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HIES Students Take Pilgrimage to Ghana

Two students from Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School participated in a powerful pilgrimage to Ghana’s Cape Coast in April as part of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s fourth visit to the region. Adreana Sands ’24 and Jailynn Smith ’24 joined with clergy and other representatives including the Rt. Rev. Rob Wright, bishop of Atlanta, and Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright, HIES director of enrollment management, for the trip, held April 12-20, 2023. 

The Diocese of Atlanta formed a relationship with the Anglican Church in Ghana, West Africa, in 2016. The first pilgrimage took place in 2017 but the visits paused for three years during the pandemic. This was the first trip to include students from one of the Episcopal schools in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.  

During the trip, the pilgrims visited religious, cultural and historic sites and nonprofit organizations. Their stops included St. Nicholas Seminary, Trinity Theological Seminary, Kakum National Park, the Assin Manso Slave River, Elmina Castle, Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre, the home of W.E.B. Du Bois, and a pig farm that was built with financial support from the Diocese of Atlanta’s Global Missions Commission. They attended worship at Cape Coast Christ Church Cathedral, where Bishop Wright gave the sermon.   

One of the students’ favorite stops was the International Community School in Accra, a Round Square sister school and partner school with HIES. Students from ICS visited HIES in 2019; this visit allowed HIES to re-establish the relationship with Dr. Charles Yeboah, head of ICS and founder, and to discuss ideas about future student exchanges and faculty professional learning visits.  

Adreana, who is in the HIES Program for Global Studies, enjoyed touring the school and meeting students. “The school and the students were more similar to HIES than I expected,” she said. 

Learning about the slave trade in Ghana was an eye-opening experience. Millions of Africans were shipped to the United States from Ghana and West Africa during the Atlantic Slave Trade. At the Assin Manso Slave River, pilgrims stood in the water where West Africans who had been abducted from their homes took their last bath before entering the slave trade. 

Adreana and Jailynn both were interested to see the Door of No Return, located at the seaboard side of Elmina Castle. Through this door, slaves boarded the ships that took them across the Atlantic. By the 18th Century, 30,000 slaves passed through Elmina's Door of No Return on their way to North and South America each year.

During their visit, the group met with the Rt. Rev. Dr. Victor Reginald Atta-Baffoe, Cape Coast Bishop, and the Rt. Rev. George Kotei Neequaye, suffragan bishop of Accra, among other clergy. Canon for Ministry C. John-Thompson Quartey, also a former member of the HIES Board of Trustees, was on the initial 2017 pilgrimage and the 2023 trip. Quartey, who was born in Ghana, said a personal highlight of the trip for him and his wife Jerlyn was being able to stay in the homes of their Ghanaian hosts for a night. The students enjoyed their homestay and sampling a wide variety of local foods as well. 

“The families were very hospitable and welcoming,” Jailynn said. “We were treated so well. And we were never hungry!” 

Jailynn kept a daily journal during the trip to record all of their experiences to share with family. She hopes to use her experience for future college essays. Adreana wrote her final essay for her Global class this year about the Ghana trip and the importance of understanding other cultures. 

During a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Cape Coast, Bishop Wright and Bishop Atta-Baffoe signed an official memorandum of understanding. The document commits each diocese as follows: “To empower our Christian ministries through prayer for and learning from each other. To exchange clergy and other lay professionals for our mutual benefit. To support each other with material resources. To respect each other’s diversity in culture, context, and theological understandings. To encourage the development of mutual understanding between our two Dioceses.”

“The students were excellent HIES ambassadors,” Dr. Wright said. “It was a meaningful and memorable experience.”

— Christina Mimms