Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's a Wrap! The African Tour Ends!

Dear Family, Friends, Students, Dancers, The Bedford Park Players, The Summerhill Players, The Vintage Dancers, and most generous and faithful supporters:

I am now back in Canada having returned from an unprecedented and hugely successful 3 month tour of Africa with my cherished charity The Big Little Caravan of Joy (BLCJ). This summer The BLCJ journeyed through 4 African countries, planting seeds of creativity and inspiration, for 1,000s upon 1,000s of individuals. The recipients of this year’s program were made up of child care workers, educators, artists, government officials, NGOs and primarily vulnerable and orphaned children. Traveling non-stop for almost 12 weeks, The BLCJ landed in Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ghana. Regional African artists (called “Team Joy”) trained with a child-centric methodology worked day in and day out in dusty fields, townships, remote villages and rural communities empowering children in their presence . Whether it was facilitating an arts based curriculum in primary schools, Arks and communities or leading workshops at day symposiums and national conferences, designed and implemented by The BLCJ (specifically The Empowered African Child Conference and The Empowered Noah Child Conference) the energy, dedication and inspiration that the was expressed and shared by Team Joy(s) will be felt by 1,000s of African children for years to come.

Rather than creating a report that would epitomize an encyclopedia’s worth of wins and successes, I instead have compiled succinct lists of accomplishments, key individuals and organizations that have contributed to the overall achievements of The BLCJ’s 2011 journey throughout Africa. It must be stated that without the support and kind hearts of many individuals here in Canada, America and Africa, who passionately believe in the transformative power of the arts, this tour would not exist. With profound appreciation I write this report in order to honour and acknowledge the hundreds of supporters and volunteers, the teams of brilliant artists, childcare workers and educators, and the 1,000s of vulnerable and orphaned children who participated in our 2011 program. Without their generosity, faith and commitment The BLCJ’s vision would have not reflected such radiant colour and exuberant spirit. I continue to be fully devoted to the teams of artists who have remained loyal, unwavering and wholehearted to the vision, as well to the sweet and innocent African children who have joyfully participated in our programs.

With deep gratitude and respect,
Sarina Condello
Founder and Director
The Big Little Caravan of Joy

Swaziland Accomplishments and Outcomes 2011

• Implemented a 6-day integrated arts program at Emabheleni Primary School, for 104 students in Hhohho region, in the rural community of Maphalaleni
• Donated $500 worth of school supplies to the Emabheleni Primary School. This included science materials, posters, chalk, classroom supplies, books etc.
• Facilitated The Empowered African Child Conference (EACC 2011) which was a day symposium designed to: cultivate, celebrate and empower the expressive and authentic spirit the Swazi child by drawing on the artistry of the performing arts and the magic of creative play. Over 60 educators, artists, NGOs, and government officials attended. The day symposium was financially assisted by the Ministry of Arts and Culture, Swaziland.

• Developed the Artist-in- Residency Program that will integrate all four arts forms as taught by certified and trained Swazi performing and visual artists. The Artist-in-Residency Certification program would include 20 hours of theory and 30 hours of field work. This will include testing, analyzing teaching techniques and 3 field placements before entering as an artist in the schools.
• Developed the Primary Arts Certification Program which will be designed for Swazi Primary Grade teachers and will provide educators with extra training and specialization in one or all four art forms: music, dance, drama and visual arts. These specialization courses would take 12-14 hours, during a weekend of training, to complete each. The educator would receive a certificate of completion in the art form studied. All courses will be taught by arts educators in the country who specialize in the particular art form taught.

South Africa Accomplishments and Outcomes 2011

• Designed, implemented and facilitated a weekend national symposium held at Mangosuthu University of Technology entitled The Empowered Noah Child Conference for over 355 Activity Programmers and Ark Managers. The goal of the ENCC was to honour and educate those who care for the children and to provide them with the necessary tools and renewed inspiration to infuse each and every Noah child with something vital - joyful play!
• Facilitated 2 Performing Arts Camps with Noah, South Africa: Christianenberg Ark involved 100 children Siyanqoba Ark in New Castle involved 160 children
• Donated a year’s supply of art materials, costumes, metal trunks and soccer balls to Siyagoba

• A certification course for all Activity Coordinators and Ark Managers based on Child Spirit ti be implemented in 2013
• Development of 4-5 South Africa Team Joys for sustainable roll-out programming through the year
• A certification course for South African artists so that Team Joy SA will grow in numbers

