The first thing you notice about Old Naledi, a neighborhood in Gaborone, is the sheer number of children. Everywhere you look, kids sprint carelessly across the street, play with makeshift toys or sit on corners watching the day go by.
While the artistic team worked around the neighborhood to paint tuck shops (see previous blog post), Arts for Change was also working directly with the youth of Old Naledi to impart artistic skills and to show how the arts can be used in sustainable careers.
All the emcees, poets and artists I have interviewed share one sentiment in common: the powers that be—government agencies, schools, parents—do not give the arts the attention and respect they deserve. As a result, children tend to regard the arts as a hobby and pursue careers in more “respectable” fields like accounting or law.
With this in mind, we approached three primary schools around the neighborhood to recruit interested students for creative arts workshops and partnered with the Botswana Council of Churches to bring in children who are not enrolled in school as well. The workshops we held over the span of ten days were hosted at the Tsholofelong Project in Old Naledi and involved more than sixty children who used their Easter holidays to hone their creative skills and learn how those skills could be used in their future careers. We split the day into three 3-day workshops focusing on Creative Writing, Visual Art and Music, respectively. Part of the goal was to provide role models to the children—workshop facilitators who had successfully harnessed their creativity in their professional lives.
So we chose experts in each creative field to garner interest for the arts, which are often underappreciated at local government schools due to lack of funding, and act as role models. The Writing Workshop was facilitated by ?oem the Ansa, a poet and architect, and Mandisa Mabuthoe, a poet and educator. They focused on poetry, short stories and drama and also lent the children insight into the different careers that require writing skills and creativity. They distributed books and showed videos of successful poets and writers who came from backgrounds similar to those of the children. When it was time for the children to perform their pieces, many chose to write about hardship, family life and HIV/AIDS.
Journalist/poet/fine artist Ngozi Chukura and art teacher Manu Lalmanjesh led the Visual Art Workshop, where students learned about still life, figure drawing, collage and other media. It was clear that many of the kids had never seen some of the materials, but by sketching on lined A4 paper and making collages out of cardboard, the facilitators showed that they needed very little to create beautiful art.
The last three days were devoted to Music Workshops, where music teacher Roy Nyathi and I, a long-time percussionist, taught marimba, mbira and djembe. While some students had played these instruments before, many had not. But by the end of the three days, students left able to play traditional Setswana songs on marimba and mbira, and flawlessly drum a few West African djembe rhythms.
The original plan was that students would pick one 3-day workshop, but many of the children were interested in attending all of them. The enthusiasm with which these students approached the lessons was frankly astounding. The last thing a kid wants to do during a holiday is attend a class, but when I showed up everyday at the Tsholofelong Project at 8:30 to prepare for the 9 o’clock start time, most of the children had already arrived and were waiting anxiously for the gate to be opened. Some local schoolteachers had warned us before the workshops that sixty students from their schools would be too much for us to handle. However, the students’ enthusiasm countered any unruliness they might exhibit on a regular school day. After the workshops, Ngozi Chukura reflected on this point. “It was interesting to observe how engaged they became in an unfamiliar learning environment, without the fetters of formal education they were accustomed to,” she said.
In this webisode, check out some scenes from the workshops and (in case you think I have completely departed from hip-hop) some snippets of Word, Sound, Colour—the Arts for Change closing event. We are hoping that through continued support from the community, we can return to Old Naledi, while extending our reach to other parts of the country and the world, to continue debunking the false assumptions about art, artists and careers in the arts.