Working to Transform a Legacy

I have had the distinct privilege of organizing and participating in three study tours to Ghana to see our work with the Anglican Diocesan Development and Relief Organization (ADDRO), our partner organization. Working in the Diocese of Tamale, ADDRO supports vulnerable communities in northern Ghana near the Burkina Faso border.

The study tours comprise lay and clergy leaders from across the U.S., who learn about Episcopal Relief & Development’s programs in over 40 countries worldwide, as exemplified in Ghana.  Each trip also includes a visit to the coast, which was a hub for the transatlantic slave trade and gives some context to Ghana’s challenges. 

The February 2012 tour was co-led by Constance Perry, who serves as Vice-Chair of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Board of Directors, and her husband, Dain Perry.  The Perrys are members of Trinity Parish, Copley Square, in Boston, and are part of the Traces of the Trade project, which tells the story of Dain’s family’s involvement in the New England slave trade. Constance and Dain also work to organize grassroots action toward racial reconciliation. With their personal connection to the history of slavery and its effects, the trip to the coastal slave camps and castles was especially meaningful.

The following is excerpted from an interview with Dain and Constance.
Reflect on your own experience between the slave camp, the castles and the rest of the trip.
Constance: I’m feeling angry today. What I see here in terms of challenges is the legacy to that history. As in the U.S., where racism and poverty are the legacy to slavery and Jim Crow, what I experienced here, the combination of the slave trade, and colonialism and later political changes, have created a legacy of poverty here.
Dain: Going through the slave camps and two forts – I refuse to call them castles – and seeing how horrific humans can be to each other underscored the majority of Episcopal Relief & Development’s work, which represents humanity at its best.

How can this experience in its entirety be used for social justice?
Constance: Not everyone can make this trip, and having pilgrims who can come back and give a firsthand accounting brings life to the written word in the reports we read, and brings credibility to the good work that is clearly happening here for me. One of the challenges is how to fund the programs, and to convey what I experienced here with parishioners back home – not only what [Episcopal Relief & Development does], but the passion, commitment and respect of the staff for the community members receiving services.
Dain: I learned that Episcopal Relief & Development may not be unique, but they are very unusual. The way they go about their work and the way the community receives them, the involvement of the community in the work needing to be done. Recognizing that people who live there know best what they need. Episcopal Relief & Development lives out the Gospel in a more complete way than any other organization I’ve seen.
Constance: It’s not just about service, but [Episcopal Relief & Development is] building a community that will be there if funds dry up, and there are no more services.  The legacy of what they (ADDRO) have created is striking in terms of community development – it’s engaging and thinking in a different way. People traditionally not treated with respect are now problem solvers and invested in outcomes; people will support what they help create. It’s a broad range of people coming together; until you get here [and see it], you don’t know what it is about. It brings what happens here [in the field] alive; and it is our church doing this work.

Dain:  The way Episcopal Relief & Development works with local partnerships and people who know the community is a “great thinking” concept that works.

It was moving to hear the Perrys’ perspectives and how the trip has helped shape their understanding of our work. I felt very fortunate to experience the journey with them, and with the other passionate and compassionate “pilgrims” on the tour.

Brian Sellers-Petersen is Director of Church Engagement at Episcopal Relief & Development.

Photo: Constance and Dain Perry (center) pray together with the study tour group. Courtesy of Harvey Wang for Episcopal Relief & Development.