Local outreach program connects Charleston and Ghana

North Charleston, United States; Okurase, Ghana
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MUSC Healthy South Carolina Initiative
In 1998, through a Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Healthy South Carolina Initiative, Dr. Cynthia Cupit Swenson of the Family Services Research Center of MUSC joined with Ida Taylor of the Union Heights neighborhood and Gethsemani Community Center to carry out a community violence prevention project in a high crime neighborhood. Over the next three years the Union Heights neighborhood experienced dramatic reductions in substance abuse and criminal activity and increases in school attendance among youth and families who participated in the Neighborhood Project and an 85 percent reduction in calls for police service. The community started a nonprofit ( Gethsemani Circle of Friends – named for the local community center) to sustain their activities, which have been sustained for 14 years.

During the Neighborhood Project, the community desired positive activities that resonated with their culture and began lessons in West African dance and drumming for children. The children rapidly learned the dances and showed talent. The dancing and drumming are part of their cultural heritage. Sullivan’s Island, just across the water from Charleston was the site of the landing of slave ships from West Africa. People who were enslaved in Ghana were brought to Charleston and their culture added richly to the current fabric of the city and the region. The children’s group called Djole, needed authentic, professional drums. Todd Chas of the Coastal Community Foundation introduced the group to Samuel Nkrumah Yeboah, a drum maker and performing artist in Ghana. A drum order was placed. The drums traveled from Ghana to Charleston, South Carolina.


“Project OKURASE” is a 501 c 3 nonprofit in the United States and an NGO based in the rural village of Okurase, in the Upper West Akyem District of the eastern region of Ghana West Africa. Okurase is about one and one half hours from the capital of Accra. It is home to approximately 3,500 people, one-half of whom are children. Most of the adults are subsistence farmers or carvers.  Project OKURASE has a particular focus on women and orphans & vulnerable children across 5 main objectives. These overarching objectives are focused on transforming the lives of the village by creating collaborative, sustainable, and integrated solutions to address the following areas of need: 1) Water and Sanitation; 2) Health and Nutrition; 3) Education and Technology; 4) Economic Self-Sufficiency; and, 5) Nkabom Centre and Energy Sources. Critical to our mission, Okurase is positioning itself as a Teaching Village, a place for others around the world to visit to see solutions in place that were developed at a grassroots level, to be inspired, and to be empowered to put in place their own solutions.

All programs are locally determined and locally led. Outside collaborators offer assistance with resources and ideas for implementation. While external collaborators are respected and valued, the elders and leaders who live in the village have the ultimate authority about whether a program will be initiated and how it will be adapted to the culture of the village. Using this model, the majority of projects to date have occurred after discussion with village leaders and as resources or expertise have become available. The village residents contribute labor (sweat equity), and collaborators help with expertise, fundraising and grants.  A second underlying principal of Project OKURASE is the spirit of Nkabom, a Twi word for bringing people together in unity. Nkabom refers to bringing the community together but also expanding the reach of the community to other villages and beyond. Indeed people from all over the world have come to Okurase to be involved.


  • MUSC
  • Village of Okurase
  • Nkabom
  • Gethsemani Circle of Friends
  • Djole
  • Clemson

Associated Faculty & Staff

Global Health Issues

  • Child and Adolescent Health
  • Community-based primary health care
  • Nutrition, Clean Water, Food Security

Medical Specialty

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences