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