Powerhouse theatre-writing duo Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews join us to talk about their moving and personal musical, Witness Uganda (previously known as Invisible Thread when it premiered Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre). Inspired by couple’s separate real-life experiences traveling to Africa—specifically Griffin’s trip to Uganda—the story follows the character Griffin as he meets and tries to help five Ugandan teens, first by teaching them himself and then by sponsoring their education when he returns to New York. But is this the kind of help they want or need?
The musical asks many questions about altruism, public health, voluntourism, and the ethics of foreign aid. What does it look like to offer aid, particularly from the United States to a developing nation? Experts Afam Onyema of the GEANCO Foundation—which is simultaneously based in the U.S. and Nigeria (where it serves local Afridans)—and Ana Jimenez-Bautista, the director of Field Practice at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, join us for this fascinating conversation about what it really means to help and how we can offer assistance in the most useful ways.
Create the change
- Ask how to serve, rather than offering what you think is needed.
- Challenge your ideas of what education looks like.
- Get a passport and travel!
- Support local businesses while traveling.
- 6 Ways to Travel More Responsibly
- Learn more about the ethics of international volunteering.
- When choosing a volunteer program, you *want* to see these words: collaboration, cultural sensitivity, cultural integration, reflection.
- Pick up a copy of The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook at your local independent bookstore.
- Donate to the GEANCO Foundation, or get in touch to offer other ways to serve.
- Read about volunteering and voluntourism.
- Find responsible travel guides here.
- Avoid poverty tourism.
- Read this article about ending colonialism in global health.
About Our Guests
Ruthie Fierberg, host
Matt Gould, creator/writer/composer-lyricist Witness Uganda
Matt is a recipient of the Richard Rodgers Award (2012 and 2014), The Jonathan Larson Award, and ASCAP’s Dean Kay, Harold Adamson, and Richard Rodgers Awards. His musical Invisible Thread (aka Witness Uganda) had its NY premier at 2econd Stage Theater and its world premiere at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard. His original musical Lempicka premiered at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2018. Other works include The Family Project for LA’s Center Theatre Group and Twilight in Manchego (Directed by Tony Winner Billy Porter). Gould has written and arranged music for Playwrights Horizons and translated, adapted and directed Romeo and Juliet in Pulaar (Mauritania, West Africa.) Matt has performed around the world including Uganda, Mauritania, and Japan, and across the US. A graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, Matt is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer at schools and Universities. He is the co-director of UgandaProject. @FakeMattGould
Griffin Matthews, creator/writer/composer-lyricist Witness Uganda
Griffin graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. Griffin co-wrote and starred in Invisible Thread (Richard Rodgers Award, Harold Adamson Award, and Dean Kay Award). He is working on a commission for Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles to write a new docu-musical about the ever-changing face of the American family. He’s directed several readings of the new musical Lempicka for Yale Rep and New Dramatists and has choreographed pieces at Vassar College, Lincoln Center (NYC), Warner Theater (DC), and in Tokyo. Acting credits include New York/Regional: Best of Both Worlds, 1776, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, Once On This Island. Television: “Law & Order: SVU” (recurring), “Happy Valley” (NBC Pilot), “The Carrie Diaries” (recurring),“The Mentalist,” “Suburgatory,” “Weeds,” “90210,” “Law and Order: LA,” “Cashmere Mafia,” “Numb3rs.” Starring in the upcoming Indie horror, “Screamers.” Invisible Thread is based on his organization UgandaProject, which he founded in 2005. @GriffinsThread
Ana Jiménez-Bautista, LMSW, Director of Field Practice Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Ana has worked for Columbia University/NYPH for over 25 years in a variety of roles, including the coordination of community education and outreach for community and school-based clinics; and international internship/exchange programs. She is a trained social worker, originally from the Dominican Republic. Ana’s life-long mission is to contribute to the improvement of the human condition and the reduction of health and wellness disparities. She specializes in general practicum support, development and implementation of new domestic and international practicum sites, coordination of international school-wide sites; and community, faculty, and staff support regarding practicum.
Afam Onyema, CEO of GEANCO Foundation
Afam was born in Chicago. A graduate of Harvard University with a degree in psychology, Afam worked for two years in the Chicago office of Hill & Knowlton, Inc., an elite global public relations firm, and then spent one year working in the marketing department of Mayer Brown LLP, a leading international law firm. Afam studied at Stanford Law School where he served as Vice President of the Black Law Students’ Association, a two-time public interest fellow, and a mentor in the school’s Public Interest Mentor Program. He also traveled to Ghana as part of the law school’s International Community Law Clinic. While in law school, Afam also directed the efforts of The GEANCO Foundation, founded by his father, Dr. Godwin Onyema. A native Nigerian, Godwin has always vowed to improve healthcare in his homeland. GEANCO’s mission is to save and transform lives in Nigeria. Afam has been the organization’s CEO since 2007. In 2020, Afam was named one of the Top 10 Influential African Immigrants in the World by WorldRemit. Afam was named to the New Leader Council’s “40 Under 40” national list of Emerging Leaders in 2009. In 2012, Afam was named to NBC News’ theGrio.com’s list of “100 People Making History Today”, and Mother Nature News selected him as a member of the Innovation Generation: 30 fresh thinkers helping humanity adapt to what’s next. Afam has secured support for GEANCO from renowned individuals and organizations and continues to grow GEANCO to better the lives of Nigerians each day.
Referred to in this episode
- Witness Uganda, keep track of the musical and its developments
- The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, CA
- Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Department of Field Practice
- What is cultural competence?
- The Ibo tribe in Nigeria
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