Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Power Within

by Naima Thompson

July 15, 2015. I received news that sent bullets down my spine. My doctor told me that I must cancel my trip to Kenya and instead go for breast cancer treatment right away. The earth ripped apart under me. My heart beat so fast against the table I was leaning on that I had to pull away from it...the table that is. I felt completely betrayed by God.

One year and six months later, I write to you from under a mosquito net with the window open inviting the sounds of a gentle rain on the tin roofs next door. The juxtaposition of the lush green with the rusted corrugated iron, sheltering the impoverished, intrigues me. And still, the gentle drizzle blesses the day.

Today begins our fifth and final day of the continuation of the Reach the Unreachable outreach project for December 2017. Ellie Mutz, her pre-teen sons Zack and Colin, Cecil Mack, Melinda Eversteyn, Theresa Toerien and I bring the idea of POWER OF YOU to our participants.

We began our journey last Thursday as we rushed off to the Dubai airport to catch our flight into Kenya. After a smooth and safe journey, we stayed in Nairobi for the night and left for Kilifi via Mombasa early the next morning. That day that I mentioned above, the day that my doctor told me I could not go to Kenya, would have been Necessary Arts’ first visit to Kilifi. I remember my heartbeat against the table and the only thought in my mind was “NOOOOOOOO. I have to go to Kilifi. Kerry and George have warmly welcomed us to Bofa village. I HAVE to go.” My panic overwhelmed. Suzzi Pautler brought Reach the Unreachable to Bofa for the first time in August 2015 and initiated a beautiful relationship with the youth of that community. A strong foundation and connection were set for a subsequent visit in August 2016 and now our visit in December 2017.

Four days ago, when I entered Bofa Village, Kilifi, I felt like I was home, home as in Tobago. The scene could easily have been Lambeaux Village. The Bofa community gathered at least 75 children to participate in the weekend’s activities. Among many special moments that remain with me so strongly is the moment that I witnessed learning in action, children working with children. Our student volunteer, Zack, led the 10-12-year-olds through improvisation and scene work activities as the warm-up for their performances later on. When they came to the “stage,” the students followed direction so well that you could instantly see their growth and development. Zack was particularly impressed with Teddy who demonstrated a clear understanding of “staying open”. The audience, as instructed, called out “STAY OPEN” in unison each time an actor broke the rule and turned his back to the audience. Teddy, while taking his turn on stage, made the mistake of breaking rule number 2, and when it was called out by the audience, he fixed it and thereafter demonstrated that he understood and could execute the concept. As we sat together later that day, I reminded the team to continuously look for learning, for measurable moments where we can make the connection between our goal and the students’ accomplishments. Zack was impressed with Teddy. I was in awe of Zack.

George and Kerry continue to open the door to their home, Tulia-Bofa, to Necessary Arts and the magic within is incredible. At the end of the 2.5 working days, we asked the children if they would be interested in joining a group once a week to do drama and improvisation work. They are very interested. The plan is for me to work remotely with Furaha, a community leader who works with Moving Goalposts, to facilitate the workshops. Kilifi and our family there are vibrant, talented, and filled with love and kindness for each other.

When I landed in Kenya for the first time four years ago, JEHO welcomed me and Necessary Arts School with open arms. That was the beginning of a strong synergy between NAS and JEHO. After missing flights and such, we arrived safely back in Nairobi to prepare ourselves to work with the children of JEHO the following day. As we drove through the Pipeline slum, one thing immediately stood out. THE ROADS WERE PAVED. No more mud puddles and cautious maneuvering to get to the building. Progress is on the rise, it seems. One might ask me to curb my enthusiasm and realize that Kenya just went through political campaigning. A quick fix to get voters out, maybe? Who knows? It sure was awesome to have paved streets leading to JEHO. The welcome back reception, held in my honor, brought me to tears. The embrace they extended to the team was selfless and genuine. The most consistent and sincere sharing of love I have ever experienced comes from this family of orphaned children, led by their mother Miriam.

Once the celebrations calmed down, we got into the work. Soon enough children and young adults were creating a Christmas tree of paper hands decorated with images and words of POWER. The major question being: What is your POWER? The students participated eagerly and effectively. I am bursting with pride for our student volunteers Zack and Colin. They work with huge open hearts and complete commitment. Zack led his group through the improvisation techniques and they all worked together beautifully. Zack’s leadership, knowledge, and base for theatre arts are exceedingly strong, while his communication style and sensitivities are well synced and executed among the children. The end result is absolutely astounding. This real-world experience for Zack will have a ripple effect for years to come - both on Zack and on those he touched.

