Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Grasshopper and the Ant

By Suzzanne Pautler

The shining sun has dried up all the rain, well, most of the rain!  The streets were wet, but completely passable today.  The brightness of the sunshine matched the positive energy and love that welcomed us back to Jeho this morning.  After a few warm up activities, the older children went upstairs to continue working on their monologues, while I stayed inside with the younger children to work with the drama scripts.   

After enjoying each other's laughter and smiles while we highlighted our lines, we put away the markers and got to work. We are performing Aesop’s fable “The Grasshopper and the Ant,” and even though Necessary Arts hasn’t worked with the children for five days, they still remember all of their memorized lines!  I suppose their great success with this activity is that they study under an educational system which supports rote learning.  Likewise, the students are fantastic at choral reading, which is probably a common classroom task.  The morale of the fable is that we must help out our friends by working together.  The morale spoke to these children as it seems to be a life motto they grasp and live by.  

After two hours, the older and younger groups united, and we shared with them seedless dates from Dubai. They had never tasted dates before. I was pleasantly surprised that every date was eaten!  We then welcomed the children to perform their many talents for us on stage.  Since today is December 22, several Christmas carols were shared, including Feliz Navidad, as were various other songs and dances.  The children have no hesitation, nor feel any embarrassment to perform.  Their self-confidence is bountiful, as is their passion for life.  Necessary Arts always enjoys returning to Jeho, as we empower the students to realize their full potential. They are becoming confident, productive, and innovative contributors to society.

Monday, 21 December 2015

“Rescue Me”

By: Le’Jon A. Payne

The visit to the Kajiado Girls school was an interesting experience. The girls were all very different. They seemed disengaged when we arrived. As if they were trying to figure out who we were. They all asked for Naima and to hear about her brought great excitement to their eyes. They remembered the last time she visited and wanted to work with her again. I thought this was truly a great reflection on the impact of the Necessary Arts Outreach program.

The girls began to share their likes with us. I was amazed at how many girls had a love for poetry and enjoyed writing their own original pieces. One of the girls recited her poem “The English Language” for us. Everyone listened eagerly and applauded. We then began to work on our objective in small groups. Students were going to create a monologue on a moment in their life, good or bad where they had to make a change. I was astonished and confused because the girls all began to write the same story-line “ I love my school, I like it here, the end.”  Now, I have worked in education for over 11 years, and I have never had a group write the exact same theme, at the exact same time and it be authentic. This struck concern within me, I was very curious as to why, this was the beginning sentence for everyone. Almost as if they had done this activity before. Don’t misunderstand me, of course it is possible for all of the girls to love their school and like where they are, but all of the girls were asked to write about a pivotal moment, a moment of change in their life. These girls were very intelligent and could communicate effectively. I asked them again, did they understand what I was asking them to do and they replied yes and some could explain what I wanted them to do in English and in their mother tongue.  I encouraged the girls to write more and discuss their pivotal moment, but I came up with nothing…Nothing, silence, blank looks and deep stares. Was I being effective? Was I creating an environment where the girls felt safe? I began to feel that our exchange was not genuine and that we were not making gains.

One of the girls whispered in my ear that she wanted to talk to me alone. She explained to me that she did like her school and where she was living and that she came there because her father tried to kill her because she was the only girl left in the family. I listened patiently to her, as she expressed herself, without judgement. She went on to explain her life story. She described being rescued and brought to the home she was now in. This young woman, was very courageous. I decided to spend more time with the girls in an informal manner allowing them to just talk to me about whatever they wanted. We went outside and played in the backyard. They began to become various characters and started posing as these characters as I took pictures and allowed them to take pictures too. They enjoyed this experience and their faces were bright and I could tell they were happy. Other girls began to open up to me and explained in their culture young girls were sold into marriage as young as 8 years old and a few of them had ran away to escape being married to old men. I asked the girls if we could write some more to add on to their monologues and they agreed. Some of them wrote a few more lines and that was it. I tried to get them to perform their monologues, but they would only perform for me, they didn't feel comfortable in front of a group. I respected that.

After spending time with the girls outside I felt refreshed. I felt like I was able to make authentic connections with them and I looked forward to working with them again. We came back inside and played Kenyan Idol, where the girls had the opportunity to perform. Many of the girls were too shy to perform. So we began to wrap up the day. I went over to hug the girls that shared with me, I was excited and I wanted to assure them I would return to work with them more. As I smiled and said to the first young woman who opened up to me about being rescued, “Give me a hug, I’m getting ready to go,” she looked into my eyes, she did not smile, she did not frown, but with a straight face she said “you're leaving?” I explained to her that the activities were over and it was time for me and the Necessary Arts team to leave, she sat in her seat frozen. She did not move. After many moments of silence, she looked me in my eyes and said again, “you're leaving?” It was almost as if she did not expect me to go, or she did not want me to leave, her posture made me feel like she was saying something, but I could not understand. I asked her for a hug again and received no response. My departure was the same as my entrance, empty void, but there was nothing I could do. The other girls smiled and gave me a hug as we gave our goodbyes. I looked back into the crowd to see if I could see this young woman who had been “rescued” and brought to this rescue facility, but I couldn't, she was gone. In my heart I wished I could have done more, but there was nothing left to do, but say, “goodbye.” 

