Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Promises of Peace One Day

By Suzzanne Pautler

Talk of pelau, bananas, and tamarind juice must have been in the air because prior to our start time of 9:30, 45 participants were already seated and ready to begin the workshop.  In all, 85 participants, the youngest being just two years old, arrived for our final day together. The theme "Perceptions of Peace" was the focus of our four day program and on the final day it seemed fitting to have the older students reflect upon this ideal. Students were asked to write down specific actions they will undertake in order to ensure peace within their community. 
10 year old Mary promises to share what she has, like food, with others. 13 year old Erick will stop fights on the streets. 17 year old Amani promises to be honest. 11 year old Alice will love her friends. 14 year old Jackson will share story books. 13 year old Leah promises she and her friends will play together.  16 year old Emmanuel says we need to pray for all people who are in need in order to find peace in the community. 13 year old Zaiwadi suggests that we must love and be proud of our community. 9 year old Furaha wishes we could all dance together. 13 year old Johnson says that peace will come anytime we do good things for our friends. 11 year old Katana thinks we should all sing together to make peace. 11 year old Baraka will visit the sick. 11 year old Amina suggests that peace will come if we eat together.  This was also believed by 13 year old Sophia who said she will invite others to share a meal. 11 year old Neema will make peace by helping an old man. 10 year old Emma says that she will live without fighting because she loves peace. 16 year old Kadzo will bring peace to the community by working together with others. 16 year old Nuru thinks everyone must participate in games and team building activities because they enhance interaction with others which brings peace. 14 year old Sauda believes we must ensure that people participate in all community activities. 11 year old Joyce promises to forgive others. 14 year old Mariana will visit the church to find peace. 12 year old Maureen believes peace will come if we cook together. 10 year old Jamal promises if we dance, play, and chat together, then we will have peace. 11 year old Heri will love his friends and love his parents to make peace.
These are a few examples of the perceptions of peace from the perspective of the youth from the Kenyan coast.  Are these perceptions unique to this area?  Or are these common perceptions that we will hear from youth around the world as we approach the UN's Peace One Day date of September 21st

Monday, 15 August 2016

One Love

By Jeff Quinto

In this vlog Jeff tells us about the highlight of his day 3. Click the link for more.

Our Responsibility is to Take Care of One Another

By Suzzanne Pautler 

A community thrives when its members take care of one another. That sense of community prevails here in Bofa, as evidenced each day. Necessary Arts is offering four days of workshops to the children of the community this week. The participants arrive early, participate fully, and happily recite poetry and sing songs for us. During the workshops, we see older siblings taking care of younger ones without any resentment or attitude. 

Taking care of others and building community is the way of life. Throughout this journey, our dear friends Kerry and George are foremost in our minds as they have offered the beautiful grounds of Tulia for the workshops to take place. With their generosity, the peaceful setting of a garden full of papaya trees, hibiscus bushes, and coconut palms is the perfect shady spot to host 50-85 students.

A local football coach and referee, Furaha, volunteers her time to work with Necessary Arts on each of our visits. She immediately jumps in to translate or to lead an activity whenever an opportunity presents itself. It is obvious that she cares so much for the children of this community.  Zuwadi takes care of the guests staying at the cottage, and also has been instrumental helping with the children this week. No matter the work or chores in which she is involved, whenever a child needs assistance, Zuwadi appears.  She has taken numbers of children back to the toilet, has comforted the sad ones or those not feeling well, and then has walked them back home.