The JEHO family gathered together after the showcase to pray in a circle, as they always do. The command of prayer and blessings by Elanor a youth leader was so powerful. After many hugs and a lot of tears, we gathered ourselves and our belongings and headed on our way. The debrief of the day at mealtime was very much needed and welcomed by all of us volunteers. It is such an emotional ride visiting JEHO that everyone needs to share a bit of his/her feelings in a supportive and safe arena. We each shared three words that sum up how we feel. The responses include super kind, emotionally overwhelming, amazing, gratitude, pride. I spoke of pride. I am so proud of the synergy taking place with all of the participants of Reach the Unreachable – students and leaders alike. When I witness Colin and Zack in action, I am inspired and hopeful for our next generation's contributions to humanity. The involvement of student volunteers is the next natural step for our outreach work. In Dubai, there is already a NAS company of young artists involved in humanity. Zack and Colin have both set this in motion and I look forward to the evolvement of future student volunteers. After a much-needed debriefing, we returned to our hotel and settled in for the night.

Day 5 takes us to Sud Academy. Three years ago, I sat in Harlem, NY at my sister-friend, Donna Dove’s, flat. As we spoke about the work of Necessary Arts, the conversation led us to Ger Duany, the South Sudanese Ambassador to the UNHCR. The next thing I knew, there he was, in her flat, in the flesh, sitting with us listening to the works and ambitions of Necessary Arts. It was there that the connection to Sud Academy was made. Now on Day 5, I enter the muddy school grounds for the first time since a NAS team of volunteers first visited in August 2015, led by Suzzi Pautler. The students trickled in slowly, and soon enough, Melinda had them creating their names in graffiti while drawing symbols to represent their POWER. We then used those POWER words to develop oral speaking presentations in the drama workshop. I could see light bulbs switching on as the students found their responses to the recurring question: WHAT IS YOUR POWER?

Deng Buoch, the principal, explains to me that this school is funded by a few well-wishers, and by the Grace of God, they are able to do what they can to keep its doors open. We decide to send a student message to Ger Duany to let him know how the school has progressed and how much still needs to be done. They feel very strongly about South Sudanese people helping the school since it is first and foremost established for South Sudanese refugee children and young adults. Due to the ongoing conflict there, many children have lost years of educational opportunities. It is the Sud Academy that welcomes a 20-year old into a grade 8 classroom and attempts to educate him/her based on academic levels and not age. I really want to see Sud Academy thrive, but at least for now, NAS can continue to do its part for the young and not so young learners.

On Day 6, we saw Ellie, Zack, and Colin off on their safari adventure. They completed their work with Reach the Unreachable and were heading out for 5 nights of an amazing experience. Melinda, Theresa and I packed up all our belongings and piled into Maggie’s car for one last trip.

I managed to make arrangements to revisit the Rialla Education Center in Kibera. The significance of this lies in my first ever outreach work in Kenya. Four years ago, when I decided to go to Kenya to initiate this program, my first stop was at this school. At the time, GEMS Foundation had started the construction of the new school facilities and through GEMS, I gained access to work with the Form 4 children there. At the time, the drama classes were held in a galvanized wall and mud floor room. Standing in that spot now brought back so many overwhelming feelings and reminded me of the beginning of this journey for Reach the Unreachable. We were escorted around the new school by one of the students I had worked with back then. It is so clear to me that this new facility is the pride of the community and yet its own community burned and vandalized areas of it during the August 2017 election campaigns. They have managed to repair what they can, but the black hole of burned books sits as a reminder of the realities of living in Kibera.

Our sixth-day journey of Reach the Unreachable December 2017 has come to an end and I am returning to Dubai both completely exhausted and utterly rewarded. A very talented and dedicated team of volunteers brought the POWER OF YOU program to some beautiful and well deserving recipients. Everyone involved gained either a life-changing experience or at least memories to reflect upon in years to come. As for myself, I am so blessed to have my health and strength back, to be on the ground, and to manifest my life’s dreams. I look forward to returning to Kenya to continue the work of the Reach the Unreachable program.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

They’ve Grown Up...

