Thursday 28 November 2013

St Mary’s Drama Lecturer Facilitates Theatrical Performance at Houses of Parliament

Matthew Hahn, a Senior Drama lecturer at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham recently facilitated a theatrical performance at the Houses of Parliament which focused on the effects of the welfare reforms and austerity measures on the rights of disabled people.

Hahn worked on the presentation with a group of actors from the activist organisation, Disabled People Against Cuts, as part of an event called Dignity and Equal Opportunity: Securing the Human Rights of Disabled People in an Age of Austerity.

The aim of the performance was to highlight the true stories of those affected by government cut backs, using a technique known as the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’.

Hahn, who brought along St Mary’s students interested in disability and theatre, said, “The performance was a success. There were a number of MPs in the audience as well as a great representation of disability activist groups. It was well received by both groups and seen as a new and exciting way of presenting people’s stories.”

Thursday 10 October 2013

A beautiful video of our partnership in South Africa

Please watch this video as a beautiful summary of  why we do the work in development and our excellent partners........





Saturday 22 June 2013

Press Coverage - Global South African Newsletter - 21 June 2013‏

Due to the success of the relationship that is being developed with communities in Durban, the Theatre for Development module at Drama St. Mary's was recently written up in the Global South Africa newsletter, which can be read here.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Debrief at South Africa House

Today, Catlin, Emilie & I visited Cathy at the South Africa House to feed back to her about our trip.  It was an exciting time for the three of us to showcase the students' experiences and to reflect on the time between our last visit before our trip and before the students' first experience of South Africa.

Cathy was pleased at the success as the students' breathlessly told her of their experiences from the schools to the community centres to the Market in Durban.  She expressed the High Commision's focus on schools in South Africa that are in most need of development and recognized our work in such areas. 

Cathy promised her support for the next trip in 2014 and promised to meet the new students in the new year as a means of preparing them for their journey, as best as can be done. 

Monday 20 May 2013

St Mary’s Drama Students Work with Communities in South Africa

Undergraduate Drama and Applied Theatre students from St Mary’s University College, Twickenham recently spent more than a week in Durban, South Africa to deliver a range of community workshops and drama productions.
The annual trip, which is now in its third year, saw the final year Drama St Mary’s students use a range of interactive performances, games, songs and poetry to work with local communities and school children to explore the cultural differences and similarities between the attitudes of young people from both countries.
The trip offers students the opportunity to take the last three years of learning and apply it in a completely different setting. As well as working with the local community, the group were able to showcase ‘forum theatre’ as a type of drama with a number of events such as a jazz evening held at a local art gallery.
St Mary’s Programme Director Patsy Burn commented, “The trip to Africa is such an exciting time for our students and gives them an opportunity to see what a huge impact Applied Theatre can have in transforming people’s lives. The people we worked with in South Africa have also had a huge impact on us.”

Sunday 19 May 2013

The long way home - Sunday

by Patsy Burn

We woke with heavy heart and tired eyes. Today is our last day so we planned to go to Victoria Market in Durban and then come back for the shuttle to the airport.

As people were packing up the last of their things it was sad to think we won't be here tomorrow. The lure of the market and the promise of buying souvenirs and bargains to take home for loved ones was enough to keep everyone on target, but it was impossible to ignore that we were all feeling a little sad. 

Sme of the group walked to the market whereas some of us hung back and took taxis up the Main Street and toward the market. After some initial confusion over whether we wanted to go to the local fish market or not we finally joined with the rest of the group. 

Throughout my whole time here I have been mostly affected by the sounds in every part of South Africa which has been beautiful, inspiring, annoying and overwhelming in equal measure. It's impossible to explain completely what it's like but the people here live through sound and music and it is so ingrained in their culture and their identity. 

This was no different in the small market street we congregated in. Amongst the fake football shirts and the mobile phone sims there were lots of TV screens playing a variety of gangster films, Kung fu films, videos of traditional music and dancing. All of the screens, around 40 in total were hooked up huge speakers which were 'turned up to 11' (for any spinal tap fans out there) but all playing continuously at the same time. In this tiny zinc shelter the sound bounced around the space and groups of people stood transfixed by the images. It was fascinating to see and was clearly a main part of the market. 

