel experiences, wines, entertainment passes, and gift baskets (think of it as early holiday shopping). Art too, including photography by Ellen’s husband Danny McMillin (whose wildlife photos have been featured here on WSB). And some tasty treats will be raffled off.
They’re excited about C&P hosting the benefit – the venue is “homey,” as Susan described it.
Alberto also told us about another program that is related to the project – Bricks for Life. He’s an architect by trade, and this part of the project not only has resulted in buildings, but also more sustainable brick-making – rammed earth, rather than wood-fired. This also has led to vocational education/training, including women, who learned masonry in Karatu for the first time. The newly trained workers will produce bricks for other projects, too, including new classrooms at other schools.
And education is what it’s all about – from early childhood to adulthood, working to reduce that alarming dropout rate. The school dormitory, eventually serving about 120 girls, will make it possible for them to have a school garden too, with time to tend it while they’re at school during the week.
Your support will go a long way to fund a project in an area of the world where salaries are around $3/day.
Ellen notes one more aspect of the project – it involves long-dedicated supporters. Too often, well-meaning people jump into something like this but don’t follow through or finish. The Navarros have returned to Karatu time and time again to see the progress.
One more thing we learned about them toward the end of our conversation – their company designs fireworks shows, most notably the Space Needle New Year’s Eve show. Very different from their Karatu projects which, they joke, “don’t go up in smoke.”
If you’re interested in attending the benefit, tickets will be available at the door for the 6-8 pm event on Sunday, November 10th – $20, which is a deductible donation.
P.S. You can also reserve tickets by emailing Susan – firstname.lastname@example.org