The Power of A Single Shared Story

By: Paula Peters

She began by saying, “My mother brought me here to protect me from the others who wanted to harm me. My village - Namanga is 190 km away and so we stole away by car late in the night. The car was driven by a man I did not know. Although I have 5 brothers and 4 younger sisters, I was the only one who needed protecting. I was lost and for a long time did not know why I had to be ripped away from those I knew and who knew me best.” This is one of many similar stories.

The girls of Kajaido differ from those of the other two students groups with whom Necessary Arts interacted. Their struggles are personal, revolving around traditional beliefs. While working with a group of three young Maasai girls, I discovered they all had very similar stories that were rooted in outdated and misguided reasonings of what it means to protect children. Since many Maasai families cannot afford to give their children formal schooling, they ‘protect’ their daughters from lives of poverty by choosing to marry them off at a young age. Because Maasai girls are traditionally considered children until they are circumcised, it is seen as imperative for a Maasai girl to undergo the circumcision rite before she is married. This strongly ingrained cultural belief propels families to go to great lengths to complete the circumcision. Thankfully in all three girls’ cases, someone in the village, be it a mother, an elder or neighbor decided to break tradition, at great personal risk, to give these girls another choice; an education.

Today, the Necessary Arts team helped these girls find a voice to share a single story. I got the feeling that although they have lived together for sometime, share a dormitory, slept in beds side by side, eaten meals with each other and learned to read and write in English together, they did not know each others story. Working in small groups, being guided through a series of exercises geared to tap deep inside one’s self and explore ‘who you are and what you want the world to see’, provided these girls with the opportunity to truly connect with each other and to discover the comfort of a single shared story.

Today’s experience allowed them to ‘reach’ deep within themselves in ways that were unreachable before. Sharing monologues allowed for the development of empathy and give these girls a vehicle to legitimize their fears, communicate their histories, tribal cultures and identities.

Valentina - The Poet

By Jannick Peters

Today, we visited a school for girls which included a church and housing. The main reason the facilities exist is to protect girls from acts of violence such as child marriage, FGM, rape, and murder. Even though they have come from terrible situations, the girls are happy and bright, but a bit shy. 

I connected with one girl in particular, named Valentina. Valentina is 16 like me, and walks with a confidence that is not common with these girls — which is probably due to all they have gone through. She was very interested in my story, and very open to sharing about herself. Even after a few small interactions, I can tell that we would be very good friends if we lived in the same place. She is interested in the arts like me, and especially enjoys poetry. She recited a poem called “The English Language” that was witty yet powerful. It discussed the difficulties of learning the language when so many words have multiple meanings that are completely different, like copper, which she explained can be a rude word for a policeman, or a pan in the kitchen. I left the school wishing that I had spoken to her longer. 

On the bus ride home, once again I thought about my privilege. I have so many opportunities for success and oftentimes I take it for granted. Valentina, like so many of the kids we have met in our journey so far, has the will and desire to work hard, yet has all this weight on her back, keeping her down. Not only that, there is not very much in place to help them climb the staircase to success and true freedom, which for them has steps that are 10 feet tall.

This lead to me thinking how I could help. The first thing that came to my mind, was the no-brainer, money. Yet I’m a bit skeptical about that method of help. How much of the money will actually get to the people who need it? And when they do get the money, who is responsible for putting toward the things that they need? In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure that money is the solution to these problems; I believe they are much more complicated than that. These young ladies need a support structure. Many, if not all of them, do not have families, which is undoubtedly extremely valuable. For a lot of the them, after high school, it is quite unlikely that they will continue on to university. Under all of this, they have all these issues that they have dealt with or are dealing with, that surely have an impact on their mental health which directly and adversely affects their success.

Again, this shows me that drama is extremely valuable to their well-being. I’m glad to be a part of this Necessary Arts experience in providing them with that support, and I hope in the coming months I can think of and implement ideas to help all of these well deserving young ladies out in meaningful ways all the way from Chennai.  

Always in my Heart

by Suzzanne Pautler

En route to the school which supports girls rescued from their tribe, the Necessary Arts team admired the peaceful landscape of the Maasai; the cattle, the fields, the colors of a morning just waking up. Upon our arrival, a few hours of performance work ensued, with the girls acting quite shyly.  Though in the end, a few girls took a risk and volunteered to share their monologues, describing a pivotal moment in their lives.

One dear girl explained the heartbreak she felt when she and her one year old brother were separated. She had acted as his caretaker and mother since his birth and she did not want to let him go.  Rather than allowing the sadness to consume her, she made a conscious effort to look for the positive in the situation; the positive being that her baby brother will receive total care and will live in a safer environment.  Although she misses him every day, he is always in her heart.  She is optimistic they will reunite one day.