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Nelson Mandela

Zimbabwe Accomplishments and Outcomes 2011

• Designed, implemented and facilitated a full day workshop for 30 artists and teachers in Gwanda
• Created and developed potential collaborative relationships with the Ministry of Arts and Culture, the Ministry of Education, SOS Children’s Villages Zimbabwe, Family Trust Harare, and SNV Zimbabwe
• Implemented a 5 day program arts based program at Mount Cazelet Primary School, Gwanda for 350 children

• Designed a certification course in Arts Education for all Primary Educators in the region of MAT South
• Developed a 6 day Creative Empowerment Camp to be held in Victoria Falls Rest Camp for 40 sexually abused children who are part of Family Support Trust based in Harare
• Created a 5 day placement with SOS Villages and guardian workshops located outside of Bulawayo
• Implemented and assisted the ongoing development of an annual Children’s Festival that would celebrate child spirit and creativity in the MAT South region

Ghana Accomplishments and Outcomes 2011

•Created a 3 week tour for 7 Canadians that embodied cultural education and volunteerism experience
•Facilitated a 5 days performing arts camp for 150 children of Dagbamete. Metro TV did a news story on The Big Little Caravan of Joy’s work in Ghana. It was aired in Senegal, Nigeria and Togo and Ghana.
•Hosted a Grandmother’s Evening Feast to honour and celebrate the women who have contributed to child spirit in the village of Dagbamete

•Ongoing training and development of artists in arts and education in the Volta region
•Developed a National Children’s Festival that will be held in Dagbamete, August 2014
•Designed a 5 day arts placement with Team Joy Ghana in the village of Dzogadze
• Developed the of permanent after-school arts training studio for the youth of Dagbamete. This would include a sewing centre and a visual arts studio and gallery.

The Bottom Line for 2011
Children who received 15-25 hours of arts based learning: 864
Adults trained in an art-based and child-centric curriculum: 465
Children who will benefit from the educators and artists training: 20,000+
Weight in pounds of the art supplies transported from Canada to Africa: 700
Hired artists for the entire tour: 35
Canadian Volunteers: 11
Kilometres traveled throughout the tour: 24,898
Crayons used: 2,500
The Big Little Caravan of Joy T-shirts distributed: 60

The Final Tally since 2006:
Children since 2006 that the BLCJ has empowered with an average of 20 hours of programming for each and every child involved: 3,914
Artists, educators, child care workers that BLCJ has educated since 2006: 546

A Big Thank you to the following individuals and groups for supporting the ongoing works of The Big Little Caravan of Joy:

Fundraising Communities
The Bedford Park Players,
The Summerhill Players, The Vintage Dancers, many generous individuals

Supporting Organizations
Friends of Noah Canada Noah, South Africa (Especially Rachel Compaan)
Peopleʼs Educational Theatre, Swaziland
Ministry of Arts and Culture, Swaziland
Ministry of Education, Zimbabwe
Ministry of Sports, Arts, Culture, Zimbabwe

Individual Supporters:
Kevin Sullivan, Kristi Herold, Nicky Potter, Susan Warburton, Vivian Saffer, Bojan Vitko, Randi Kirshehnbaum, Sarah Ferris,
Kyra, Quentin and Teya Vitko, Ruth and Tony Condello, Mark Greenspan, Russ Smith,
Cary Laudadio, Sheila Philcox

Team Joy South Africa 2011
Susie Mjwara, Busi Biyela, Sipho Mdletshe, Sabee Shozi, Mr. Fish/Sibusiso Dlamini

Team Joy Zimbabwe 2011
Andrew Moyo ( Co-director), Richard Ndlovu, Brain Ndlovu, Adrian Drivo, Musa Khulekani Sibanda, Bathabile Nyatin

Team Joy Swaziland 2011
Nicholas Mamba ( Co-director), Andrew Moyo, Sandile Ndzimandze, Musa Zikalala,
Phumzile Dlamini, Wandile Mabaso

Team Joy Ghana 2011
Aku Richter (Co-director), Joe Dunyo, Andrew Dunyo, Sakora Dzamesi,
Ledzi Agudzemegah

