What a success; a huge success! I am absolutely thrilled with our very first ever African Empowered Child Conference ever! They came from all walks of child-based professions--NGOs, Educators, Social Workers, Curriculum Developers, Artists and the most amazing four girls that in every sense of the word embodied the spirit of our conference. I have added Nicholas Mamba’s speech that opened the conference and a few letters of gratitude that the teachers and student of Emabheleni Primary School.
Damarise Ste. Marie did a contemporary dance and I danced along with The People’s Educational Theatre. With almost 60 in attendance, the final consensus was that the arts must be part of the young Swazi child’s development in order to reach a level of empowerment so that they can evolve and thrive in the future.
By the end of the conference all delegates were in tears as the young girls gave their most heart-felt testimonials about The Big Little Caravan of Joy and our Team Joy!
Without the help of Nicholas Mamba, Andrew Moyo, Sandile Ndzimandze, Damarise Ste. Marie, and the entire Team Joy this day would not be possible. A big thank you goes to Swaziland’s Arts and Culture Department for financially contributing to this day!
I hope you enjoy this entry!
Nicholas Mamba’s Opening Key Note Address for the very first
Empowered African Child Conference 2011 held on African Soil
Investing in educating children rarely trusts the hands of creativity in solving problems. Interventions are full of red tape-- rigid procedures, donʼt promote this. The whole country panicked as a result of our situation with HIV and AIDS. During this rush, to do whatever we could to fight this pandemic, there was a tendency to regard the Swazi citizens as incapable of dealing contemporary and socially relevant issues. I am sure you know this. Essentially we were all told that there is a monster out there - do this and donʼt do that.
During this race against time the methods that were put in place were not culturally sensitive. The techniques and practices at times would have a young child 18 or so talking to 50 year olds about sex. Not only was this a taboo but it made the message ineffective and almost was ridiculed. They older communities and families were insulted. Some sections of populations would not come to the party anymore. We lost a lot of ground because of this disconnection and we divided the population. I myself took part in programs of sensitizing young people about abuse and how it effects their lives. The young child would be made of aware of many things; the implications and repercussions of abuse and the many faces of abuse. The program aimed to empower the child to stand up against abuse. An interesting thing and fact about this activity is that all of them were about abuse; they were feeling the pressure of retelling their true story. Were we meeting the needs of the child? Bottom line, as much at this programʼs intention was to empower the child in actual in fact it created a conflict and much confusion in communities. However the approach shifted over the years. The partnership with the NGOS came with a new way to review and create programming that integrated the performing arts and culturally sensitive activities.
This to me was a much better methodology as it tries very hard bridge the gaps! It was very exciting as an artist to work on a program that dealt with the male population. It was an eye opener to participate in dialogue with these men. In some extent the men were demonized and vilified in many community dramas. After many discussions, it was very interesting to realize that everybody wanted the best for the country, in this country. But as leaders of art and change of our society we have always recognized the significance of empowering the child. We formed an association that dealt specifically with theatre and young people.
With this association we have worked with 40% of the students of Swaziland. Now through the support of the UN bodies and NGOs, we were able to use art as a vehicle to empower the child and also to give the young people of Swaziland all the information and life skills they needed during these times of struggle. All the regions of Swaziland were set ablaze in 2007 with our artists training and organizing performances in their respective constituencies. Some of the best works of arts that I have ever seen, of HIV performances, were crafted by children during this time.
But there was something missing.
However good those efforts were, there was still more that was needed to be done. In our hearts we knew that we were part of an exciting movement but there was something missing. These arts based methods were not age specific. We did not take into consideration age appropriate activities for the children; we just blanketing them as an age bracket. A six year old, with her two front teeth missing, would be discussing HIV, sex trafficking, abuse and the like.
In 2009, our relationship with the Yale University brought our team us to working with Clowns Without Borders South Africa. The gift that this relationship brought to the table was an understanding of the power of laughter and play. We worked in remote rural schools and for that week we infected the South East Swazilandʼs schools.
But something was still missing.
