Saturday, January 25, 2014

Celebrating 10 Years of my Love Affair with Africa!

How it all Began

It has already been 10 glorious years since my very first arts based experience in Africa. My passion for African dance and music was realized the day I joined the dance ensemble  Kekeli, founded and headed by the incomparable, masterful, and consummate Ghanaian drummer, Kwasi Dunyo. Soon after accepting a personal invitation from Kwasi to visit his country, I was off to Ghana to study the magic of West African drum and dance in Dagbamete, a little village of the Volta region. Little did I realize back then in 2003, that the month spent in Dagbamete, would change my life forever. 

A Mother’s Wish

When I returned to Canada my eyes had opened to how different my Toronto world was from the rural regions of Africa. I noticed that my teenagers, Kyra, Quentin and Teya, were becoming more and more entrenched in an era and culture that seemed to encourage, and even celebrate an empty individualism and promotion of materialism. The contrast to my privileged three and the the African children suffering from HIV and poverty,  gave me the idea of roping my kids into an experience that would hopefully alter their newly adopted North American paradigm and at the same time contribute to the lives of others.

The opportunity to initiate a performing arts camp at an AIDS orphanage in Tanzania by Deborah McCracken, led to my very first arts based program designed for the African child. Alongside with the brilliant and spirited talents of Kihumbe, a Tanzanian award winning dance and circus troupe, and my three teens, our newly formed ensemble traveled throughout rural Tanzania facilitating our arts program for over 1,000 children. I will alway be thankful for the dedication that Kihumbe demonstrated back in 2006.

Thank You Tanzania

After much contemplation during the months following our return, I realized that my family got a lot more out of the African experience then the orphans themselves! It was then and there that I knew that this one-sided approach of my program had to be addressed. Unfortunately, I did not have the financial means to return to Africa and implement the changes needed, which included the training and the education of a child-centric play based curriculum to artists and educators. With the screening of my documentary film Thank You Tanzania, shot during our trip, my world as I knew it, slowly turned upside down. With the help of 2 very special individuals, Chris Wallace and Brian Noon, the production, editing and completion of this award winning film created a buzz about our African journey. It also profiled the successful impact that an arts based experience could have in the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged children. 

I will forever remain grateful and indebted for their kindness and support. I hope that both Chris and Brian realize that their contribution in finishing the film was directly correlated to the development of my charity. 

The Joy and Altruism of Musical Theatre

Through the brainchild and production genius of Kristi Herold and the enormous talents of Sheila Philcox and Gail Leger, two casts of musical theatre troupes were formed. From that moment on the The Big Little Caravan of Joy sprouted wheels and wings. In actuality, The Big Little Caravan of Joy’s accomplishments have flourished through the life force, creative power and support of these two beloved casts, the Bedford Park  and Summerhill Players. And grow it did! The BLCJ gave rise to the Empowered African Child Conference in 2011 and in 2012 it  expanded it’s scope by embracing Canada’s First Nations children with The Painted Turtle Arts Camp.

So Much Support, Love and Guidance

Through the help of hundreds of donors, volunteers, and the support of friends, my benevolent legal team, Trudy White- Dzuro and George Dzuro, my Vintage and Soul Dancers, family and kind hearts, not to mention the generous contributions from Kristi, Kevin Sullivan, and morale support of my family, The Big Little Caravan of Joy was born!!

My gratitude would not be complete without highlighting the guidance and contributions of Nicky Potter, founder of Friends of Noah Canada and the team of the past Noah South Africa: Rachel Compaan, Karen Krakowitzer, Skhu and Katie Andrews. 

I must not forget the collaborative ventures of Right to Play; especially Paula Gilverson, Anna Keefe, Meisha Cole, and Catherine Cheechoo who supported the development of my new initiative that took us into Canada's far remote Northern communities. A big thank you to Jules Porter for believing in my Painted Turtle Program back in 2012! 

Love goes out to Jamie McLaren Lauchman founder of Clowns without Borders South Africa, and Joslyn Walker, two generous South Africans, who have always been there for me, shining their light on my path when I have needed it the most! Thanks would not be intact without the support of Pierre Vaillancourt and Chantal Guerin from the SEMAFO Foundation, and to Kate Webb and Antonio De Gregorio too! Thanks to The Giselle Foundation!!!

Team Joy is the Best!

But my humblest and most gracious honour goes to my Teams of Joy that have been arm and arm in the field with me, doing the grueling but most playful work together, in the kindred spirit of  brother and sisterhood. Whether it was in a hot and dusty field, or in crowded township, or in rural villages, or a fly-in remote Northern Ontario communities, Teams of Joy have sung the hearts out, danced like no one was watching, painted like Picasso, and belly laughed with and for 1,000s of children. Without their tireless dedication this work would be aimless and vacuous. 