Canadian Volunteers
Damarise Ste. Marie (Co-director) EACC, ENCC, Swaziland, South Africa
Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison- ENCC, South Africa
Kristi Herold- ENCC, South Africa
Vivian Saffer- ENCC, South Africa
Nicky Potter- EACC, ENCC, Swaziland, South Africa
Jillian Green- Ghana
Gail Leger- Ghana
Miles Vitko- Ghana
Susan Beayni- Ghana
Sandra Laurin- Ghana
Jan Sutin- Ghana
Kate Westphal - Ghana

Thank you Karen Krakowitzer for seeing the importance and relevance of this material for Noah’s children. Also a big thanks to Dr. Greg Ash for creating this organization and supporting South African’s most vulnerable and sweet. A big hug to Daisy, Cno, Shku, Bongiwe and Numusa for your work and support too during this time. But the biggest thank you goes to the force behind the ENNC and that has been Rachel Compaan! She single handedly executed all aspects to the ENC conference with hard work, vision and dedication.
Nicky Potter, you have been my guardian angel. Thank you for journeying not once but twice into the heart of Africa in only three months!
Thank you Nicholas, Sandile, Andrew, and Damarise for the heart and soul you have contributed to this journey!
Jamie, you simply set me up! Thank you dear man!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Empowered Noah Child Conference Blew Us AWAY!

I am filled with gratitude and absolute profound contentment! The Empowered Noah Child Conference was a brilliant success!! Over 350 Child Care Activity Coordinators and Ark Managers sang, danced, painted, chanted, played games, worked- out, took part in break away sessions, and ate until their hearts and bellies were content beyond belief.The participant’s excitement and enthusiasm was the heart beat behind the success of the weekend. Their hard working bodies and hands needed a good fun weekend to connect to their own child spirits! They came from all over South Africa by busses, taxis and trains. Some traveled over night to get there, others came from their townships close by. We were fortunate to book Mangosutho University and even though the professors and staff were on strike, we all entered with ease and grace. For many of the women and men this was the very first time they have ever been to a big city before.

This conference was a 5 star experience for the women and men who attended! We had floral arrangements on the table, conference bags equipped with t-shirts, books and great gifts, crafts, gospel singers, child dancing troupes, DJ music throughout, a Sharon and Bram sing-a-long, a trip to the beach, a braai and the list goes on and on and on! I had some of my Canadian friends there: Vivian Saffer, Kristi Herold, Nicky Potter, Damarise Ste. Marie, Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison. My Swazi brothers came: Nicholas Mamba, Andrew Moyo and Sandile Ndzimandze. And my South Africa Team Joy shone ever so brightly: Sussie, Innocent Sabee Shozi, Sipho Mdletshe, Busi and Mr. Fish. The biggest joy was watching a hundred women run into the ocean for the first time in their lives! It was a humbling and beautiful experience. What a blessed time in my life.

My facilitation team for the conference were between the ages of 23 and 70 years; 50% were Zulu and 50 % were Canadian; 50% were men and 50% were women. This created a brilliant message for the delegates. Simply, any age, stage or nation can connect to the child spirit!

Below is my opening speech. I dressed as a Zulu princess and I spoke in Zulu too.The crowd loved it; actually they went mad with spirited cheers! Thanks to all my supporters, kind hearts and my guardian angels. But most of all thanks to Rachel Compaan who pulled this entire weekend together! Without her dedication and devotion to the cause this journey would not have even started.

Sarina’s Opening Speech

July 1st, 2011

Before I begin the the day I would love to begin with an affirmation for the unfolding of this day: "May today there be peace within all of us throughout the day. May we all trust that we are exactly where we are meant to be. May we use the gifts that we receive during this weekend, and pass on the love and learnings and insights that has been given to us to all the children of our care. Let this new, inspired information and knowledge settle into our bones, and allow our souls the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. Let us remain in deep profound gratitude for all that work and energy that has been put forth so that we may enrich not only our lives but the lives of all of Noahʼs children. "Blessed be and amen!”

Thank you one and all! How beautiful you all are tonight!

You are taking part of an historic event. Never before in South African history, actually in African history, have so many child activity coordinators and Ark Managers have come together for one cause only-- to celebrate and honour child spirit. This event is designed for you so that you can be empowered as well! You are all here: 352 bright hearted individuals! You all touch the lives of 19,422 orphaned and vulnerable children. Imagine that! The benefits of this conference is staggering; almost 20,000 individuals will benefit from this sharing of new information and a new approach that will empower thousands of vulnerable and orphaned children and hundreds of child activity coordinators and child care workers. Are you happy to be here? Yes, are you happy to be here? I am so happy too!

