Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Big Little Caravan hits Burkina Faso with Effusive JOY!

“I alone cannot change the world, 
but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” 
Mother Teresa

Many ripples of light, happiness, joy and child spirit cascaded through the rural regions of Burkina Faso this fall. Many people ask "Burkina what ?" not knowing much about this small French speaking country. Burkina Faso is geographically landlocked in by six countries: Mali to the north, Niger to the east, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and Ivory Coast to the southwest. The country’s name means "the land of upright people the native language of Moore and Dioula, and this was certainly the case during our tour, with the citizens of this warm hearted country.

Sponsored and hosted by the SEMAFO Foundation, headed by the indestructible Chantal Guerin, The Big Little Caravan of Joy visited 5 rural communities including: Fofina- Bissa, Dangouna, Wona A, Wona B and Somana, providing the village children with an arts-based program that reached over 1,000 very happy kids, from September 13 - October 8, 2013.
With 15 team African regional team members consisting of artists that ranged from 4 grandmothers, 3 youth, 8 adults and 3 Canadian artists, Team Joy Burkina Faso stood 18 strong with a sense of playful purpose designed specifically for the sweet children in these regions.

Our team roster composed of: Bailey Davis, Damarise Ste. Marie, Sarina Condello, Vincent Millogo, Dao Lassina, Taro Ibrahim, Dao Madou, Dao Amada, Doa Arouna, Dao Moussa, Konate Djeneba, Dao Harouna, Dao Hamidou, Dao Yacouba, Konate Sema, Unosa, Oumou, Bintou and Ramatou.

The adventure began with a few gatherings to meet the head masters, elders and artists of these regions, which then culminated with workshop entitled: The Empowered Burkina Faos Child. Over 30 artists and educators attended.

With 500 costumes in tow, a massive parachute, art supplies for 1,000 peanuts and a few sets of magical drums, our Big Little Team Joy traveled daily to and from the chosen communities down dusty roads whilst all team members piled up with the supplies in the back of a pick up truck.

At the end of our tour all supplies, costumes and play equipment were donated to the Wona B so that they joy and creativity for the children could continue after we left.
Here are some great shots of our process and some of our final shows as well!

In total over 1,000 people came out during the month to watch our shows! 
Each show concluded with a merengue party mixed with some traditional dancing and cake. 
A highlight of our time held together in Burkina Faso, were the two parties hosted by the Big Little Caravan of Joy; one party was for the cleaning staff at our base camp and  the other one was for the Team Joy's staff where each and every member received a fabulous loot bag filled with goodies that were donated from friends in Canada!

This year our most generous and kindhearted sponsors included:

Thank you to Pierre Vaillancourt for creating this possibility!!

The Bedford Park Players
 The Summerhill Players
SEMAFO Foundation
The Kevin Sullivan and Family Foundation
Kristi Herold
Way Off Broadway’s Wizard of Oz
Beverley Shukyn
Sarah Ferris
Vivian Saffer
Trudy White
Randi Kirshenbaum
Ruth Condello
Gail Leger
Antonio DeGregorio
Master Reza Ghasry
...and many more generous individuals who donated, ran lemonade stands, wrote cheques and contributed financial offerings in our donation buckets at our shows--I thank you on behalf of the Team Joy Burkina Faso and the innocent children who partook in the celebration of playful joy!

The Little Big Tour of The Big Little Caravan of Joy of 2013-14

Next year’s tour will be the biggest to date. The vision is to visit all the countries that the Caravan of Joy has visited which includes: The First Nations Reserves of Northern Ontario, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and then to sprinkle some light in Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi and Ethiopia! The tour will last for 14 months and will reach close to 10,000 children. Fundraising for this unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime tour will begin January of 2013. The tour will kick off July of 2013 as the Caravan will once again journey into the remote regions of our Canadian North and continue to the heart of Africa. 

Sarina Condello

“Do not follow where the path may lead. 
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” 
 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Big Little Caravan in Rio de Janeiro!

Brazil’s Keynote: Let Them Play!

