Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Swarming like Bees

Cars and matatus overwhelm the streets of Nairobi and create traffic back ups which last for hours.  Upon leaving the chaos of the city, we immediately exhaled and slowed down. In the Masai Mara, cattle roam and large pastures of land stretch endlessly. After stopping for an afternoon meal of nyoma choma of goat and chicken, along with sides of ugali, spinach, tomatoes, and mokimo, we arrived at the rehabilitation and educational center whose motto is to "to become the best institution for academic and spiritual excellence". Although shy to greet us, approximately 75 boys and girls dressed in gingham uniforms began to swarm like bees, and within minutes attached themselves to us.

"What is your name?" "Where are you from?" "Where is your husband?" We were bombarded with questions, hand holding, and warm welcomes. Some of the students were able to speak English fluently, while others could not respond to our simple questions but shared a blank face.  All were anxious to interact in whatever manner they could and we immediately made a lot of new friends and inherited several daughters. To transition into accomplishing our goal of stimulating minds through artistic expression, we invited the children to participate in a variety of drama activities.

Unsurprisingly, the non-verbal drama activities gathered a huge audience with high levels of participation. After repeated efforts to try to create small groups of only 10 students, we always ended up with at least 25; a flowing sea of colorful sweaters, big smiles, shaved heads, huge white teeth, an equal number of brown teeth, and shoes bursting at the seams. The eagerness and joy in being involved in new challenges was intoxicating.  The verbal activities attracted a huge audience as well, but only some could participate while the rest hung around the periphery, eager to be a part of the excitement.  As time passed, it was apparent that students would smile and act as if they understood what we were asking of them, but realistically they could not respond independently to verbal directions, at least not until a physical example was shown.

The groups worked through the games and activities in a small patch of dried grass near the hanging laundry. Sadly, the lack of clothespins encouraged the free flow of the clean clothing to land on the ground.  The youngest students were challenged with a group activity to count rhythmically from #1-10 and from #10-1.  Three groups emerged: those who could accomplish the task easily, those who struggled with the counting, and those who were simply in attendance.  Peals of laughter occurred in response to students trying to count backwards from #1-10, but even without stating the proper numbers, rhythm was kept. The concept of eye contact was introduced into the activity. Participants had permission to verbally respond only to the person who made the non verbal connection with his eyes. The student leaders caught onto the concept and explained the idea in Swahili so everyone could comprehend. The entire group had smiles pasted on their faces all afternoon. For the final activity, students were asked to choose 2-3 words to describe themselves in being a good person within their community.  "I'm a good person because I like to help my friends." "Help is your word." "I'm a good person because I say my prayers for everyone." "Prayers is your word." These special words accumulated and were then added to the original counting challenge.

Meanwhile, the older female students who had worked with NA during previous visits completed written responses to questions asking why they like and what they have learned from drama. Their answers, although thoughtful, included non-grammatical statements like "I learned how have confident".  The girls gathered outside in a tight circle near the fallen laundry, where they were asked to define the words "global" and "citizen".  No one knew the meaning of the word global, nor did they have any reference to the word globe, though they had greater success with the word citizen; "a citizen is a person living", "where they are from".  The students were asked to think how the words global, citizen and community relate, and what made each girl a good person in her community.  The thinking taking place was obvious in the face of the girl with the grey sweater who finally asked, "Naima, are you talking about what makes us a good person in our culture?"

With further prompting, the girls were asked if it is a peaceful community where they live because it certainly looks peaceful.  The girl in the grey sweater adamantly replied, "No, it is not peaceful for girls. When a girl turns 9 in my community, she has to get married.  A girl's life is not peaceful." Another young girl contradicted this by stating "It is peaceful!"  Since the students disagreed, they were asked to create images with their bodies, no words allowed, to demonstrate peace and non-peace. They accomplished this first in pairs, and then in groups of four. Finally, the group was asked to share a true story to share how a nine year old girl does not live in peace. The girls had a private conversation in Swahili and then shared the following. "The wife lose the sheep and the husband come home and (mimics beating)." The girls were able to act a tableau of the story with the sweetest of the group crouched on the ground acting as sheep.  The conversation tried to raise an awareness that the girls are part of a community, of Kijiado, of Kenya, of Africa, and of the whole world.

These students have faced great struggles in their lives, including traumatic experiences that no one should ever have to, especially not a young child.  NA attempts to reach the unreachable children coming from multilingual and multicultural backgrounds. This workshop was dynamic, and the students proved the need for such work through their interest, excitement and success. NA is committed to reaching its students, especially those at primary school level because with such a foundation of understanding, they will influence and create the change needed for their generation.

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