We were tapping into the element happiness with the children but we not tapping into their inherent nature and joy. Some of you may not know the difference between the two. Last year I was introduced to the difference. Simply stated happiness comes from receiving, joy comes from giving. Happiness is something that is fleeting, like we are all happy that we are going to feed you for free today. Joy is something that carries on despite circumstances.
Joy is an attitude of the heart. As happiness in life will eventually fade-- joy will remain in tact. Joy brings us peace in the middle of a storm. But the question is how do you unleash this joy in children? This brings me to the present time, to the now, to where we are all sitting in this room.
In the last two years I have had my artistic world revived! Ngingene Endumbeni!
I discovered during this time that the spirit of art safely holds us together and it is bigger than what we have been offering to communities at large. Particularly when it is applied to the mind of the child.
I have had the opportunity to go into a couple of schools and work with all the children where we created a production with the entire school body. And we are talking a population of 630 children at one school and at another 104! Scary but very possible. This project integrated all the art modalities for each and every child. It included a handful of visual arts projects, drama, song, dance and story telling. It culminated in a festival like day where all the showed off their creations and performed for the community.
It also included participation and performances by the teachers. The facilitators were called “ Team Joy”. It was humbling to witness the uniqueness of each childʼs creative work It is impossible for me to really give you the picture of what unfolded there. You really needed to be there to fully appreciate the impact of our program. Now I also want to say that I strong believe that it comes at the right time for our country. I am sure all of you are aware that the arts curriculum has been developed for the primary grades and is being implemented to some degree as practical arts.You may also be aware that there is a strong push in our education sectors for creative learning. As a result there is a new university which is 100% based in creative arts education. Our program as piloted in Swaziland at two primary schools provide some ideas on how the arts can implemented in its fullest form.
We recognize that intention alone is not enough to bring our dream to life which is why we are utmostly blessed when we developed a relationship with Sarina Condello of The Big Little Caravan of Joy. Sarina is a complex yet simple combination of a performing artist, motivational speaker, professor of arts and education which is all driven by her spiritual nature. She can soil her hands in the mud while playing with children, and also stand tall in high heels in a lecture room in honour in the young child. This is a quality that I deeply admire for I have realized that in order to put the interest of the child first we have to fight from many fronts, which is why we brought all of you together in your esteemed professions and competencies.
It is an honour for me therefore to be at the center of passing this gift to my fellow Swazi artists, our partners, the NGOs and the teachers. The goal for me is commitment. If we can all at least, in our daily programming, commit to some of these philosophies that would be a success to us.
Emabheleni Primary School
PO Box 3672
23 June 2011
We are kindly writing this letter to let you know about your support you did for our school.
We are very happy to visit our school to teach us different things. Now we can decorate in the wedding or party. We can make money by using the knowledge you gave us. You did a very important job to teach us that we must run away from danger through the games you have taught us.
We are thankful for visiting our school you have done just a perfect job to choose our school. We are grateful to teach us games and songs that we were never knew. As we are the students we thank you that you have visited some of the schools in Swaziland.
Please don’t end in our school that go all over Swaziland to teach them this good things.
Dear Team Joy
Re: Appreciation for your special visit
On behalf of Emabheleni Primary School’s teachers, pupils and parents I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Big Little Caravan of Joy for making a stop in our school.
I am grateful that you made our school a pilot school in the different levels of art i.e. visula and performing art in which all pupils participated expressing a sense of creativity, exploration and enjoyment in the whole process.
The pupils who were withdrawn in class gained confidence and positive self esteem. Pupils who are less gifted academically saw themselves as achievers too.
May I also sincerely thank you and your team for the useful teaching materials you donated to us.
The fish, butterflies, flowers and photo frames they designed tell a wonderful story about their talents and future careers.
The pupils discovered their skills in singing, dancing, poetry and dramatising since this was interestingly performed.
This goes true for the saying that goes ‘Every child is a potential achiever’. May you be blessed and continue with this mission even in other schools in the country for the benefit of the Swazi child.
God bless you all.
Sbusiso Ndzinisa (Principal)