Swaziland is ready for a bright, buoyant and creative transformation. The potential in this country is evident where ever we go. The Swazi children are impressionable and bright, and within minutes their creative work evolves into little masterpieces before our eyes.
Our Team Joy 2011 is an experienced one. This is our second year facilitating this project in the country. It is made up of the invincible Nicholas Mamba who directs The People’s Educational Theatre. I feel blessed to know this gentleman and have realized that we are kindred spirits. My assistant is none other but the graceful and enchanting Damarise Ste. Marie. She keeps me organized, well fed and is a fantastic facilitator in all ways. God bless that girl. And wow, what a dancer! Team Joy also consists of the extraordinary Andrew Moyo! Articulate, wise, masterful at almost everything, (and holy smokes what great pipes he has) Andrew is the glue that keep everything together. He will be my co-director with the Zimbabwe project that we will be spear heading this July. I am so excited to get started and meet all the little children in Bulawayo! Musawenkosi Zikalala is probably the most well rounded artist who carries with him the spirit of a child and the brilliance of Picasso! This man can juggle, direct, sing, paint, and the list goes on. Musa is a joy! Onendile Mabs has a heart of gold. His presence is present. He connects to the child with sensitivity and sweetness. His voice resonates with rich and deep undertones. Phumzile is the clown. She makes us laugh until we are crying. She is strong model for the girls under her tutelage. She is an unique and courageous spirit!
The school that we are visiting as artists, is situated in the mountains. No other art program has visited this school so everything we do, for many or all of these children, is for the first time ever creating and playing in this fashion. The teachers are eating it up!
My profound gratitude goes to Sandile Ndzimandze for being the professional of the group with his incredible insight and direction in helping us pull together an historic conference for the educators of this country titled: The Empowered African Child Conference.
We are going full out to implement this program for many reasons. The list is long, that’s for sure! Here are some of our reasons:
1.The arts are a central aspect to all cultures around the world. It a force that has been part of human’s existence. It is an activity that defines the human spirit. Children inherently know this, feel this and in actual fact express themselves in this manner. Swazis are proud of their identity. This program reinforces cultural identity in all ways.
2.The arts are one of the most important modes of expression people utilize to express who they are in the world. In a child’s world this is a simple solution to creating a safe platform to express their individuality. This is an imperative need for the vulnerable, underprivileged and orphaned children of Swaziland. This program is like oxygen to these children! We have found that the children in this country blossom when given an opportunity to express their unique nature.
3.Because the arts convey the spirit and identity of a community and culture, if facilitated by regional artists this approach can support inter-cultural comprehension and experiential learning for the child. If the child is exposed to the arts as part of their experience then they will invest in the arts as adults. Creating an arts appreciative culture in children will only reinforce this connection in future years.
4. The arts can be multi-cultural but they can also be trans-cultural. Connecting to the arts in a personal way and being exposed to different art forms from around the world teach children openness, acceptance and compassion. This understanding of empathy is crucial in creating communities that are not based in stigmas, stereotypes or even fear of other cultures. The integration of our Canadian team makes for an international program. Exposure to other artists from other countries opens minds and hearts.
5. The power of the arts definitively enhances children’s cognitive processes. Intellectual competence must entail problem solving skills so that an individual has the ability to resolve genuine problems or prevailing circumstances. Creative problem solving is influenced by creative individuals. The arts are constantly grappling with solving problems that unfold naturally in the process of art making. This lays down the groundwork for the acquisition of new found knowledge. Simply, this arts based program will give to the Swazi educational system more tools in order to create a well rounded and intelligent student who can problem solve with creativity!
6. School Curriculums around the world, and here in Swaziland too, emphasize forms of representation - true-false or correct-incorrect is the prominent approach in education. The problem here is that the preparation of the young Swazi mind is missing the development of the creative spirit. Yes- there is critical and creative thinking that transpires with the arts. Most are not aware of this. Simply stated: an arts based curriculum is every bit as effective as the mathematical and linguistic form of cognition that is now the traditional emphasis of the primary school years.
Embracing play as a learning tool can lead to a special kind of intelligence. I think the most alluring affect that play provides for the participant is the development of the ability to take notice and act upon the nuances of a given situation. Just like an artist, the person engaged in the moment has their eyes, ears, minds, bodies and hearts wide open. This heightened awareness enables them to tune their focus and in doing so it guides their work. I learned this very early on in my teaching. It is this very thing that has inspired me to pass it down to children that are underprivileged and vulnerable.
And so we bring this delicious energy, synergy and passion to the mountains, fields and towns of Swaziland, Africa!
TEAM JOY FOREVER!