On August 30th, 2012 I had the privilege and honour to speak at the National Brazilian Kid’s Film Festival Conference held in Rio De Janeiro. My keynote speech, an interactive address in fact, had two objectives: to make relevant the importance of play in childhood, and to profile the work of The Big Little Caravan of Joy which is dedicated to carrying out play-inspired experiences for children in Africa and on First Nations reserves. Mark Greenspan, who is the executive director of operations at Achilles Media, introduced me to the festival directors, Carla Camurati and Carla Esmeralda  in the spring of 2012 and with the support of the Consulate General of Canada, Sanjeev Chowdhury of Brazil, my attendance became a possibility. Below are some excerpts of my speech which embraced the notion that it is the right of all children to engage in playful and imaginative experiences as part of their childhood.

 August 30, 2012
Before I start the the day I would love to begin with an affirmation for the unfolding of this day:
"May there be peace within all of us throughout this conference. May we all trust that we are exactly where we are meant to be. May we use the gifts of connections and teachings that we receive as a result of our time together in Brazil at FICI, and pass on the love and learnings that has been given to you for the children of your countries. Let’s allow this new knowledge and connections that we make during this time to settle into our bones, and allow our souls the freedom to sing, dance, create, tell stories, praise and love.”
What a pleasure it is to be here today to be part of the FICI Before I launch into my address let me applaud and extend my gratitude to the following people:
Mark Greenspan
Carla Camurati  and Carla Esmeralda
Canadian Consulate General of Canada, Sanjeev Chowdry for bringing me here and who supports this talk in that it address the rights of children and creating a better world environments for these children. 
And for all of you: parents, film makers, creators of stories, educators, producers and we love children! I want to also say a special hello to: two NGOs that I visited yesterday. Scott Miles- project Favela and Ricardo Ramos from Rocinha Surf School. 
All of us here in this room, and we all love children being part of a film festival, have been entrusted with the most influential role known in society and that is to support the minds and hearts of children to become compassionate and autonomous individuals. We as producers, story tellers, children film makers, festival producers, educators, artists and parents all create the fabric of whom we are and who we will be communities in the future.
Each and everytime I stand in the presence of a child-- I do no take this for granted. This presentation is has its roots in the belief that every positive interaction, thought, feeling and experience that we facilitate and create for children contributes to a better world.