Without the tireless work and support of many individuals this event could not and would not have happened. Firstly I want to thank US AID and PEPFAR for their financial support of this inspired event. With out their support we could not have gathered all of you together. I also want to thank my assistant Damarise Ste. Marie who has been part of this journey for a while. Her assistance has been a huge help to me. I also want to thank Friends of Noah Canada and Nicky Potter for letting my join there forces. It has been through this partnership that I has given me an easier route to all of you and Noah’s children. I want to thank my Team Joy in Swaziland and my Team Joy South Africa for helping me lay down the bricks of possibility for creative programming that touches the true essence of child spirit.

This vision could not have been executed without the tireless work of the Noah South African team. Thank you Karen Krakowitzer for seeing the importance and relevance of this material for Noah’s children. Also a big thanks to Dr. Greg Ash for creating this organization and supporting South African’s most vulnerable and sweet. A big hug to Daisy, Cno, Shku, Bongiwe and Numusa for your work and support too during this time. But the biggest thankyou goest to the biggest force behind this conference and that has been Rachel Compaan! She has single handedly held this vision and has executed all aspects to this conference with hard work, vision and dedication. You have an angel in this woman and I thank her. More gratitude will follow for many more.

I have been working and collaborating with Noah for the since 2005. So far I have trained 30 child activity coordinators, 20 artists and I have integrated my arts based program with The Big Little Caravan of Joy in 7 Arks. Working in the field I discovered that the staff of each Ark delighted in the activities I did with the children. And the children loved it ..So much that it moved me to doing something much bigger. I wanted to create a gathering that brought all of you together.

I wanted to see and touch each and everyone of you. I also wanted the opportunity to say to you that you deserve a big applause and a big thank you for taking the time to replenish, enrich, enlighten and renew your resources to do the most important work on this planet. All of you have been entrusted with the most influential role known to humanity. And there are no accidents. You are here for this relationship that you have with children is put in place to evolve your hearts and souls.

Like you, I’m an early childhood educator, and I never take this simple but profound truth for granted. We, as teachers of children, help create the fabric of who we are and, more importantly, who we will be as communities in the future.

Children are our most precious natural resource - and by “our”, I mean the world’s. Whether here in South Africa or in Canada, where I come from, or anywhere else on this beautiful planet, I truly believe that every positive interaction, thought and feeling that we facilitate for children contributes to a better world - for all of us. The art of teaching children affects eternity.

This conference is titled The Empowered Noah Child. As we move through the weekend we must understand what empowerment means. For the sake of this conference empowerment of a child means: to enable a child to become stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and makingFreedom comes with the liberty of creating and expressing one self. I comes have purpose. The only thing that can really trap the radiant heart, mind and spirit of a child, and a nation are the thoughts that are held in the mind. Unethical behavior, negative thinking, lack of expression, disconnection from community, culture, lack of self.

This of course should be given with love and respect. Deep profound love. The meal that is given to a hungry child alleviates hunger but given in love, the meal fills more than the hunger itself.

The love of the teacher, NGO, artist educator, child care worker equips the child to pass along this gain to others. That is how it works. This kindness and creative opportunity that you give to a child will create a chain reaction. One that many will feel in the future.

Bottom line for me: giving a loving, creative program that meets the needs of the young child is wisdom. For this kind of giving is subject to cause and effect.

But here lies the secret for all the educators in the trenches, wise and loving education comes from wise self love. Or in others words, wise giving comes from wise living.

If we are giving of ourselves we are giving to ourselves. And so this experience is completely for you! I love you all and will remain devoted to your cause for the next five years. Enjoy, celebrate and connect to your playful spirit this weekend. Learn new things and try your best to give them back to the children when you return home!

You are all so beautiful to me. Thank you!

Sarina Condello

Monday, June 27, 2011


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

Dear Friends,

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.

Yours faithfully


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.

Yours Sincerely

Sbusiso Ndzinisa (Principal)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Let's Imagine!