By Melinda Eversteyn

Sud Academy has not changed since my last visit. In fact the only noticeable change in the past 2 years is that the same smiling happy students have grown up! It was such a thrill to be reunited with this special group of Sundanese refugees who spent the past 2 days of their school holidays with Necessary Arts. Although a smaller group in comparison to the past 2 sites we have worked, they were just as enthusiastic and ready to learn.

We started off with art activities. I asked the students to draw their principal George and all of the students brought their very own style. Some mirrored my demonstration, but most brought their own style to the drawing. The students at this school do not take art so today was a novelty. It was evident by the academic work which still remained on the blackboard that a fairly high level of English being taught here, which both surprised and impressed me. After the portraits of George were complete, we did continuous line drawings and the students were happy to take a risk. The results were fantastic. The final art project involved students writing their name in graffiti styled text and they filled in the letters with colors using a variety of donated materials. They then filled the remainder of the page with words and illustrations of their own power, keeping in the theme of "The Power of You!" We exhibited all the work on the board. This lead well into the drama activities with Naima and Zack taking lead. A little shy at first, the students soon picked up on the different drama activities and enjoyed the afternoon. It was really exciting to hear about their dreams: to be a journalist, a DJ, a football player, to run a marathon…

When the sun returned after a night of rain, we were able to go outside and play a variety of games in the same space where we held our very first workshop. The sunshine also brought more participants. I was so excited to see Aleu, who presented me with his personal sketchbook from home. The illustrations are beautiful and depict his family and animals. After I looked at his book, we spent time discussing different drawing techniques that he can use to advance his work. He then drew a man and a giraffe. I asked him to use the art materials we donated to Sud to run art classes with the students at the academy and to share his talents with others.

We finished the session by taking group photos that mirrored the ones we took back in August 2015 and compared them. The boys at Sud Academy towered over me then and they tower over me still!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Returning to Love

The Power of You – The Power of Jeho – The Power of Necessary Arts
by Melinda Eversteyn

As we drove down the busy streets of the Pipeline district I was excited with much anticipation to return to Jeho and to see the smiling faces of the kids that brought so much love last time I was here in August 2017. But nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming reception the children of the Jeho orphanage has prepared. As we entered their space there was a large banner, cheers, hugging and plenty of tears of joy. Necessary Arts has ‘come home’ to this special place. After welcome backs and introductions, it was time to get to work. Naima took half the older students up to the rooftop for drama, Zach has the middle age group, and I took the remaining older kids as well as the youngest.

Similar to what we did it Kilifi and maintaining the theme of ‘The Power of You’ I asked the children to trace around their hands, write their name, and then fill the remaining space to depict their power and what is important to you. Reoccurring themes included sport, singing/music, religion, love and the mother of the orphanage Mariam who they refer to as Mum. Once completed things got very glittery! The students used wet glue to outline their hand, poured over glitter, shook off the excess and then cut it out. All the hands were placed on the wall to form a Christmas tree. The adults got right into it too! After a snack break, the groups rotated so all children were able to do their hands. Once complete the little ones continued to draw and use the glitter as much as possible. The older ones then used yarn to created pompoms. The kids picked this up really quickly and when complete I taught a small group how to juggle. Others used the pompoms as a hacky sack, where Cecil showed his pro moves to the delight of everyone. The little kids raced around throwing them. It was chaotic but controlled and I have never seen so much glitter in everyone’s hair!

To wrap things up it was performance time. The older kids up first performing, followed by Zach’s improv group. All groups were fantastic, the children loved getting up on the stage and the audience enjoyed the show. Saying goodbye when doing work like this is never easy and today was no exception, in fact, it was the hardest in all my time volunteering as part of the outreach program. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room as we said our goodbyes and had a group prayer. The kids at Jeho are so special. Their love for each other as a big family and their openness to work with Necessary Arts and welcome us as part of their family is so unique. They make us feel like we are home when we are there with them. They are proof that the love of family and friends is much more important than wealth and privilege. I hope they recognize how much POWER they have and that life brings them opportunities to express this.

Future Artists in Training

By Melinda Eversteyn

Day 3 in Kilifi was yet another exciting and action packed day filled with rehearsals, arts and craft and performance. The visual arts group took their drawings from yesterday, mounted them onto recycled cardboard and hung them on stick formations that were being prepared for a beach installation. With only 15 minutes to spare they each created a number of pom-poms and added these, giving the final sculptures more color and flow in the wind. In the end every participant was able to trace around their hand and add personal detail through decorations and these would set the frame for the beach stage. The older group of students spent the morning with Naima, brainstorming ideas for their dance and putting together the choreography. 

