The Learning Tree Cultural Preparatory School (“TLT”) is a private school located in New York City. TLT has been serving children in surrounding communities for more than thirty years, providing an excellent learning experience from early childhood through eighth grade.
In addition to academic excellence, TLT’s programming includes art, dance, drama, music, drumming, field trips and an international travel program – TLT’s “Global Exposure Program.”
For the past eleven years TLT has exposed hundreds of youth to experiences abroad, helping them to broaden their respect and knowledge of other cultures, and to better see themselves as integral members of a global society. These experiences have also given TLT students opportunities to portray positive images of African Americans not often shown in media.
The Global Exposure Program has taken students to several countries including France, Mexico, Ghana, China, South Africa, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Benin, Senegal and Gambia. In each country the students were able to make meaningful contributions leaving them with a great sense of pride and accomplishment. For instance, in the village of Apatrapa in Ghana, West Africa they built a water-well, planted trees, donated school supplies and medical supplies. In Kenya, East Africa, the students shared in cultural exchanges at a village school, where they also donated school and medical supplies.
TLT’s cultural exchanges have aided the students in learning about their ancestry, the African Diaspora, and many other diverse cultures around the world.
TLT’s most recent trip was in March of 2013 to India. This excursion included visits to several historical sites where the students experienced firsthand learning. The students, parents and teachers were especially excited about visiting the “Siddi” people of Gugarat, who are Indians of African descent, feeling that there may be striking commonality because the travelers are Americans of African descent. As with every trip, TLT students very much enjoyed sharing ideas, games, school supplies and more.
The inspiration for this year’s destination came after Dr. Beryl Dorsett, founder of The Africa Group World Travelers, and TLT teachers and students visited “The Africans in India” exhibition at The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center For Research in Black Culture.
Once TLT decided to go to India, Dr. Dorsett and Ms. Smita Bhargava, Director at Diverse Destination Travel in India, were instrumental in helping plan a spectacular trip including visits to the Siddi community in the western state of Gujarat. Ms. Bhargava arranged stops throughout a number of states in India, and included, of course, a visit to the Taj Mahal. However, for most TLT students the highlight of the trip was the visit to the Siddi community. The Siddis (also known as Habshi) of India are part of the African Diaspora. Their presence in India spans back to the 1500’s. TLT visited the Siddis whose village is located deep in the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.
As The Learning Tree students learned, the Siddi people live a very simple life. Achora Recille, one of TLT’s students said that her most memorable part of the trip was “visiting the Siddi people and seeing how they really appreciate what they have. They had no chairs in their school and they sat on the floor in their classroom, but they were still proud of what they have.” Taylor Thompson, another student mentioned that “the children were so appreciative of the smallest things.” TLT collected and took school supplies such as pencils, pens, paper and folders to donate to the children. TLT plans to produce a short book for the Siddi children, in their native Hindi language, and send it back to them.
The Learning Tree School intends to continue communicating with the Siddis, and would like to do whatever possible to help them further education for their children. The Siddis expressed that they would welcome visitors, including visiting teachers who would come and teach the English language to the Siddi children.
TLT is committed to reaching out to communities here in the U.S. to help find donors who might be willing and able to help the Siddis get computers, components and software in their Hindi language for use in their schools. We also hope that TLT’s recent trip will help to highlight Gugarat and the hidden treasures within, bring forth a greater interest and encourage more tourism to the Siddi communities.