Three London volunteers honoured as chiefs and queens in Ghana

By Dana Gloger, September 26, 2008

Three Anglo-Jewish volunteers got more than they bargained for on a trip to Ghana last month, when they were each made a chief or queen of different Muslim villages.

As a result, the three Londoners - Aron Lewis from Hampstead Garden Suburb, Samuel Borin from Clapham and Sasha Maisel from Totteridge - now have responsibility for key issues pertaining to their villages.

The three were volunteering in the West African country as part of a two-month overseas Tikkun Olam [Heal the World] trip organised by UK-based charity Tzedek. As part of the scheme, participants work in areas of extreme poverty, often for local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Ms Maisel was made a Queen of the village of Champe for her efforts to help bring a school to the village.
The 19-year-old - who is due to start a politics and economics degree at Bristol University next week - is working to raise £10,000 for the relocation of a school which is soon to close in a nearby town. Ms Maisel is hoping to bring the school to Champe, where children do not currently have a place to learn.

To show their appreciation of her efforts, the people in Champe decided to make her a Queen of the village. The village has a Chief, who is its head, as well as five other Queens, each of whom has responsibility for a different area. Ms Maisel has been made the Queen of Youth and Education.

An enskinment ceremony - a local inauguration - was held for her, in which Ms Maisel was officially given the role. "I got dressed up in traditional clothing for the ceremony and there was a lot of drumming and dancing and I met the chief of the village," she said.

"It is a lot of responsibility, but I'm very pleased. I'm still working on raising funds for the school from the UK and would love to go back and visit soon."

After helping rural communities in northern Ghana deal with local government, Mr Lewis, 20, was made a sub-chief of the village of Nanton Zuo.

A second-year student in international relations at Birmingham University, Mr Lewis was made the Chief for Youth Issues and accorded an enskinment ceremony when he accepted the honour.

"There was a big ceremony which all the villagers attended, and I met the other chiefs and elders of the village and had to offer them kola nuts, which are a symbol of peace and friendship," he said.

"It was a Muslim village and they are all very religious. They did not know much about Judaism or Jewish people, but were hugely interested in it, and were all amazingly tolerant. There was certainly no religious conflict at all. Me being Jewish was never an issue."

Mr Borin, 21, a medical student at Bart's, who was working for a local NGO that gives people small loans and teaches them how local government works, was made a sub-chief of the Bokpomo village. He was given the title of Peace Chief.

"The role means that I might be asked to intervene in personal disputes between people in the village," he explained. "If that is the case, they will pass the dispute on to my boss at the NGO I worked with and he will email it to me."

He was also accorded an enskinment ceremony, which he described as "great". "It was obviously important for them too, as they also set off a gun outside the hall so that people who lived a long way away would know there was something important going on in the village."

A majority of Bokpomo's population are Muslim, while a small number are Pagan, but Mr Borin said "it was not an issue at all" that he was Jewish.

During his stay, Mr Lewis also managed to find a Jewish village in Western Ghana. "It was fascinating. There are between 30 and 50 families and they have their own synagogue and scrolls. I spent one Shabbat with them and went to one of their services, which was conducted in their local dialect. It was great to see it, in the middle of the Ghanaian countryside," he said.

Last updated: 12:15pm, September 25 2008