At a time most people consider retirement, Kathryn Roe found adventure and the challenge of her life in Africa.
For most of the past 10 years, the 73-year-old art instructor has spent about half the year helping children in Africa, first in Ivory Coast and then in Ghana.
She went alone on her first trip to Africa and now has a home in the Ghanian village of Mpeasem. Three years ago, she founded Anansi Travel NGO, which finds sponsors to help students in need from small villages in Ghana to attend secondary school.
She’s set for her third annual Anansi Auction on Saturday at Squalicum Harbor’s Zuanich Park Boathouse.Roe was one of the original faculty members at Whatcom Community College when it opened in 1971. She taught pottery and other art courses there until recently. Roe, who has lived in Bellingham 44 years, has four grown children and six grandchildren.
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Question: Did you really go alone on your first trip to Africa?
Answer: I had always wanted to go to Africa, so I just went and stayed three months. That was in 1997, when I was 63. What I didn’t understand was how much it helps to have somebody to guide you. On my first trip, the problem is not that it was a dangerous place, but that it was culturally different and hard to read the people.
Q: Did you know you would return?
A: Sure, I knew I would go back. It was wonderful. It’s visually the most exciting place I’ve ever been. The people are beautiful and their fabrics, which I love, are wonderful. Africa also changed my view of art, since art is so much more connected to everyday life in Africa than it is in our culture.
Q: Your auction catalog features so much compelling African art.
A: We’re actually having two auctions, the silent auction and then the live auction along with an African dinner catered by the Pacific Cafe. We’ll have different items at both auctions, including items available for direct purchase during the silent auction.
Q: The artist you feature, Ato Fabil, certainly has a unique style.
A: I like what he says in our program: “I seek to evoke the sense of reflection and thoughtfulness … I believe that art must be used to empower, question, motivate, inspire and, above all, leave unforgettable prints on the minds of people.”
Q: What other items are you auctioning?
A: We’ll have jewelry by Crafty Arimiyao Issifu, African sculpture, table cloths, clothes, shea butter, Ghanian chocolate, fans, a walking stick, masks, and a lot more. We’re also auctioning the services of a guide for two weeks in Ghana and an authentic African dinner for four prepared by Jephti Kouassi, who is entertaining as well as a good cook.
Q: Why do students have trouble attending secondary school?
A: It’s too expensive for many. Those are the students we want to help. We’ve gone from six students the first year to 16 this year and we hope to help many more.
Q: About how much is it to sponsor a student?
A: For a tax-deductible sponsorship of $50 per month, a person here can send an African student to school. We work under the umbrella of a program called A Wish, run by Michael and Ann Karp.
Q: What does “Anansi” mean?
A: Anansi is the spider who is the hero in many Ghanian folk tales.