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Our History

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In 1998-1999, co-founder and director Ingrid Askew led the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage: Retracing the Journey of Slavery, walking from New England in the USA, down the east coast, traveled across the Atlantic, then on foot through West Africa and on to South Africa.  The Pilgrimage spanned a total of thirteen months. 


 In Capetown, the Pilgrimage was given recognition as a Gift of Service to the World, by the 1999 Parliament of World Religions, which included Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu (who was the honorary Chair of the Pilgrimage  Advisory Board), and the Dalai Lama, and thousands of other international religious and peace leaders. The first Parliament was held in 1893 in Chicago, which was an attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths. 


In 1999, more than 7000 individuals from 80 countries attended the 20th Century celebration of world religions, and developed an agenda for faith work in the 21th Century. 

This included a book, Gifts of Service to the World, showcasing over 300 international projects considered to be making a difference in the world – and which included the Interfaith Pilgrimage in that list of projects. 

The Pilgrimage was such a powerful experience that Ingrid decided to make her home in Cape Town, and lived there for the next ten years, from 1999-2009. 

(The story of the Pilgrimage is featured in the PBS 6-part series titled “This Far By Faith: African-American Spiritual Journeys”

From 1999 – 2004, Ingrid worked with youth in the performing arts in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town.  Developing skills in creative writing, music and dramatic performance was the focus of the Ikhwezi (The Morning Star) Program, involving from 7 – 20 youth aged 18-22 years of age who were out of school, unemployed and searching for their place in life-changing, post-Apartheid South Africa. They were soon invited to perform at cultural events at Cape Town venues, including museum openings - which were available to residents of the townships for the first time ever.

The group later was reduced to 7 young men, called the “Ikhwezi Poets, ” who gathered several times a week to write with Ingrid, and to explore the cultural riches of life outside the townships in Cape Town.  Ingrid then invited an American artist, Terry Jenoure, to visit and collaborate with the youth on visual arts projects.  US artists taught the youth songs from the Civil Rights Movement, while the youth taught the instructors their freedom songs from Apartheid.  A major show of the youth’s art pieces was later organized at the University of Massachusetts’ Augusta Savage Gallery.

In 2003-2004, Ingrid began working with unaccompanied minors from Rwanda, Burundi, and Angola, brought by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The refugee children worked with the Ikhwezi Poets of the Cape Town townships, addressing the issue of xenophobia by using the performing arts as a vehicle, facilitated by visiting theater artist Judiye Al-Bilali from the USA. That piece was performed in Langa Township in the local arts center, Guga S’thebe – and later at the Cape Town Arts Festival.

Ingrid documented stories from some of the refugees from Rwanda /Burundi, and Congo, who had lived through genocide and cultural violence.  This “Voices in Transit Project” was performed at the Cape Town (Arts) Festival – through spoken word, and printed storybooks of various refugees’ stories.













































Khayelitsha Township

Cape Town



Cape Town

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In 2004, Ingrid created the Womanspirit program in Cape Town, working with women from conflict countries in Africa (Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Somalia).  Using a range of healing modalities developed through the Capacitar System, the facilitators (in partnership with French and Swahili translators), helped the women work through deep emotional trauma – of violent cultural domination and genocide, and often the loss of their entire families.  The women were taught techniques to counter traumatic effects, flashbacks, etc. – and then to pass on those practices to other women going through similar traumatic challenges. 

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In 2008, Ingrid Askew was hired to oversee a grant from the Institute for Training and Development, under the U.S. State Department.  During 2008, Ingrid arranged to bring 11 South African artists to Massachusetts, as part of an International Arts Exchange Program between South Africa and the USA.  She paired them with corresponding American artists/poets/musicians/dancers/filmmakers/ and theater arts professionals to work with groups of community youth in their field of expertise.  In 2009, the group of American artists then travelled to South Africa and worked with their South African counterparts to work with local youth in the Cape Town communities.

Julius Ford, a community activist and artist, participated in the exchange.  Julius was deeply moved by the experience and was inspired to create a Youth Ambassadors program with youth in the Western MA communities to be able to engage and share their experiences with their peers in the African Diaspora.  Sadly, Julius passed away shortly after the South Africa exchange. The Youth Ambassadors Program, established in 2013, was a way to realize Julius's dream of providing young people of color opportunities to explore new ways of engaging with each other and learning to become global citizens.

Included in this original design were Tai Chi movement, meditation, and writing with Sensei Janet Alfs, director of Lotus Peace Arts.  Working with music and dance Instructor Brendaliz Cepeda and company, the ensemble explored Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms, and the cultural origins of Bomba and Plena. Their focused trainings have come from Social Justice theater techniques and spoken word presentation led by 2050 Legacy, a hip-hop and social justice theater, and artist development organization for social change.

It was through this rich arts exchange program that the idea for Crossing the Waters Institute for Cultural Exchange was born.  The organization was established as a non-profit corporation in the USA in 2014.

Upon her return to the USA, Ingrid began sharing her vision widely, and built a community of interested spiritual and community leaders, friends and supporters who wanted to contribute to and become involved in her vision of establishing a cultural retreat center in the Western Cape. 

Crossing the Waters worked with architect Carin Smuts of CS Studios in Sea Point, Cape Town, on the idea of establishing a cultural arts retreat center in the Western Cape – to both host arts workshops for paying participants, and to offer skills-building programs for youth and young adults from Cape Town communities, to provide opportunities to enter the workforce.  Crossing the Waters was incorporated as a non-profit organization in South Africa in2019.

Tribe Cultural Retreat Center is to be a place for cultural exchange, where people can engage and interact through arts and cultural programs, healing arts and healthy living retreats.  Due to the complications of COVID-19, present plans for the Retreat Center are on hold for the time being – but stay tuned!


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