By midday we all went down to the beach. The installation was set up, the words ‘Power Of You’ written in the sand in the style the kids practiced the day before. Everyone got on board and filled the outlines with seaweed. Once the performers arrived the remaining kids served as the audience and it was show time. First up was the girls who performed their dance to a contemporary then traditional Kenyan song. This was followed by the boys who performed acrobatics. Our very own Zach and Colin joined them which for me was great to see. After the showcase we returned to Tulia House for a well-deserved lunch that Answari had kindly cooked up. The kids all received a gift as they left, an art kit with paper. As I walked to the beach that afternoon for a late swim and went past some of the kids, they were all drawing and painting! The past 2 days they have ran up and joined me on the road, but not today. This made we smile and I am so glad they can continue to use some of the skills learnt over the past 3 days; I did not realise that would happen straight after the work shop. This is my third Outreach experience through Necessary Arts, my second time in Kenya, however my first time to Kilifi, and this has been a fabulous and unforgettable experience. The kids have challenged me, got me to think on my feet, and overall impressed me with their ideas and meaning generated through their artworks. There are defiantly future designers in this group and my hope is life  will provide them with more opportunities like this where they can follow their passions and showcase their talents in the creative arts.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Power of self-choice

by Cecil Mack

It’s been two days here in Kilifi and I feel we are getting closer to understanding how necessary the arts are to this community. With the fine arts, Mel led the students to first identify themselves with hand drawings, customized to their own colors, shapes, and patterns. As they had exposure to the materials, they began blending colors and layering between the different creative tasks.  Even as the afternoon sun wore down some of the energy we would find shade and still keep going strong.

In the dramatic games with the little ones, we did ELL games first spelling the “Power of You” before playing “red light / green light” where we discussed the power of self-choice. As the most successful runners were those that could stop and start instantly, we talked about seeing a chance for good to be green and move forward, or a danger to stop with red. The students identified moments to stop like snakes and traffic lights, then shared times to go green to help others, with carrying something heavy or helping up a friend who has fallen. We challenged them to make good/green choices in their community.

With the older kids, there were drama games but it was the most genuine when the music that they love was driving the development of percussion, song, and dance. We already have a plan in place for tomorrow on the beach, art pieces are drying in the sun, the big picnic lunch menu has been set and the kids have a taste for performance while ready for more.

We are all looking forward to a great day 3 here in the beautiful beachside Kilifi. There are just as many smiles which are one way we measure a great day of learning and having fun with Necessary Arts. Every child has a chance to learn and show what they have to bring. The team has been working hard and will be well fed by Answari our host and guide at Tulia, Bofa. More pictures and video to come as WiFi becomes available.  

Cecil Mack
Media Historian
Necessary Arts

Friday, 15 December 2017

Chaos Met Harmony Indeed

By Sybille Ecroyd

By Sybille Ecroyd

On Monday night I went to a play put on by an after-school drama group, taught by Necessary Arts founder, Naima Thompson. It was an unexpected pleasure.  From behind the scenes what I discovered, as an adult tasked with shushing exuberant teenagers backstage, was a focused group of young actors intent on giving the best they had for an audience of parents and supportive friends.  

What they had was a piece they had created over weeks of committed
practice and exploration of method acting, Stanislavsky’s way of getting actors to get inside the emotion of a role, to become and experience that role as the here and now.  

The theme for the evening has been the overriding and disturbing theme of our world’s year: devastation. Through a series of pieces they wrote themselves, they explored the enormity of the question of “why” such things happen through a conversation between an omniscient being who personified devastation itself and hope.  

With each act of devastation, the rest of the cast became the victims and survivors as well as the devastation itself, for example, an especially effective scene a hurricane was evoked by a disco where the actors became fans whose voices gradually built to a high pitched crescendo at the point the hurricane hit. 

Emotions were palpable through scenes of cruelty imposed by a soldier in war-torn Germany to families divided by a natural disaster to a brother dying in a faraway hospital bed, alone. Actors became the people affected by disaster. 

It was an unexpected evening of being educated and reminded of my humanity by an unlikely source: the learners themselves. For that, I thank them all!  Bravo!!