Love and accolades also go to my Canadian Team Joy Leaders: Damarise Ste. Marie and Bailey Davis and my core Team Joy African Leaders: Aku Dunyo, Nicholas Mamba, Sandile Ndzimandzem, Andrew Moyo, Richard Ndlovu, Sussie Mjwara, Sabee Shozi, Sipho Mdletshe and our Burkina Faso Team Joy with Dao La Sanni and Vincent too! 

Love abound to Team Joy First Nations Leaders: Joyce and Jerry Wesley, Charles Carpenter, Lorna Chyslar, Grace Bluecoat, Candice Assiniwe, Bighead Bellamie, Eric Spence, and Clarence Piishaan. And too all the other members of Team Joy that have joined us along the way, I thank you all!!

The Sweet Children

But it is the children who deserve the biggest thanks given here! Starting with my own three, who kickstarted this journey and concluding with the celebration of the 1,000s of sweet and enchanting souls who have embraced us and the BLCJ program with open hearts and loving spirits.

Where We Have Ventured and the What We Have Done

As a result of the profound trust of so many, and their mutual love for the importnace and relevance of  creative play during childhood and for most their generous hearts, The Big Little Caravan of Joy will have traveled to eight African countries (Ghana, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, South Africa, Swaziland, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda) and The Painted Turtle Arts Camp will have visited eight First Nations communities in Northern Ontario and The Empowered Africa Child Conference will have traveled to three countries enlightening hundreds on ways to embrace child spirit!

 By the end of 2014 over 550 artists, educators and child care givers and almost 10,000 children will have received over 20-30 hours of arts based programming and training! 

A Tour Dedicated to a 10 Year Love Affair with Africa

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of my love affair with Africa, The Big Little Caravan of Joy and The Painted Turtle Arts Camp will reach almost 5,000 children before the end of  2014! Below is my itinerary for this remarkable tour planned to celebrate the resilience and sacredness of childhood.

 I am thrilled to say that my eldest daughter Kyra and her dear boyfriend Daniel will be joining our team in South Africa. Also, for the first time ever Kristi and 3 children (deja vu) will be joining me in Kenya to run a program at an orphanage called Cheryl’s House. I also look forward to having Melanie Rosen, an expressive arts therapist, yoga guru and creative soul in the mountains of Uganda with me! I hope that you follow my journey and help me believe in the African saying: little by little, a little becomes a lot. 

With love,

Sarina Condello

Big Little Caravan of Joy & Painted Turtle Arts Camp
2014 Schedule


Dates- January 13-17
Community- Durban
Design- Purchasing Supplies, Artistic meeting with Staff, Design of Curriculum

Staff- Sarina, Team South Africa

Dates- January 20 - 24 & January 27 - 31
Community- Sithokosize; Manager- Khosi
Design- Morning entire school + Afternoon Ark Programming
Staff- Sarina, Sussie, Sipho and Sabee
Timing- School Classroom Program - 9:00 AM- 1 PM - entire school
Sithiokozise Ark Program - 1:45 - 2:45 PM - 5 - 9 years olds
Sithiokozise Ark Program - 2:45 - 4:00 PM 10+ year olds

Dates- February 3 - 7
Community- Siyawela; Manager - Faith
Design- Morning Daycare + Afternoon Older Children 
Staff -Sarina, Sussie, Sipho and Sabee
Timing- Siaywela Ark Program with Daycare - 9:30 AM- 12:30 PM
Siaywela After Care Program - 1:30 - 3:30 PM

Dates- February 8  - 15
Community- Swaziland; Manager- Nicholas + Andrew
Design- Artist in Residence Rural School
Staff- Sarina, Nicholas, Anna, Wandile, Andrew, Musa, Sussie, Sipho and Sabee
Timing- School 7:30 - 2:00

Dates-  February 17 - 21
Community- Vusimpilo ( 5 day overnight); Manager -Thembani and Nondomisu
Design- Morning entire school + Afternoon Ark Programming

Staff - Sarina, Kyra, Daniel, Sabee, Sipho and Sussie 
Timing- School Classroom Program -  8:00 AM- 12:00 PM- entire school  Vusimpilo Ark Program - 1:00- 2:30 PM 

Dates- Monday off- February 25- March 1(with Saturday celebration)
Community- Nkobongo; Manager Zamo
Design- Ark based
Staff- Sarina, Kyra, Daniel, Sabee, Sipho and Sussie
Timing- 7:20 AM - 3:30 PM

Dates- March 3- 7
Community- Christianenburg (Claremont); Manager- Thambiso
Design: 1/2 Program Curriculum Development with Thambiso
1/2 day Ark Programming
Staff- Sarina, Sipho, Sussie (For 2 days Kyra and Daniel) 
Timing- Morning Curriculum Development 12:30 - 2:30- 
Christianenburg Ark Program with Team Joy - 2:30 - 4:30 PM 

Dates -  March 10- 14, + 20 -27
Community - Cheryl’s House, Kenya, Manager- Grace
Design - Orphanage Program
Staff - Family Herold first part, with Kenyan Team Joy, Driver Simon
Timing- 10:30 AM - 2:30 PM + 3:30 - 4:30

Dates- March 1- 4
Community Uganda, Manager - Barbara
Design School#1
Staff Ugandan Team Joy
Timing- 7:30 - 2:30

Dates- March 7-11 
Community- Uganda
Design- School #2
Staff- Ugandan Team Joy
Timing-7:30 - 2:30

Dates- March 14-18
Community- Uganda
Design School #3 + #4
Staff- Ugandan Team Joy
Timing- 7:30 - 2:30


Dates- July 7 -  18th
Community- Northern Ontario
Design- Community Based
Staff- Painted Turtle + Right to Play Team
Timing- 10:00 - 12:00 and 1:00 - 4:00

Dates- July 21- August 1
Community- Northern Ontario
Design- Community Based
Staff- Painted Turtle + Right to Play Team
Timing- 10:00 - 12:00 and 1:00 - 4:00

Dates- August 3- 8
Community- Northern Ontario
Design- Community Based
Staff- Painted Turtle + Right to Play Team
Timing- 10:00 - 12:00 and 1:00 - 4:00

Forecast for the Fall of 2014--fingers crossed!


Dates- August 26 - September 5
Community - Ghana
Design- Meeting with government officials and benefactors for the first Empowered African Child Conference in Ghana
Staff - Aku Dunyo and Kwasi Dunyo

Dates- September 5- October 3
Community- Burkina Faso
Design- 4 communities: 
Staff: SEMAFO, Damarise Ste. Marie, Bailey Davis + Team Joy Burkina Faso

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Big Little Caravan of Joy needs your support this holiday season!!

Happy holidays and all the best in 2014!

Dear Friends and Supporters of my work in Africa and in Northern Ontario,

Thank you kindly for the support that you have given to my cause! However, I need your help this holiday season in making sure that the programming for The Big Little Caravan of Joy, Painted Turtle Arts Camp and Friends of Noah Canada, continues to grow, flourish and reaches more children than ever before!

When you make a contribution to The Big Little Caravan of Joy you empower children by helping local artists, community leaders and educators, in Africa and Northern Canada, in providing creative and fun-filled programming for children who need it the most. Your holiday donation can support the growth of our programs, so that more children can participate in The Big Little Caravan of Joy, Painted Turtle Arts and Noah initiatives in Northern Ontario and Africa. 

If you are interested in donating to this cause please use the link below and include in the message box: 1. that you are donating funds toward The Big Little Caravan of Joy's programming, and 2. the name and address of  the person you might honour with your donation. Here is the link to donate:

A personalized thank you card with African small keychain will be mailed to any donation on behalf of a family member or friend. All donations will automatically receive an electronic tax receipt from Friends of Noah Canada. 

Our programming in Northern Ontario is now in further development and by the summer of 2014 we hope to have 8 Painted Turtle Arts Camps, run by trained local leaders. Our nutritional, after-school programs and Big Little Caravan of Joy arts camps in South Africa are also expanding. This year I will be running 4 art-based initiatives in South Africa, 1 in Malawi and another 3 in Uganda.

I wish you a happy holiday season and a healthy, prosperous new year!

With much gratitude,
Sarina Condello

Painted Turtle Arts Camp is GROWING!

We Did It Again!

Painted Turtle Arts Camp 2013 was a huge hit this summer! Without the support of Right to Play, our Community Theatre Fund Raising Initiatives, Chief and Council in Cat Lake, Slate Falls, Webequie and Fort Severn, Painted Turtle Staff and Camp Managers we would not have been such a success! Next year we hope to be in 8 communities by running Painted Turtle Arts Camp Training Program  for community leaders in Canada's most Northern and remote regions. 