SIMPLY, The art of of inspiring a child simply affects eternity.
My objective in addressing you all is three fold
1.To unleash the buoyant, joyful nature of children within this sharing session together and also address how mindfulfully and fiercely protective we must be to uphold childhood as a sacred and formative stage in a lifetime.
2.To define the importance and relevance of creative play and describe how suspending the imagination for a child can be an empowering tool for self confidence and success.
3. Share with you my work with my beloved charity The Big Little Caravan of Joy.
But before we begin in the spirit of the child everyone stand up!
Let’s move our energy together so that we can create a space for inspiration and joyful sharing and learning.
Not just listen with our ears but listen with our hearts..
Repeat after me: Ajugaja
Doesn’t that feel great! Changes the energy in the space immediately. Suspends joy in the air and makes us feel so alive.
I want to show you a 30 second video of joyful connection in a FAVELA just yesterday morning. I had the honour to visit some NGOs to meet the children. In this clip, I am a stranger, the children had known me for 30 seconds. I do not speak the children’s language, they do not speak mine for the most part.
My tag line: borrowed from Garry Landreth (2002) chants: Birds fly, fish swim and children play."
Children require playful and creative experiences that are meaningful in order for them to feel connected, engaged and inspired. Understanding these creative and holistic indicators, goals, and activities ultimately support child development in self, relationships, resilience, emotional literacy and aesthetics.
As adults we are able to verbalize things that are important to us, in ways that mean we can be understood and listened to. Children’s language is the language of play.
The significance of play in children's lives has been written about for centuries. Children are darlings that are in the dynamic process of development. They are growing cognitively, physically and emotionally.
They also have an inherent ability in understanding the magic and animistic nature of life. For them there is no difference or separation between conscious and unconscious. They can play with inner connections between themselves, events in their lives, natural and imaginative kingdoms.
New order begins to emerge from their disorder and chaos when they draw from their own misfortunes to engage in story. For me, the key force in creating new pathways toward working with all children, especially children that are traumatized, is the utilization of imagination and human stories!
From my travels in many countries I have observed that there are four universal healing salves: singing, dancing, silence and story telling! Paying attention to stories whether they are myth like in nature or in film form in spirit re-awakens a sense of awe hope and possibility.
It is how such stories are illuminated and heard that honours the resources of human love and universal support for change.
The reality is that we were all born with the ability to play and create. It is a gift to all of us. You only have to observe children while they play to see this gift and force in its most effervescent and spirited form. A refrigerator box can turn into a boat, house, car, fort...
Children are the masters of finding joy and it is through their play this is realized. It's what they do. It's also the way they learn, 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 opened. This heightened awareness enables them to tune their focus and in doing so it guides their work.
Along the way we as a society have squelched the child’s imagination and inner voice that tells them anything is possible. We teach them that there is a right and wrong way to do things. We instill in them that other people have the authority that can override their inner voice. Albert Einstein once said that “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.” However, in our society the intent is to promote the collection of knowledge as opposed to expanding our creative forces and extending our imaginations in the status quo.
Perhaps one of the greatest crimes society commits against a child’s creativity is robbing the child of such time to explore and play in their world. We value creativity then we blatantly try to steal it away from children in the contexts of their educational experiences and recreational time. The statistics on the obliteration of play for children are stupefying. We must not be oblivious to this.
According to these many studies, young children between 2 and 5 years of in urban environments can spend more than 6-8 hours in front of a screen. By the time an average adult turns 20 he or she will have spent close to two full years (24 hours a day) of his or her life in front of the television or computer. This is clearly of international concern and will only grow more relevant as our society transforms to a fully digital one where electronic technology expands its reach into every essence of our lives.
The results?
Children aren’t playing as they use to anymore. With greater reliance on cars, sedentary entertainment: TV, video and computer games, safety concerns related to outside free play our children are not exploring their environments. Play patterns for children have transformed into a very passive state- sitting and staring.
Play is so important to overall child development that the  United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as the right of every child.
This birthright is challenged by forces including child labor war and the limited resources available to children living in poverty.
On the other side of the spectrum many of these children are being raised in Canada are in a system that drives for an increasingly hurried and pressured style. This completely limits child-driven play as well.
We are all born with a child spirit... it is over a course of the time you can see it grow and shrink.
Child spirit is the guiding force of all children, which holds that children are naturally:
Curious Full of Wonder, Creative, Connected, Resourceful Reflective, Loving, Playful, Imaginative, Flexible, Joyful Energetic, Resilient, Vulnerable and Innocent. This list goes on.
Empowering the Child
The main goal of putting so much thought into programming our with children is to instill in them a sense of empowerment. This includes supporting the development of their self-esteem, helping to build their confidence, and allowing them to find their place in the world and creating a positive relationship with their environment. Empowered children will grow up to change the world!
What do we mean by the empowerment of children?
By this we mean making children stronger and more confident so that in return they have control of their lives. This includes decision making from an informed place where can then make self assured decisions in the future that will enable them to evolve and thrive.
Ways to empower the child:
1. Provide positive reinforcement. Always listen to and acknowledge the child.
2. Clearly delegate responsibility and give the child authority along with the responsibility.
3. Be clear in your communication. When you express goals or explain projects, be sure the child really understands what you are asking for.
4. Show you have trust in your child. Allow them to make mistakes as a form of learning. Let them know you really support their decisions.
5. Look. Listen. Look again.
6. Be interested in the child’s development.
7. Be a coach. This is a process of developing their skills and providing them specific feedback to meet high standards. Be their coach and lead the child to success!
8. Enjoy, celebrate and guide them to express their unique personalities and spirits.
9. Increase self awareness by verbalizing and helping your child understand feelings.
Ask questions such as “how did that make you feel?”, “what do you think you should try to do?”, “what do you want to be able to do?”
10. Focus on solutions together. For older kids with good verbal skills, ask questions to encourage them to explore their own solutions to problems. Then encourage them to choose a solution and follow through. Offer support along the way.

The Big Little Caravan of Joy a name that reflects the spirit of the Caravan. It is Big in vision and heart. It is little in that it is grass roots and visits little people. Caravan for it visits and packs up and moves to another community. And joy for that what the journey unleashes for the child, community and facilitators. Joy is like happiness but it is a much deeper experience. In the search for happiness we tend to focus on the self. Joy is an experience that moves a person out of the self centeredness and provides alignment with others.
Joy can sustain us and that is why I have dedicated my life in connecting others to ways of connection to joy!