Thursday, August 13, 2009

Alicia Sully, Filmmaker

Alicia Sully in Ghana
As editor of the quarterly newsletter for Friends of Ghana, The Talking Drum, I regularly interview and then write about former Peace Corps volunteers who have served in Ghana, telling about their background, volunteer experiences, and current whereabouts. I've been doing this for over ten years, and the interactions I've had with these Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, few of whom I've met personally, have invariably been interesting.

Several years ago I interviewed Stephanie Arnold, whose small eastern Ghana town was so pleased with the three-year latrine contruction project she organized that they built a statue to her and had Jerry Rawlings, then Ghana's President, visit to unveil it. I've met and talked with several members of Ghana I, the first Peace Corps group ever, including Bob Klein, whom some refer to as "the original Peace Corps Volunteer" because he was the senior member of that initial group and stays in touch with most of them, helping to organize regular group reunions. Bob has been the moving force behind the Peace Corps Archival Project, housed at the JFK Library in Boston. He has traveled the country conducting and taping interviews with many volunteers, whose recollections have been stored there for posterity.

Normally, I talk with these profile subjects by phone, and our conversations typically stretch on for over an hour, as was the case when I spoke last April with photographer Peter DiCampo, whose profile appeared in the summer issue. My most recent write-up is on Alicia Sully, whom I was unable to talk to by phone because of her travel schedule in Africa. Instead, we communicated in several extensive e-mails. She got a university degree in filmmaking and then went to Ghana as part of a Peace Corps water/sanitation group. Before long, she began making short films about health issues, including Guinea worm infestation and HIV/AIDS. Some of her Peace Corps experiences are documented in her blog.

One of her films, available on YouTube, was produced in close cooperation with citizens of the small northern Ghana town where she was posted. This two-part film in Dagbani, subtitled in English, concerns "kayayo"--young women from poverty-stricken northern Ghana who travel to cities to work and earn money to send home. In some cases, these women become prostitutes and experience the multiple health problems associated with that lifestyle. Peter DiCampo, who has himself done photography and research on this issue, will soon be working alongside Sully, doing a series of presentations in northern Ghanaian towns.

Sully Film, Part I
Sully Film, Part II

Since May, Sully has been working with What Took You So Long (WTYSL), a small multinational group of volunteers committed to publicizing the work of successful Non-Governmental Organizations in Africa. She learned of this group through Sebastian Lindstrom, one of its leaders, because of Lindstrom’s affiliation with a project in Kumasi, Ghana.

The group is now in the middle of an ambitiously long journey using local transportation which started in Morocco and will proceed down the western coast of Africa to South Africa. Thus far, the team has traveled through Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Togo and is headed south for stops in Nigeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sully’s responsibility along the way has been to shoot and edit video spots on the various NGOs visited. These are available on the WTYSL website.

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