Today is the day of a most historic event titled " The Empowered African Child Conference"! IT is about to be put in ACTION so that the lives of Swazi children will be uplifted to a place of sustainable empowerment and profound joy. I have worked so hard for the last year on this event and also "The Empowered Noah Child Conference". Without the guidance of the beloved Nicholas Mamba I do not think this would be possible to execute with such grace. I humbly thank him for all that he has done. Another big thanks goes to Sandile Ndzimandze who has been working hard in the background, helping us with all the logistics needed in order to put on such an event. And without darling Damarise Ste. Marie I would feel disconnected from the Earth. Simply, I love these Swazi men who have been by my side for the last 2 summers, making sure that this magical change for all the children in this country, would happen during our lifetimes! I thank them humbly for not only looking out for me but for working around the clock to support this work in their country.

I will also be proposing a new program for these children where they will not only imagine themselves entering a place of new-found freedom and joy but in actuality, they will be EXPERIENCING themselves that way! I will end the conference with these words, for it is within the sacred container of the imagination that we begin planting seeds of change and possibility for the future.

Let's Imagine

Let’s imagine that we all give children a chance to speak their truth.

Let’s imagine that we give children time to dance, sing, paint, dance and dance some more.

Let’s imagine that boys, girls, men and women can see the beauty in our differences and the power in our similarities.

Let’s imagine that all Swazi educators, arts educators have time to rest, play, and get the support they need.

Let’s imagine that we all are present for our children and all the children we come across.

Let’s imagine that the system is designed not to judge our days by what our harvest has reaped but by the all the seeds we have all planted.

Let’s imagine that we allowed children to do what they love.

Let’s imagine that charity is an imperative aspect to our society.

Let’s imagine that early childhood education was viewed by our society as the one of the most important professions.

Let’s imagine that we all maintain the capacity for life long wonder.

Who knows? If we play it for all it's worth, we might just make it happen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The times they are a-changin'!

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'!

Today was a great day! Great for so many reasons!

Firstly, we just got GREAT news that the department of Arts and Culture has contributed to our Empowered African Child Conference. If the government is backing this concept then the possibility of this inspired work unfolding with grace and speed is imminent!

Secondly, Team Joy is absolutely on FIRE!! The work we are doing, in this tiny little mountain school, is revolutionary in all ways. Culturally it is relevant and based in the Swazi Arts. The intention to empower all the children, regardless of HIV status or background, is a huge success. It is using a child- driven and child centric curriculum where child participation is 100%!!

And finally, I just finished buying, for the small school Mabheleni, supplies for each of the seven classrooms. This donation will be presented tomorrow at our community show. Costumes, face paint, sets, songs, dances and drama skits will be presented. The topic is playful, imaginative and age appropriate for young children. I feel blessed that I can contribute in this way. All of our fundraising back in Toronto is payed forward in the hope that we empower as many children possible!

This work is about creative play; play in its most authentic form. Play that unleashes the child spirit and creates a springboard for expression of many sorts.

Carl Jung, the famous philosopher said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

Child spirit is what enables children to walk into any space and instantly see a detail that our adult eyes, often conditioned by habit or distracted by other thoughts, no longer see. Child spirit is what propels children to ask so many extraordinary questions about the world they live in and people around them – like “do our toys die when we die?” and “where does wind come from?” Child spirit is what enables a child to play and connect and feel joy, even though one or both of their parents has left their lives so early and isn’t there to nurture, guide, love and bear witness to their lives.

And child spirit doesn’t only reside in children. All of us have child spirit inside of us – we are all born with it. I see it everyday as we are doing this work. Every single teacher that we are working with delights in using the same materials as the children do. They sing the songs, dance the dances with a huge smiles on their faces. For many adults, they have put it away, or had it taken away, consciously or unconsciously. Maybe it’s tucked away in a little box or hidden behind some trees over there - but make no mistake, it’s there in everyone of us, in all of us!

Play is vital. It is an intrinsic and irreplaceable medium that helps children understand the world around them. All of us are born with the ability to play and create. It is one of our greatest gifts. You only have to observe these bright Swazi children while they play and create in this school to see the wonder and power of this gift in its most effervescent and spirited form. This is a gift. A blessing. A joy!

Children are the masters of finding happiness and it is through their play that this is realized. It's what they do. Birds fly, fish swim and children play. It's also the way they learn and acquire cognitive, social and motor skills.

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 continue are work with love, dedication and joy. I look forward to tomorrow's tomorrow and the tomorrow of Swazi's future in art education for the young child!


Monday, June 20, 2011

Swaziland is ready for a bright, buoyant and creative transformation!

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!