Since moving the the U.S. in 1993, Vera has been committed to telling her story, and supporting countless families in the process
Vera Oyé Yaa-Ann is a gifted storyteller. Born and raised in Liberia, Vera moved to L.A. and launched her unique nonprofit, Oyé Palaver Hut, in 1993. Originally, Oyé Palaver Hut set out to share the rich culture of West Africa with the U.S.—but, over the last 27-plus years, the organization and its mission have shifted and evolved. Now, from its D.C. homebase, Vera and Oyé Palaver Hut are promoting healthy eating and sharing her own profound cultural journey with communities in need.
“For more than 20 years, from Los Angeles to D.C., I’ve been teaching cultural arts, storytelling, dance and nutrition,” Vera says. “I believe there’s a very strong correlation between food and learning. I’ve been teaching families how to have healthier lives—but a lot of these families live in food deserts where healthy fruits and vegetables are not readily available. And it’s hard to break old habits.”
Aligning her passions into a powerful message
With Vera’s practical, common sense approach to health and nutrition—combined with a healthy dose of cultural education—Oyé Palaver Hut is able to break down many of those barriers. “It’s nutritional education and literacy through storytelling. Everything is about Africa.” Recently, Vera produced a set of flashcards to teach African history. A lot of the children, she says, know very little about Africa. “They think Africa is in China,” she says. “I’ve heard that more than a few times.”
Even with her organization’s shift in focus, Vera’s intense pride in her African heritage and strong desire to share it with others continues to motivate her.
“I’ve been fortunate to do my own thing, just like my ancestors. It’s been challenging but that’s what life is about,” she says. “As a storyteller, I’m always telling my stories, either in words or in the objects or things I do.”
This approach, she says, has been particularly helpful in engaging kids. “Children are sage change agents—they’re wise beyond their years. When I first moved to the U.S. I asked the children to mentor me because I was coming from a different culture. They shared everything I needed to know. I’m so grateful. They’re nurturers. They’re caretakers. They’re the best people I’ve ever met in my life.”