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Pamoja finishes 21-day 'mission'

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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BRASHER FALLS — Pamoja International Cultural Exchange has a grand mission and is proceeding with it one person, and occasionally, one boatload at a time.


A group of 24 PICEI members returned Dec. 23 from a 21-day transcontinental cultural cruise that included stops in Italy, Spain, France, Morocco, Brazil, the Canary Islands, Barbados and the Commonwealth of Dominica.


Pamoja International Cultural Exchange Inc. was founded in 1982 in Deer Park, Long Island, by Florence G. Patterson. Its mission is to promote cultural awareness.


Pamoja is Swahili for "coming together."


The idea for the exchange, a nonprofit group with no salaries, was developed when Ms. Patterson was working for Citicorp Banking. She broke ground there as the first black officer of that bank. Ms. Patterson relocated PICEI's headquarters to the Brasher Falls area in 1987 when she moved to the north country in search of a less expensive place to live.


The exchange hosts international trips such as the recent trip aboard Princess Cruise Line's Grand Princess. The group also hosts trips to locations such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and nearby Canadian cities; fundraising for each trip.


Its simple mission is to get people to understand and appreciate different cultures.


"We're about the sharing of cultures and bridging the gap of culture and generations, because without it, that's where we lose ourselves," Ms. Patterson said.


The group hosted two seminars aboard the Grand Princess attended by more than 30 people at each event. Ms. Patterson said that was a respectful number, considering attendance was based on word-of-mouth.


"The cruise ship didn't have us on their official program," she said.


Members of the exchange, while ashore, spread knowledge of the cultures they are familiar with, such as Mohawk.


"It's just social networking," Ms. Patterson said. "It's people you come across and they're sharing their culture."


PICEI is non-political and non-denominational.


"We don't try to indoctrinate anyone," Ms. Patterson said. "People are just sharing what they know."


Ms. Patterson shared her knowledge and business experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2000 to 2004 on Goree Island, Senegal, Africa, where she focused on small-enterprise development.


When she first arrived in Senegal, Ms. Patterson said she was struck by the site of young people begging.


"I told them, 'No begging, Whatever you want you should be able to get it yourselves,'" she said. "Sometimes people say it's a waste, but people learn very well and very fast."


Besides tours, PICEI accomplishes its mission through hosting performances of the performing and visual arts and festivals.


"We do all of our work with integrity," Ms. Patterson said. "We don't have a lot of money, so we keep our volunteers motivated by other things that are rewarding besides money. When you do it from your heart, I think it's more important."


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For more information on Pamoja International Cultural Exchange Inc., call the organization at 1 (518) 358-9942 or 1 (866) 660-5116. On the Net: http://picei.homestead.com

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