Upon our departure, a protest took place between the Maasai and the police over a road that has yet to be built, despite years of promises.  The demonstration took place across the highway, stopping cars from moving in either direction. It lasted for 6 hours, but we were delayed by only 3 hours.  All around our van were trucks full of goats, police military, and pedestrians going about their business.  As I sat there, I recollected the peaceful morning.  What happened to that image?  How did the day change so quickly? No matter, I cannot allow the inconvenience of the protest to be my final memory of today’s visit. 

Two of the objectives of the Reach the Unreachable project are to promote personal development through creative expression and to promote successful communication in the English language. The girls achieved both objectives today through the monologue project. The students shared that they feel strong, secure, and brave while standing in front of a crowd. Their self-confidence is strengthening, while empowering them to realize their full potential. Let this be my final memory of today’s experience, while keeping the girls always in my heart.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

More and More I see Drama is a Necessary Art

Drama is a Necessary Art
by Jannick Peters

We are sitting down for tea with George, a refugee from Sudan whose school we’ve just come from, and I can already tell is a hero. Yet even when he was sitting right in front of me this evening, it was difficult to truly understand the things he went through. He spoke about how he had no other choice but to become a soldier at age 12. He slaved away from 1990 to 1997, when he was shot in the leg and then taken to a hospital for 5 months. The most compelling part of his story was when he said that even though he might be hungry in Kenya, at least he knows that tomorrow he will wake up and he can look for food. George explained that when he was a soldier in Sudan, every night when he went to sleep, he didn’t know if he would wake up the next day. This constant paranoia combined with everything else must have been so torturous. It’s hard to believe that the smiling, confident, and ambitious man sitting in front of me is the man in these difficult stories.

When LeJon asked George to pass her the salt, he mentioned how when they had no food in Sudan, they would add a bit of salt to some water and drink it for dinner almost like a broth. As he said this, my view behind him was of a seemingly endless stretch of Lexus after Benz after BMW. There were all these foreigners in fancy clothes strutting around, and George didn’t even want us to pay for his snack.

After both my visits with the JEHO and Sud Academy, a common theme has emerged. Everyone who has gone through hardship has a sincere and powerful desire to help. George has already shown this through the school he is running, even though he has his own struggles. His students, even though they are my age or younger, talk about how they want to create world peace by stopping conflicts, both in Sudan and in the Middle East. They talk about how they wish to become humanitarians, and secure successful jobs so that they may one day give back to the people in need and honor those that have helped them get to where they are. Children from JEHO talk about the same, though their lens is that through education and faith in God, they can be —will be —successful.

Drama certainly has a helped these kids in ways that money simply can’t. Through drama, they are able to connect with their emotions and process all that they have gone through. Drama helps them open up from being the shy and bashful kids they are when we walk into the expressive, emotive, and introspective individuals they are by the end of our short session. In many ways, drama is therapy to these kids. As the week unfolds, I am seeing more and more that it truly is a Necessary Art.

"With my new confidence I can speak loudly and bravely and help others to listen!”

by Paula Peters

Our mission to ‘ Reach the Unreachable’ continued today with a visit to the SUD Academy. SUD Academy was established in 2006 to give refugee Sudanese children the key to a brighter future; education. When asked, “how do you keep your students motivated,” school’s principal, George Manyang Buoch, who himself was a ‘Lost Boy of Sudan’ responded, “I remind them that they are lucky and life for them is much better than it was for thousands of boys and girls from Sudan during the civil war. I remind them that even though they may go to bed hungry, they will rise the next day with the hope that things will get better because they live in a safe country with the chance of learning to read, write and communicate.”

Through conversation, we learned that most of the 250 students of SUD Academy live in extended home circles where they are given a sense of safety. Their physical needs are met, even if in the most basic ways. They do have a sense of safety and the school along with relationships with each other, their teachers and their principal help with their sense of belonging.
So the question most likely on your mind is, “How does the work of Necessary Arts impact the lives of these students?”. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs state that self- actualization or a person’s motivation to reach his or her full potential is directly connected to one’s self-esteem, confidence, and creativity.  Being exposed to the performing arts help these students build that self-confidence and spontaneity needed for self-actuation.

Today we spent two hours working on creating monologues of pivotal moments in our lives. During a guided session, students were exposed to the power of nonverbal communication and visualizing before starting to write their own scripts focusing on the theme: This is who I am, this is who I want to be and this is what I want to the world to see.   

Just before our time with these amazing youngster was over were able have some students presented their monologues and once again they demonstrated a level of articulation of feeling that we did not expect. Using the simple techniques learning earlier in the day, they confidently expressed the desire to make a difference to their families, their communities and in their own lives because as one young man eloquently stated’ If I don’t make a difference then who will? With my new confidence I can speak loudly and bravely and help others to listen!”