Our friend Answar is an instrumental member of this community. He has many talents and gifts and uses them regularly, not necessarily for his benefit, but for the benefit of the larger group. One area in which he excels is as a master chef of the delicacies of the area. He prepared biryani and beef (75 kilos of each) to feed a wedding party this weekend. And, of course, he invited us to join the party in the park outside of the church.  The next day required him to prepare a similar feast for another wedding. He saved a bit of the biryani and added mutton for us to consume for lunch. Today he prepared an octopus for us with a coconut sauce he made from coconuts cut down and hulled here in the garden this morning. Tomorrow Answar is preparing a lunch for the 80 workshop participants. The menu includes pelau and beef, coleslaw, plantains, and hibiscus juice (also picked from the garden). By no means does he have to prepare meals for us, or for the children to conclude our workshop, but he seems to enjoy taking care of us, as well as all members of the community.  This weekend, Answar took us on a number of errands he needed to accomplish so that we could see more of the community. When we visited the outdoor market, a bus pulled over to ask Answar for assistance. The bus driver needed representation to report a recent accident to the police, and knew Answar would have the poise, confidence and communication skills assist him. Answar is happy to lend a hand to help one of the members of his community.

Today, fifty participants arrived for the third workshop. They were eager to sing and dance "Jambo," sing "One Love" with hand motions, recite their "Let Peace Begin With Me" statements, perform their skits demonstrating peace, and play with the beach balls and skipping ropes provided by Donna Reeves from DAA back in Dubai. No matter the activity, the students all supported one another. I've never met any of their parents as the students walk over each morning and back home mid-day. The parents place great trust in us by allowing their children to participate in the workshops, an opportunity to spend the morning in an environment outside of church or school with three native speakers of English.

It is an honor to arrive as a stranger, yet feel so welcomed into the community.  We are truly blessed and full of gratitude to all members of the community who have reminded us of the importance of getting to know our neighbors and our responsibility in taking care of one another.  Thank you, Bofa.


By William Nazareth

Today's word of the day: superstars. What I found interesting was that so many of the kids were chasing me down during the day, during breaks, after the sessions, etc. There were very many kids who wanted to show off and perform in solos or small groups. 

Two girls in particular, Gift and Alice, had appeared in their "Sunday best" outfits, and had a collection of songs and poems that they seemed to have prepared specifically to be recorded for video. While most of the songs and poems were in Swahili, I asked Faraha and Zawadi, our adult guides, what the poems were about. One poem that Gift recited was about welcoming visitors to the country of Kenya.  One of the songs that Alice sang seemed to have the same theme.

One poem in particular, performed by Gift, seemed to address the typical gender roles that were a part of their tribe, as it talked about women washing dishes and taking care of family members. I will be getting the translation for the poem soon and am excited to hear exactly what it was about!

Other than that, the kids seemed to feel comfortable in front of the camera after several days with us.  We filmed many of the songs and skits today, so tomorrow, we shall see what we have for our final day of footage!

Courage to Lead

By William Nazareth
On the second day of workshops, we started off with a rather large number of participants, perhaps about 35 by the time we got started.  During the first twenty minutes of class, a steady stream of children poured through the door, and soon we were faced with about 85 kids! Word had apparently spread that our teachers were doing something good for the community, and some of yesterday's participants brought their friends and other family members to participate today!

The presence of the camera proved to change the way that the kids behaved.  Many of the younger children continued to wave when the camera was pointed at them, and 
continued to ask to have their pictures taken. The older kids, especially those that seemed to light up in front of the camera yesterday, presented themselves in a way that demanded attention - silk-like fabrics, bright colors, and styled hair was their look for the day.
The footage highlighted the younger children today.  One of the best shots of the day came from the little kids hovering over Suzzi as she read a book to them.  Another memorable moment was when 2 very young girls had led the kids in a song.  Who knew that seven year olds could have the courage to be leaders!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Leaders of the Pack

By Jeff Quinto

Click on the link to access his vlog.

Looking through the Lens...

By William Nazareth

To stand foot on the motherland, surrounded by the beauty of Africa was a blessing all on it's own. But then I walked into the grounds to see a range of bright eyes staring up and ready for a new experience. Being behind the camera gives you a different perspective. Through the lens I was able to see how grateful the kids were to have us there. 

