/San-ko’-fa:// an ancient proverb evoking people to return to their past to correct mistakes. Traditionally, this is symbolized by a bird looking back on its past carrying the egg of its birth. Therefore, The Sankofa Center uses the communication tool of Africa’s past, dance dramas, to capture and foster health, compassion, and open-mindedness in the face of HIV today.
We are an international network of public health workers, doctors, artists, volunteers, interns, and supporters from all walks of life coming together to provide solutions for communities impacted by HIV/AIDS. We strive to use a local community response to provide a platform that not only helps people truly understand HIV and increases access to information and services; but also empowers people to take immediate action. Our people believe in the evolution of interconnected issues surrounding HIV that hinder progress, such as stigma, discrimination, misinformation, power, and intolerance of all kinds.
Founded in 2004, The Sankofa Center is a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit using ” the arts” to educate & prevent HIV/AIDS while providing free testing & referral services both locally & in Africa.
In California, we are an informational resource linking community members to partners providing HIV services.
In Ghana, West Africa, we maintain a touring HIV prevention program that uses African dance-dramas that help people understand common scenarios that facilitate HIV infection, provide free on the spot rapid testing, and link marginalized community members in rural villages to care.
In the U.S.:
In the U.S., we act as a community resource working with hundreds of HIV prevention & care partners throughout all counties of the S.F. Bay area to provide a link for thousands of at risk community members to access information, referrals, services and care.
Our health based dance-dramas fuse African dance, drama and heath information to educate. Our performances held in schools and villages throughout Ghana are performed by our network of local Ghanaian cultural troupes and international interns. Our outreach includes free counseling with rapid HIV testing in villages with referrals to partnering Government of Ghana hospitals. To date we have educated over 35,000 school youths, 50,000 community members and have provided over 4,000 at-risk community members with free HIV testing, counseling, and links to care.
We maintain a vibrant volunteer/intern placement program for those interested in gaining skills while being part of our impact both in California and in Ghana, West Africa.
Our organization is supported through sponsors, members, volunteers & interns; and fundraising through a gift merchandise line made by and supporting Sankofa’s Cooperative effort in Ghana, West Africa.
To join our Volunteer/Intern programs in Ghana or California, click here.
To shop our line with all proceeds benefiting free HIV services in Africa, click here.
As an undergraduate student over a decade ago, I saw a performance at my alma mater , UC Berkeley, called “Kasum Africa”. It was a story detailing the history of colonization in West Africa through a vibrant African dance-drama. As a performer and social science scholar, I was captivated and intrigued by the use of performance as an entertaining way to educate, inform, and shape perceptions.
After the performance, I met the artistic director who recruited me to study traditional African dance at the University of Ghana and to participate in an internship he oversaw at the Ghana National Theatre.
I traveled to Ghana as a researcher to chronicle and learn traditional African dance and realized that it was not solely about movement; it was a communication tool. It was a way that rural communities could express concerns about issues or events and suggest solutions. I was interested in sexual health and after countless conversations with students and locals, it was evident that topics surrounding HIV were not talked about. Moreover, sex and sexuality were taboo conversations yet unprotected sex was very common. I started thinking if Ghanaian college students-the most educated people in society- were not communicating about HIV and the dangers of unprotected sex, then what about the bulk of society that was largely uneducated?
My research sparked a creative dialogue between my colleagues which gave rise to our performances. Ghanaian associates from the Sociology, African Studies, Public Health, & Dance departments got together and we created a dance-drama that depicted a common scenario in Ghana that explained how HIV is and is not transmitted; and the role stigma and discrimination play out in everyday situations. The performance was a great success and sparked important conversations about HIV so we continued the outreach program in several other villages in our locale. In each community, we visited people, learned new information about the disease, dispelled myths and misconceptions. Therefore, in 2002 we incorporated a local N.G.O., “The Sankofa Center”, as a structured way to continue our grassroots health performances. Subsequently, in 2004 I launched an official U.S. 501(c)(3) organization in California to continue our impact and build capacity to sustain our sister N.G.O’s HIV education programs in many other villages in Ghana.
