Tuesday, 11 August 2015

NAS Visits Bofa Community, Kilifi

A “Fruitful” Day Oneby Suzzanne Pautler

Two of the Necessary Arts volunteers flew from the USA to Dubai where they spent 36 hours unpacking, and then repacking, to prepare themselves to travel to Kenya.  One can imagine their levels of exhaustion, jet lag, and travel woes. Yet as they drove into the Tulia compound, they were surrounded by orange hues of the sunset, row after row of papaya trees bearing green fruit, sweet aromas of the flowering bushes, and soft water falling in the nearby pool.  Added to the mix was a charming caravan of Kenyan hosts who wished them "Karibu" over and over, while inviting them to partake in freshly made passion fruit juice, orange juice, guava juice, or the magical mixed fruit cocktail of hibiscus, guava and passionfruit.  "Tulia" is the Swahili word for relax and this is exactly how the two volunteers responded. 

Early the next morning, a canvas tent was erected in the yard, next to guava trees, cilantro bunches, hibiscus plants, and lemongrass.  A sickle was used to trim the grass, and patio chairs appeared. Necessary Arts is blessed to have the support of wonderful friends around the world, including the Fedhas, whose beautiful gardens quietly transformed into a stage for the local village children to share their voices and stories.

Slowly, the village children arrived to the gate and tentatively greeted every one. Murmurs of Swahili gently fluttered through the air as each student found a chair.  Our group of actors consisted of 15 individuals, ranging from the ages of 12-40. We decided to begin with some non-verbal warm-up activities.  I wish I could say they were a huge success.  We began with "the wave" where one person performs an action, which must then be repeated by each individual as the action makes its way around the circle.  Few understood that they had to wait for the person to their left to make the motion before they could.  We then introduced "the lake" where each person was required to cross the lake in the middle of our circle, while playing varying roles of fishermen, boats, frogs, and seagulls, for example.  Our group of actors began to loosen up a bit and seemed comfortable acting silly.  It was time to introduce language.  We played a seemingly simple game of chanting from #1-10.  When the rules changed to include counting from #10-1, many stumbled.  We laughed, clapped, and kept the rhythm the best we could.  Eventually, eye contact with one student was required to know who would count next. Inevitably, eye contact was made with at least six students each time, so we never really knew who was supposed to count next.

Cool breezes blew through the garden, and our tent provided shade from the intensity of the sunshine.  We were warm, but ready to move forward with the next set of activities.  An abstract word would be defined by each ensemble group through a dramatic performance.  Our three groups chose to explore the concepts of "peace, "responsibility, and "community". 

The final performance piece from the "community" group touched my heart.  Five children toiled in the soil.  They looked exhausted from the hard work and physical labor, but were rewarded when their fruit trees grew.  As they harvested the guavas, they started to sit down and eat them, but realized this was not right.  Instead they shared a piece of guava with each member of the audience, because this is what it means to be a community.  "A community works for something and then shares it with everyone in the large group."

We discussed how the ideas of "peace", "responsibility", and "community" were essential to create the environment we want to live in.  Our students made personal connections and were therefore able to define the words within the context of Kilifi. Our "responsibility" team reminded us that each person in Kilifi must play a role in making it a beautiful place to live.  The youth groups plant trees, clean compounds and visit the elderly to do just this.  Our "peace" team shared that it is important to interact together in the markets, and to share food with the poor people in the village so that everyone can live in peace.  Our "community" team suggested that volunteering to build school, hospitals, and roads is important, as is planting crops that can bear fruits to assist the people in the village.  Collectively, they confirmed that we are all brothers and sisters and must work together to live in peace and harmony. 

We concluded the workshop with a deep sense of gratitude toward the students for sharing with us, invited them to return tomorrow for the second workshop, and then said good-bye.  They responded by sitting down in the chairs again.  We were not sure if it was a cultural or linguistic mis-communication, and not knowing what to do, we simply joined them.  And after a few minutes, we realized that this was the perfect response.  Why not sit in the shade of a beautiful garden and relax for a minute?  Eventually the students walked over to the guava tree and helped themselves to the fruit.  Once their shirts and skirts could hold no more fruit, they slowly exited the compound in groups of two and three to walk home, ideally sharing their bountiful guavas with each member of the community.

Understanding the Value of a Good Education
by Suzzanne Pautler

At the conclusion of yesterday's workshop, we encouraged the 15 participants to return today along with their friends, brothers, and sisters.  This morning, 27 bright and smiling faces entered the gate for our second day of drama activities.  We decided to begin our day again with some non-verbal group activities.  Students were divided into groups to create "the human knot".  Not one group could untangle themselves, and therefore, they refused to believe it was possible.  Teresa and I created a human knot with one of the young girls to prove that it could be accomplished.  In response, each group copied us by breaking up into groups of three so that they too could achieve success.

All participants enjoyed "the wave" activity again today due to the physical rhythmic component, and they surprised us by following the order of movement perfectly!  We tried to create a "one word story" where each student in the circle could offer only one word at a time.  The groups were able to create sentences one word at a time, but their ideas never truly developed into a story.  Finally, after a quick game of "charades", we were ready to try working with a script.

"The Fisherman and his Sea of Dreams" requires only 6 characters. Therefore we had 4-5 students acting as each character.  The first task was to highlight their character's lines, and of course, using those bright markers was a treat!  Then each small group had to read aloud all of their highlighted lines.  The final challenge was to bring the small groups together to do a choral reading of the entire script.  It is obvious that this is a task familiar to their learning styles. 

The concluding message of the play is that the fisherman simply wanted everyone else to be happy.  To follow this topic, we asked each character group to write about what makes them happy.  Each group mentioned that "having a good education" makes them happy.  One student added that his "nearness to school" makes him happy, while another suggested that "being sponsored for education" would make anyone happy.  Another popular response included variations of the "whole village living in harmony", "living in peace in our country", and "to live happily with neighbors".  A few more that I like include "have a house", "have clothes", "play football", and "good work done by the people".  In my opinion, one of the most profound statements was that "I am happy because I get all the rights as a child".  As I read this list of things that make these Kenyan students happy, I wonder how the list would vary by country.  Would other students around the world have written a similar list?

Our workshop ended with further harvesting of guavas along with promises of returning again tomorrow for Day 3 of the drama workshop!

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