In the beginning, the kids were rather shy to express themselves, but after a few drama games, they seemed to laugh and have fun. At one point, Jeff started singing to the kids, the atmosphere changed.  He first sang a simple greeting song in English, and he asked them to teach him a Swahili song. One child sang a popular Swahili song called "Jambo Bwana".  The kids all knew it, and started clapping and dancing in full voices. Then, some volunteers taught Jeff the dance that accompanies the song.This song and dance became the magical moment of the first day.

If the kids were a bit shy in terms of speaking, they were not camera shy at all. They seemed fascinated with the equipment that I have, and they were constantly waving at the camera. Many ask to take pictures; "Will, take us a photo" was a common saying of the day.  Once the camera is on them, the posing begins. It certainly makes for some interesting footage!

I look forward to a week with more songs and more footage!

Saturday, 13 August 2016


By Suzzanne Pautler

By 9:30 this morning, more than 85 participants had walked through the gate to join the Necessary Arts volunteers for round 2 of our workshops. Wait, let me rephrase that. 82 walked, while 3 were wrapped on the backs of their big sisters. The life skills of responsibility and commitment are definitely alive here in the gardens of the Tulia cottage.  Children are taking care of each other, being inclusive, and leaving no one behind.  

Necessary Arts challenges its participants to "stimulate minds through creative expression," and specific to this workshop to deepen their understanding of peace.  Perceptions of peace.  What does a six year old comprehend about peace?  What about the 19 year old participant?  We aim to explore this theme through song, dance, performance, and other means of creative expression.

Knowing that peace can exist throughout all corners of the community, we tried to identify what it looks like in specific areas.  The following perceptions were shared with us through the spoken voice in a chanting, rhythmic manner. 

Let peace begin with me
And in the field I will see
playing, dancing, and reading.

Let peace begin with me
And in the market I will see 
buying, selling, sharing, and eating.

Let peace begin with me
And in the garden I will see
flowers, grass, and paw paw trees.

Through dramatic performance, students shared their understanding of peace through personal experiences.  The 11 year old girls were skipping rope. Then the  jumper missed her jump, but she didn't want to take her turn turning the rope. The 16 year old boys were dancing with their friends, when one took a phone from the other's pocket.  One teenage girl was cooking lunch, while her sister kept harassing her about when the food would be ready.  Each skit was quite similar, focused on a conflict fortunately ending in a peaceful resolution.

Rhythmic melodies and drumming filled the air all morning long through a variety of peace songs in both English and Kiswahili.  Some participants were willing to take a risk and sing a solo until their friends would join in.  All students were quite eager to sing in their native language.  And finally, Bob Marley entered our singing circle with "One Love."  Let's get together and be alright is a simple message that the children of Bofa seem to be living out each day.

Rain can’t stop, won’t stop us!

By Suzzanne Pautler

Gray skies and a steady stream of raindrops greeted us this morning, the first of our four day Necessary Arts workshop in Bofa village. The activities were to begin at 8:30, and by 8:00, our first participants had arrived. Most were wrapped in the cotton kikoys popular throughout the coastal areas of Kenya.  Today, they are often worn by beachgoers and tourists, though I now know they make for great rain protection, too. One very responsible teenager arrived with her two year old brother wrapped to her back with one cloth, and then draped him with an additional kikoy to protect his head and body.  Every time I turned around, more and more children arrived to the gate. They arrived early; the rain did not deter. And they brought loads of younger brothers and sisters. I’m already impressed by this group of nearly seventy learners!

Our previous visit to Bofa village (August 2015) focused on the theme of community, which the children defined as: to work for something for the large group, to take responsibility in making it a beautiful place to live.  In this morning’s workshop, we talked specifically about the existence of peace and love within this community.  We gave each of the children a small, colorful sticky note and a pencil asking half of the group for examples of peace within their community, and the other half, love. 

From the viewpoint of the children, “Peace is eating together.” And “There is peace when people play together.”“Peace is sharing what you have with your neighbors.” On a bit more serious of a note, “Peace is when we obey the laws of our country.”