I wanted to enhance our academic preparation for our outreach so I obtained my Master’s Degree from UCLA’s African Studies Program in 2006. The collective knowledge of scholars, artists, and activists within the international HIV/AIDS community at UCLA taught me to foster communication on interconnected issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. Topics such as poverty, stigma, discrimination, gender roles, lack of access to education and medical resources as well as cultural factors can’t be ignored in our outreach communities.
In 2007, Sankofa Center was trained by the National AIDS Control Programme, a unit of the Government of Ghana, to conduct pre/post counseling and rapid HIV/AIDS testing during our mobile HIV outreach. This was in conjunction with the initiation of our rapid HIV/AIDS antibody testing protocol created by Sankofa’s Medical Director. Armed with an advanced degree in public health, alternative health education methods, in-depth knowledge of interconnected issues in Africa; and an official testing and counseling unit, we launched ongoing cohorts of volunteer programs to continue our services in Ghana. We now maintain an HIV education movement that provides a comprehensive mobile HIV service encompassing education, counseling, testing, and resources for 10,000 community members yearly.
Fostering Critical Thinking
We strive to help our audience to think critically about complex social and cultural factors surrounding HIV/AIDS. This is important to create a well-rounded, fair, open-minded, and compassionate approach to HIV prevention and care.
People have a wide range of values, beliefs, lifestyles, and behaviors. Therefore, we believe in an HIV prevention approach that fits individual needs based on each individual’s reality, desires, and goals.
Reducing Stigma & Discrimination
We are committed to ongoing anti-stigma and anti-discrimination programming to help people foster empathy and understanding of differences, reduce hate and mistreatment based on fear and misinformation, and promote compassion.
We are committed to promoting an emotional platform that includes forgiveness, empathy, understanding, and kindness. We are against hatred of any kind.
Regardless of ethnic group, race, gender, religion or lack thereof, sexuality, lifestyle or world view we are committed to fostering healthy communities who face issues surrounding HIV/AIDS with understanding and compassion without blame.
Poverty Reduction Reducing poverty is crucial to reducing HIV infections in the communities we serve. Our Fair Trade Co-op provides women with sustainable and livable income through the making of Sankofa’s product line.
Ronnie Shaw, M.A. African Studies
Ronnie Shaw received his Master’s Degree from UCLA’s African Studies Area Program in 2006 with an emphasis in Public Health, HIV epidemiology in Africa, and arts-based HIV education methods. Since 2004, Shaw has staged the organization’s dance-dramas throughout Ghana educating communities on HIV transmissions, stigma and discrimination, prevention methods and resources. In 2007, Shaw was trained by the National AIDS Control Programme, a unit of The Government of Ghana, to conduct and train personnel for counseling and rapid HIV testing in conjunction with the mobile HIV testing protocol initiated by Sankofa’s Medical Director. Ronnie divides his time between Ghana and California where he oversees outreach programs, fundraising, and cohorts of interns and volunteers. Ronnie Shaw, Founder and Executive Director of The Sankofa Center received his Master’s Degree from UCLA’s African Studies Area Program in 2006 with an emphasis in Public Health, HIV epidemiology in Africa, and arts-based HIV education methods. Since 2004, Shaw has staged the organization’s dance-dramas throughout Ghana educating communities on HIV transmissions, stigma and discrimination, prevention methods and resources. In 2007, Shaw was trained by the National AIDS Control Programme, a unit of The Government of Ghana, to conduct and train personnel for counseling and rapid HIV testing in conjunction with the mobile HIV testing protocol initiated by Sankofa’s Medical Director. Ronnie divides his time between Ghana and California where he oversees outreach programs, fundraising, and cohorts of interns and volunteers.