Great Teachings

We learned a lot this year as we have now completed 9 camps in 8 communities in only a year! I was absolutely thrilled to have had the privilege and honour in facilitating 9 Painted Turtle Arts Camp (PTAC) experiences since 2012. PTAC has evolved from a thought into a dynamic program designed for children to unleash their creative spirit and express their performing arts potential. This program has been made possible by the collaborative efforts of Right to Play, The Big Little Caravan of Joy and Friends of Noah Canada. I am also indebted to Right to Play for all the hard work that they have put in place so that this new and exciting summer program and arts-based curriculum can be shared with hundreds of children! The imagination of the young child is a garden of creative potential. PTAC provides an opportunity, for children from Northern communities, to cultivate those qualities as they discover enchanted worlds through stories and dances from magical lands. PTAC and it’s team possess the necessary tools to facilitate an arts-based camp and renew a sense of inspiration that infuses each and every child with something vital - joyful play! Gratitude abound and a huge thank you to all the Community Mentors, Painted Turtle Staff and the hundreds of children who have danced, sang and performed with joy! Our program would not be possible without the committed efforts of Bailey Davis, Paula Gilverson and Catherine Cheechoo!

The Design of the Program

The Painted Turtle Arts Camp is designed for First Nations children and youth. The objectives of The Painted Turtle Arts Camp are:
  •  To nurture every child’s creative spirit through creative expression and play
  •  To build a cohesive sense of community through teacher and artist education, performance-celebrations and creative expressions
  •  To offer opportunity for youth to be volunteers in an arts based environment and enhance their knowledge and interest in arts based activities

Every year, PLAY partner communities are invited to submit applications to host a Painted Turtle Arts Camp. The completion of an application allows for a process for the community to identify the need and interest for arts based programs as well as identifying resources and support to host the program. 

This is How it Works!

The camp is supported by a team of Big Little Caravan of Joy staff and Right To Play staff. The team travels to host communities to provide creative and artistic guidance and logistical support to implement the weeklong camp. The team arrives and delivers a two day training to local staff in the areas of camp safety, behavior management, roles and responsibilities at camp, back pocket games and activities, dance, drama, visual art, parachute games, white belt training and the ABCs of putting on a performance. 

The Curriculum

The camp is a series of arts based activities including; 

Visual Arts - Young children love to paint, cut, draw, glue, and design pictures. In this workshop, participants will explore colour and shape, and develop skills for making a variety of projects that are inspired by their imagination. 

Music - These workshops will emphasize the importance and value of children chants, singsongs, and singing in the round. Chants and songs are an important and valuable teaching tool, which provide the child with the basic foundations upon which language and grammar structures can be built. 

Dance and Drama - Children are given an opportunity to cultivate their imaginations as they discover enchanted worlds through, stories and dances from magical lands. This workshop will give participants fun and spirited ideas that help unleash the creative spirit of the child, through dance, drama games and performance.

 Energetic Games that Inspire Cooperation - These workshops will include games that inspire a connection to the cooperation and group synergy. The purpose of these workshops is to offer children a group cooperative games that will not only promote teamwork, but will also develop the child’s physical capabilities and appreciation for the working together. 

Fitness and Health - These workshops will include a fitness program and healthy snacks. 

Guest Artists: We were incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with local community artists.  In Cat Lake, Randy Fox came in for half an hour each day to teach the kids the graffiti alphabet.  In Slate Falls, Chancillor Crane instructed children in drawing for the first time.  He taught the children to draw a variety of pictures like bush planes, moose, wolves and the northern treeline.  In Webequie, Ananias Jacob is well known for his beautiful murals painted in the Woodland style all around the school.  Ananias worked in the visual arts rotation each day and taught the children to draw various images like a bear claw, and an owl.

Cooks: We were lucky to have partnered with the Diabetes worker in Slate Falls who prepared healthy and delicious meals each day.  In Slate Falls, Dave Guilbeault made delicious homemade soup and sandwiches each day.  Each community also generously donated funds to purchase all of the food throughout the camp.

Group Leaders: Each camp would have not been possible with out the support of local community members who played the role of group leaders at the camp.  Group leaders were responsible for watching over each group of children.  They carried out a variety of tasks such as taking attendance in the morning, handing out snack, escorting groups from one activity to the next, leading quick games or activities, and helping activity leaders during the rotations.  

Final Show: Each Painted Turtle Camp culminates in a big final show for the community.  The children get the chance to showcase all of their artwork which is hung up around the venue.  They also put on a play called Brother Sun and Sister Moon.  The performance involves drama, dance, costumes and lot’s of laughs.  Community members are invited to attend and celebrate their children’s creativity during this final show.  This past year, the support from community members was huge with over 40 people in attendance at the final shows in each community.  

A Lasting Legacy:
 This year, boxes of supplies were collected to leave with the community.  Craft supplies and costumes were left with Community Mentors and Education Staff so that the spirit of the Painted Turtle Art camp could live on.