Meanwhile, the children see love in the community “by people doing work together.” One teenager sees love “if you drop your phone and then someone picks it up for you.” Another area where we should see love is, “Like you’re in the field playing with others, then you hurt your friend. You must say ‘sorry’.”  The football pitch is another popular location to witness love. “If you are playing football and someone beats you up, just relax and show love to him. Don’t even beat him up.” Finally, as one student succinctly stated, “Love your mother. And your father.”

Perceptions of peace will be our overarching theme throughout the workshops this week. I love the honesty of information shared from a child’s perspective. Tomorrow we aim to write song lyrics based upon how the students defined peace in today’s lesson.  We were told to expect double the crowd tomorrow. We can’t stop, won’t stop. Not even in the rain. Peace.

Music Breaks Barriers

By Jeff Quinto

We arrived in Kilifi late on Thursday night, after flying from Nairobi, and a short drive through small coastal towns and beach resorts. We meet Answar, Zawadi, and Kuzungu, who welcome us to Bofa. I can feel that the area is full of vegetation and life, and I can smell the  sea breeze in the distance. I become excited to see the grounds at night; this being my first time in Kenya, I want to experience all parts of the country - I just came from the highlands of Nairobi, and here I I am at the coast.  

After a night of restless sleep, I wake up, eat, and then go towards the work site, ready to meet the kids.  I see Suzzi , Zawadi, and Sharieq setting up chairs for the days events. Suzzi, William, and I meet to quickly discuss our ideas for this first meeting with the kids, and we dive right into the work.

As a music instructor, I take great interest in different musical cultures.  At one point, I sang them a greeting song that I used with my younger children.  I then asked them to teach me a song that they know with a similar theme.  The kids were reluctant to share at first, but as soon as one child started singing, all 60 kids began to sing along, creating a large powerful sound. The dance that accompanied the song was performed, and the atmosphere opened up and set the tone for the acting workshops.  What I noticed was that the children were hesitant to speak, perhaps because of the language barrier, or because they were not too comfortable with us as the instructors.  However, when the focus becomes music, the voices become emboldened, the faces light up, and sharing becomes easy, almost natural. I even started teaching a goodbye song in Portuguese, and they gravitated towards the flow of the music and the song!  It was an amazing experience.

I am looking forward to making more musical moments with the children!  

Friday, 12 August 2016

“Stimulating Minds Through Artistic Expression”

By interlacing our world views with our creativity, values, and critical thinking skills, we can empower ourselves to become true global citizens and improve society across borders.  As Margaret Mead stated,“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  We have the choice to contribute or not.  We could choose to passively sit back and relax while someone else solves the problems of the world, or better yet each of us could position ourselves to be a part of the solution.  Necessary Arts chooses to be a part of the solution.  Necessary Arts doesn’t just seek change; we are committed to change.

In February 2002, the Necessary Arts School officially opened in Trinidad & Tobago based upon the vision and commitment of its founders: Lydia Ledgerwood, Penelope Spencer, and Naima Thompson. Necessary Arts utilizes the arts to empower participants to realize their full potential and become confident, productive and innovative contributors to society.  To complement the work being done in Trinidad & Tobago, Necessary Arts began an outreach program in Kenya in April 2014, providing a unique opportunity for participants to develop and enhance life skills, leadership qualities, literacy, and personal character.  The projects in both countries promote strong leaders, critical thinkers, and innovators, which ultimately results in positive contributors to our local and global societies.