John Wages, B.S. in Biochemistry
John M. Wages, Jr. grew up in Northeast Mississippi and earned a B.S. in Biochemistry from Mississippi State University in 1983 and a Master’s degree in Biology from Johns Hopkins University in 1988.John Wages has worked for 16 years in Biotechnology in the field of Clinical Molecular Diagnostics (DNA-based testing) in Maryland, Northern California, and Oregon. In 2001, John and his wife Gwendolyn Miles Wages (originally from Starkville) returned to Mississippi where he taught in the Natural Sciences Division of Itawamba Community College and consulted in the fields of clinical molecular diagnostics. In 2004, he was elected to the Lee County Election Commission. He and his wife taught workshops for Heifer International and worked to establish the state’s chapter of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. In 2006, he was an invited speaker on DNA forensic testing at the Mississippi Public Defenders’ Annual Workshop. Since 2004, he has served as Associate Editor (Senior Editor, since 2012) of the Permaculture Activist, a quarterly magazine of solutions based ecological design. In 2011, he returned to Northern California as VP of Technology Development for Panorama Research, a Life Sciences incubator in Silicon Valley. At Panorama, John Wages has been instrumental in establishing several new projects that have been spun out as separate companies in the fields of polymer science, cell separations, and advanced biofuels.
Patricia Defechereux grew up in Belgium and earned her PhD in Virology at the Liège University. She also pursued her Post Doctoral Fellow at the J. David Gladstone Institutes in California, where she currently holds a Senior Research Associate position. Dr. Defechereux specialises in HIV/AIDS research. She co-wrote many key studies about HIV/AIDS treatments, such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), that led to their approval with the FDA.
Retail Fundraising Specialist
With 41 years of experience working with a wide variety of buyers from independent retailers to major buyers with extensive properties, Jhana Jordan provides essential marketing consultancy for The Sankofa Center’s artisanal product line. Jordan’s history with art publishers and major museums around the nation, as well as international buyers, makes her participation paramount in the success of marketing one of Sankofa’s most important initiatives: the Fair Trade product line made by women in outreach communities in Ghana funding the organization’s free HIV services.
French Intern Coordinator/Public Relations
Clemence Mouelle is our French Intern Coordinator linking various students to our internship opportunities. Formally, Clemence was a PR intern for Sankofa selected from the international business school in Paris, Ecole Suprieure de Gestion et Commerce International. . Mouelle’s internship developed her PR experience through the creation of Sankofa’s press releases, blogs, and networking with key sectors based on the organization’s initiatives. Currently, she’s the primary point person for ongoing French student intern introduction to The Sankofa Center.
Current Headquarter Volunteers/ Interns -updated 2013-2015 (-A complete list is in the Volunteer/Intern section.)
The Sankofa Center (Ghana N.G.O. Team)
Aaron Williams has been an integral member of The Sankofa Center since 2010. Williams is The Sankofa Center (Ghana) Program General Manager in charge of all program logistics and outreach coordination. Williams is the focal person to conduct crew and intern education modules on policies, outreach protocols, HIV counseling and rapid testing procedures. Skilled in several local languages and American Standard English, Aaron is essential in acclimating foreign interns and volunteers to local culture and custom with ease.
Samson Hansen Sackey
HIV/AIDS Statistician/HIV Program Manager
Samson Sackey is Sankofa’s Resident Statistician. Samson holds a B.A. degree equivalent from the University of Ghana-Cape Coast in Mathematics. Mr. Sackey creates statistics based on our HIV/AIDS outreach using his background in statistical methodology, data analysis, probability distribution and research methods.
HIV/AIDS Testing & Counseling Team
Richard Amewugah, Aaron Quarshie, Gladys Ello, and Beatrice Aryeetey have been trained by The Sankofa Center to conduct HIV/AIDS pre/post counseling, as well as first and secondary rapid HIV anti-body testing during village outreach. These members also receive ongoing training on counseling issues, refer clients to partnering government hospitals for care, and compile reports for submission to the National AIDS Control Programme for monitoring.
The Sankofa Center recruits and trains local African dance groups to perform the organization’s dance-dramas in villages throughout Ghana. Currently, Sankofa contracts Keno Cultural Troupe. This vibrant, youthful grass-roots team plays an essential role in using ‘the arts’ to disseminate HIV/AIDS information! The troupe also teaches interns and volunteers traditional Ghanaian dance and drumming lessons as part of the Sankofa experience!