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April 18, 2014

Greater Johnstown senior producing documentary about life-changing trip

JOHNSTOWN — For young Johnny Bayush, a trip to a West African nation to be immersed in dancing and drumming classes turned into a life-changing experience.

Bayush, 17 and a senior at Greater Johnstown High School, was so taken with the people and culture of Guinea that he is producing a documentary about the three-week January trip.

After spending the first two days in a protected compound to meet about 30 Africans who resided there, he was able to leave the walled enclosure and see firsthand the wretched poverty of the city of Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

“As soon as I stepped outside, my life immediately changed,” said Bayush, the son of Nunzio Bayush of Pittsburgh and Rachel Allen of Johnstown, who accompanied her son on the trip. “I saw things that I didn’t think were real.”

It was at that point that Bayush started recording footage on his iPhone 5s camera.

Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world and Bayush saw more poverty in that instant than he had ever witnessed before.

“The way people live over there is unimaginable, even compared to the homeless people in America,” he said.

Despite the dire conditions, Bayush was shocked to see how joyful the people are.

“They have nothing, yet they’re so happy,” Bayush said.

The impact of the trip has prompted Bayush to do something to help. He never imagined that his exploration would lead to a documentary.

 “There was just so much there that I think people here need to see,” he said. “I took a lot of footage there and captured a lot of amazing stuff.”

He went on the trip thinking he was going to just study dance and drum. What he saw gave him an entirely different perspective.

Bayush went to Guinea with seven other people from Johns-town who were part of the local West African dance group, Kulani.

They met other people in New York from different parts of the U.S  who also were going on the trip.

The camp was run by One World Dance & Drum and that was conducted by Sarah Lee and Mamady Mansare of the state of Washington.

“They both live in Seattle and go back to Guinea for three trips a year, spending about five months there,” Bayush said.

“We went on was a three-week camp where we studied dance and drum from some of the best West African musicians in the world.”

One World Dance & Drum has an nonprofit organization in the making that will be helping to create jobs for the disadvantaged artists.

The organization intends to send girls to sewing school to create clothes that will be sold in America to support One World Dance & Drum and send children to school.

The trip has given Bayush purpose.

“I really want to share this with the world,” he said.

He has modest expectations for the film, but he envisions it leading to a possible return trip.

“Maybe I can get someone with that same vision as me to help share this and fund another trip back to do a follow-up documentary,” Bayush said.

“While my life’s path is leading me to music, I would love to solely focus on this project long term help this nonprofit organization and continually go to Guinea and help (the people) in anyway I can.”

Bayush is a musician and is a member of the Painted By Millions and Matt Otis & The Sound bands.

While in Africa, he spent a lot of time in the compound where he took part in classes.

The documentary was shot from his phone, which produced a high-quality chronicle.

“It’s not done professionally, but I want to get some sort of funding or grant, put together a team and go back to Guinea and shoot another documentary,” he said. “It would be a follow-up to show how people supporting the kids made a difference.”

But Bayush has to finish his first documentary.

”I’m currently in the editing process and waiting on obtaining more information,” he said.

The documentary will discuss how people here can support children in Africa for what amounts to a minimal amount.

For around $250, a child can be sent to school for a year.

Currently, One World Dance is providing schooling for 10 children.

He said 100 percent of each donation  is used to pay for schooling and supplies.

“I believe that I can change those numbers drastically through this documentary,” Bayush said.

The other people who went with Bayush and his mother were Holly Lees, Becky Bickford, Anna Johnson, Sandra Cashaw and Gwen Triplin.

They joined five other people in New York, including Steve Brawn, a formed Kulani member who lived in Johnstown but now resides in Chicago.

Bayush has posted a trailer for the documentary to

He also will be doing a presentation at his school, where he will show clips from the movie and talk about the trip.

“I’m thinking that the documentary will debut in a few months,” he said.

Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on LavisTD.

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