From 2014-2016, Necessary Arts Global Outreach stretched its arms across Kenya, nearly to the borders of Tanzania, Uganda, and Somalia in order to reach hundreds of students through the Reach the Unreachable project. Phase 1 of the project offered a variety of student workshops, from building the foundation of dramatic skills to creating a final presentation piece. In just a two year time frame, students completed workshops at the following locations:

  • Riara Education Center-Varkey GEMS Foundation, Kibera
  • Adventist Rehabilitation and Education Center, Kajiado
  • John E. Halgrim Orphanage (JEHO), Pipeline, Embakasi
  • Port Busia Village, Lake Victoria
  • Bofa Village, Kilifi
  • Sud Academy (seeking partnership with UNHCR), Kawangware
  • AMREF “Child in Need Project”, Dagoretti, Waithaka
  • Secondary Girls School, Lamu Island

Developing relationships with each site in order to offer workshops was not an easy task, but this was part of our challenge. In fact, Suzzanne Pautler, one of our teacher volunteers, made the initial arrangements for Naima to offer workshops at a school where her friend Patrick was Principal. A few years previous, Suzzanne had “couch surfed” at his house, visited his school, and commissioned his students to sew several traditional African dresses for her.  It made sense that Naima could begin offering her workshops at his school, while staying at his house. The reality is that Patrick did not pick her up at the airport as scheduled, she did not stay at his home as planned, and he ended up touring her around a vacant school building when they finally did meet.  In addition, we have confirmed scheduled site visits, made our travel arrangements, and then with just a week’s notice, schools have cancelled our visit.  Other times we’ve made the arrangements, arrived at the site, and learned that only half of the students were available due to other commitments.  It has not been easy. Throughout the planning stage of our Nairobi visits, we have learned that the key to success is flexibility.  

During our journey of offering student workshops around Kenya, we were also invited to offer teacher training workshops.  We offered professional development to a combination of certified teachers and student teachers in training.  It is a huge honor anytime a group of colleagues, international or local, asks for help to advance professional learning and improve professional knowledge. We are so appreciative to have received the following analogy from one of the teacher participants: “The teaching staff is like a machine.  We work together and make progress.  Necessary Arts is the oil that comes in to keep us working our best.”

We are not so vain and egotistic to suggest that we have all the answers and know exactly the direction in which our efforts should move. The Reach the Unreachable project has been a great opportunity not only for our teaching, but also for our learning. We took it upon ourselves to attend the annual Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference to better understand from the experts how to best achieve success through our outreach program.
One key take away from the DIHAD 2015 conference was the following parable:  We do NOT give fish to those in need, NOR do we teach them to fish.  Instead, we tap into their own innovation and creativity.  We realize that we cannot act as heroes coming to rescue Kenyan children in need. When we first arrived here, we were constantly bombarded with pleas of “give me this” and “send me that.” Donations, or fish, are of course always welcome, but they are simply short term solutions, often causing dependency.  To find long term, sustainable solutions, we must work with and listen to the affected populations. They are the ones with the voices to share their true needs and with the innovation to create the solutions.

Necessary Arts Global Outreach had a vision in mind in 2014. The end result of Phase 1 of the Reach the Unreachable project may not look exactly like what we expected or anticipated; however, it was a privilege to see the project develop organically.  DIHAD taught us that shared communication among the donor organization (Necessary Arts), the humanitarian actors (teacher volunteers), and the affected communities (student workshop participants and their adult caretakers) is necessary to guide all humanitarian projects. Otherwise, the project will not be holistic, but rather will develop from just one perspective.  We have learned that we should never begin a conversation with “We want to...”, but rather “How can we…?”  

Additionally, DIHAD taught us that it is foolish to act on our own as one single organization.  It is only through a collaborative approach with other NGOs and aid agencies that complete, sustainable solutions will materialize.  With this in mind, Necessary Arts has had the privilege of working with the GEMS Varkey Foundation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), and the Art of Confidence (AOC).  The ideas, brainstorming, and motivation that we share with one another push us to collectively offer the best support we can.

Student participants have come from a variety of cultural, linguistic, socio-economic, educational, and family backgrounds. We have worked with refugees from Sudan, street children in rehabilitation, economic orphans, children from single family homes, the impoverished living in slums, and those rescued from tribes to avoid early childhood marriage and female genital mutilation.  Rather than focusing on the negative plights that have brought the children to this point in their lives, it is essential for us to focus on how to move forward, to empower, to educate, to reach the unreachable.  As one student from JEHO reminds us, “If you have strength in your heart, you will be determined to achieve anything you want.”  We live in hope and do everything we can in order to help even one of the children to realize his or her dreams.  

