In December 2006, Mike Slocombe and a collective of friends embarked on a cross-Atlantic voyage from Canada’s largest metropolis, Toronto to the remote village of Baro in Guinea, a West African nation with a complex history and a rich culture. They embarked on their globetrotting adventure to learn and culture themselves to the traditional African rhythms and dances, indigenous to that region of the world.
Slocombe, who has a deep rooted passion and admiration for the art of African drumming—so much so, he is a founding member of the Toronto-based percussion ensemble Baro Dununba, which is rooted in cultural music from West Africa and the Diaspora (individuals of African ancestry living outside of Africa )—was ecstatic at the opportunity to commune and apprentice under the masters of the art forms on African soil—a homecoming that would prove to be life changing.
“I was so excited and nervous at the same time, as I had always felt that if I visited Africa I would not return,” recalls Slocombe. “I had mentioned this to a spiritual guide before I left and she said that it did not necessarily mean that I would be harmed or stay there but that I would most likely find a part of myself, or have an awakening, making me a different man. She was so right.”
Upon their arrival in Baro, Slocombe’s and his friends’ excitement about their pilgrimage was eclipsed by the sight of human suffering through poverty, disease and sickness. “Tetanus, leprosy, and severely infected wounds were prevalent in the village. Children, the aged, and men and women were afflicted with simple and curable (medical) issues,” says Slocombe. Many of these ailments are treatable in the western world.
Overwhelmed by a desire to do something, Slocombe and his peers immediately stepped in to help the community. “As a group we assisted as much as we could have with the medical kit we had brought, disinfecting and bandaging wounds, and dispensing over-the-counter pain medication. We shared with over 50 people using our personal medical supplies.”
But it was an encounter with a sick young mother possessing a severe open sore on her chest, requiring immediate medical attention that most deeply affected Slocombe. Unable to nurse her newborn due to her condition, the mother was in dire straits, crying for help. “I asked about the local doctor and possible treatment; she informed me that there were not sufficient medical supplies in the local clinic to treat her sore. The nearest hospital was close to 50 kilometres away! I cleaned the wound and had her come back a few times to change the dressing. The wound did not improve and I used my last money to have her taken to the hospital in the city. This more than any other incident influenced me to do something,” recalls Slocombe. It planted the seed for the creation of the BreadFruit Lane Charity.
“Officially” in existence since May 2009, BreadFruit Lane is a non-profit organization whose goal is to promote education, health and sustainable development. Their mission is to serve as a catalyst for change for individuals, communities, and countries around the world who are affected and afflicted by poverty and disease. They do this by improving drinking water, skills, and education; their efforts also include coordinating responses for disaster relief, disease prevention education, and providing resources, including medicine and professional help, to all of humanity without prejudice.
The name “BreadFruit Lane” is significant on two levels. “The name comes from my high schools days in Barbados,” says Slocombe, reminiscing while he explains. “My friends and I used to have lunch under a breadfruit tree where we would discuss, digress, argue, fight, reason, and express our dreams, desires, sports, and of course girls. In a sense it was a brotherhood, where we discussed our future and plans, and we called it ‘BreadFruit Lane.’ I had loved the feeling and ideas shared under this tree, it has always inspired a sense of good will and giving.” In addition, the breadfruit tree provides shelter and food—it’s a source of life, sustenance and delicacy for many cultures in the Diaspora. Once Slocombe made the decision to make the charity a physical reality, the name came effortlessly.
Since its inception, BreadFruit Lane has been working to transform lives and communities. The organization provided gift certificates to Sistering (a local community organization) for their 2009 Christmas party. As a member of Baro Dununba, Slocombe hand-delivered over $20,000 worth of medical supplies to Guinea in December 2008; the shipment included vitamins, female-specific medications, first-aid supplies and antibiotics.
As with most young grassroots organizations, publicity and fundraising are key challenges. “We have been using social media networks like Facebook to grow, generate awareness and to get our name out there,” says Slocombe. “In recent times there have been a lot of fraudulent organizations collecting funds. As a result people are more cautious with their gifting—which they should be. Our challenge is to demonstrate that we are unique, honest and legitimate.”
On March 13 of this year, BreadFruit Lane hosted “Spring Fling,” the organization’s official launch celebration, with a special performance by Baro Dununba where two African drum masters shared their talent to much fanfare. “The event was a success! We had several substantial donations and everyone is looking forward to our next event,” says Slocombe.
BreadFruit Lane is volunteer-based, but has big plans for the future. “In five years we hope to have several full-time employees. As it stands right now, we have had people doing fundraising on our behalf in the U.S. We have established some contacts in Guinea and are not limited to African countries. We have been collecting items for Africa and have diverted some of those to Haiti because of the earthquake,” says Slocombe.
“It’s important to us that our partnership with our supporters and volunteers is transparent and that they are educated. We believe that if you know what is going on in the villages, you will help,” says Slocombe.
For more information about BreadFruit Lane, follow them on Facebook to keep abreast of their current projects and fundraising events. If you’re interested in volunteering your time, talents or treasure, you can reach them at 1-866-819-5329 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.