Throughout this project, all parties involved agree that there is nothing more important in this world than the safety, protection, and rights of the child. We are working our hardest to make this statement come true for all workshop participants. Young refugees from Sud Academy identified for us the six most important rights in their lives: “the right to an education, the right to health care, the right to security, the right to move, the right to play, the right to a family.”  In addition, a personal goal of ours is to balance the scales of education as best we can with the tools we have.  We realize what a true disadvantage many of these students face within the competitive global community, simply by being born who they are, where they are.  As Naima blogged in April 2014, “Because of time, place, and circumstances, many of these amazing talented gems will never see their true potential come to fruition.”

One of the sites dearest to our hearts is the JEHO orphanage. In March 2015, one volunteer commented, “It is apparent that 43 children go to sleep each night knowing they are loved.  By growing up on a home full of goodness, imagine the positive impact they will make upon community, society, and humanity.” They are ambassadors for their generation, and will develop into dynamic global citizens who truly make a difference.  Necessary Arts is proud to be a part of the family, “walking in the tracks of compassion, dignity, responsibility, tolerance, diversity, good temperance and the like, to show up for each other, ready to overcome life's challenges through a collective mindedness.” The Necessary Arts team paid the full tuition and incidentals for the 2016 academic year for all twenty secondary school students at JEHO to demonstrate our commitment to and belief in the rights of education for all.

While in Bofa Village, the students reiterated 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.  Obviously great value is placed on an education. In addition, the students identified the following as being a high priority in their lives:  "the whole village living in harmony," "living in peace in our country," and "to live happily with neighbors".   Peace and education.  Simple and straightforward.

We have documented our project’s journey through The International Educator (TIE) newspaper to educate, inspire, and share with other educators teaching around the world.  Teacher volunteer Teresa Cantu published “Necessary Arts Reaches the Unreachable in Kilifi, Kenya” in the December 2015 issue, while Naima published “Balancing the Scales of Education” in the April 2016. Both articles speak of the necessity of reaching out and helping children who are motivated, talented, and deserving, but may lack resources and/or do not have access to demonstrate to the world how much they have to offer.

To reach the unreachable with such a successful and effective result, Necessary Arts recognizes that a team effort was essential. To that end, Necessary Arts is full of gratitude for the collective efforts made from site managers, local transportation guides, teacher volunteers from around the world, tech gurus who share our word through social media, student workshop participants, private financial contributors, our Kenyan friends, and the Necessary Arts team who started the organization in Trinidad & Tobago nearly 15 years ago! Necessary Arts Global Outreach has just completed Phase 1 of the Reach the Unreachable project.  What and where will Phase 2 bring us?

Perceptions of Peace

by Naima Thompson

Once again the NA team is in Kenya...without me...
After putting things in place to return I received the devastating news from my doctors that it would be in my best interest to not make the trip just yet. You could all imagine my despair. As usual, Suzzi was ready to pick up the torch and carry on to Bofa Village, Kilifi with our two new volunteers. Jeff Quinto teaching music and William Nazareth offering his film making skills to document the experience.

This Reach the Unreachable project has taken on a whole new life of its own since I've been ill and I love how the volunteers are able to jump right in and continue the magic. This morning the team was surprised but very ready to meet almost 75 participants with an expectation of 75 more tomorrow. Jeff is an amazing music teacher at Dubai American Academy and I know he will rock their world in Bofa Village too!

The Peace themed workshop will run for four days. Under Jeff's vocal direction they will discover new and interesting ways to share their understanding of peace. I must admit that I am very excited to see the footage that William captures. On September 21 for Peace One Day, the world will observe the UN allocated day for peace in many ways. I am hoping for Necessary Arts to share a video documentary of our Kenyan voices expressing their Perceptions of Peace in Swahili and English. For now, I will sit back and wait for the magic to unfold!