Once together we moved to the slightly more civilised indoor section which sold souvenirs, jewellery and clothes perfect for obvious tourists such as ourselves. Occasionally I would pass students haggling for their bargains. 

Personally I loved the music shop - a veritable trove of CD's and cassettes you don't see back at home. Helpfully in the store they would play any cd you'd like to hear. Helpful seeing as I didn't know over 90% of the artists I saw. They tried to give me the Soweto Gospel Choir and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, both brilliant but I was hoping for something a little more unique to reflect what I have heard since being here. I left with a CD of traditional SA music and a Jazz CD that may earn me some brownie points when I get home. 

Matt and I wandered around and picked up a few presents for friends and family but I was enjoying more just the set up of the market, the Indian influence again really prevalent.

After the market most of the group went back to the Happy Hippo by taxi to continue their shopping or  grab food. Matt, Katy, Holly me and Chris (our new found companion) walked back. Again there was a real assault on the senses of smell, sound and sights. On every street corner women and men willing to braid your hair.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Nothing's ever too easy.....Saturday

by Patsy Burn

So, we ventured off to our final workshop this morning. Full of excitement from yesterday and with rehearsal and improvements well underway. The sun came out to greet us on our last full day.

It's understandable that after so many days with such great experiences there was going to be a session that was more difficult, and that was today. A combination of miscommunication and assumptions got the better of all of us. As we arrived, already very late, we were held up for lots of reasons - one of which being Matt, Lu and Marius going to check out another venue because of an Indian wedding that was going on next door that we didn't want to disturb. In the end we went outside. 
Seeps, who seemed to be organising the event was very anxious and even though we were running very late wanted to make sure we got a picture of the whole group together and that we should let them perform for us. We were treated to more songs and more dances by some of the smallest children - but it wasn't the group we had expected and we knew the forum was going to be difficult. 

As the group started work all together Matt, Lu, Marius and I drove over to the Stable Theatre to see a final dress rehearsal of a piece of theatre we had been invited to and meet Caroline Smart, who runs lots of arts events in Durban.

The project, which is lottery funded was a dance piece with able bodied and disabled young people where they explored communication through dance. Some of the performers were also from the local school for the deaf so there was sign language incorporated as part of the routine. 
A large part of the performance also looked at the large Indian influence in Durban and explored these two different cultures through traditional Indian dance and more contemporary styles. 
One girl, Danielle who was in a wheelchair was a main focus of the show and the professional dancer turned her smallest movements into a routine they could share. The inclusivity of everyone involved was wonderful and reminiscent of Amici Theatre I have seen before through Tina at St Mary's.
It was also gat to see such a wonderful, organic venue - much better equipped and resourced than the previous places we've been too but still with a real charm about the work and the setting. 

On the drive back I talked to Lu, Marius and Matt about the Berea area we were in and there was some confusion over where we were taking Matt to meet Sonny who he is interviewing as part of the Robben Island Bible project. Marius explained that many street names have been changed since the apartheid as their names have connotations of the leading figureheads. Of course this has come up against a huge amount of resistance and Marius explained that businesses have lost lots of money changing their address only to be told the street names will revert to their original titles. 
When we returned to the community centre it was evident the students had had a difficult time. They'd found it really difficult to connect with this group as they had the others and as a result the work hadn't been as in depth, as well as having to work with a very large age group and a group resistant to do Drama. As well as that the group wanted to perform for us all the time - singing and dancing and poetry. All of which was brilliant, but we were trying to work with a structure that didn't seem to fit in. 
There were some successes, it wasn't a horrible day. 2 groups managed to create and perform a piece of forum theatre to the rest of the group and people willingly intervened and worked came up on stage. But overall, there was a feeling of being a bit deflated. But we have achieved so much in our time here and even though this was a difficult group we still managed to create some work and engage the students in the forum-ing process. If this had been day 1 we probably would have seen this as a successful day.

Friday 17 May 2013

And all that Jazz - Friday

by Patsy Burn

This evening, after a successful day of forum-ing we made our South African debut as a forum theatre troupe and impromptu choir at a small jazz event just outside of Durban.

The venue, an art gallery, was a pretty high profile thing and we had 30 minutes of everyone's time before the jazz kicked off. 
This was a completely different crowd again from those we had worked with before. The audience were mostly patrons of the gallery who had been invited to this event. The musicians are jazz lecturers from the Jazz Faculty at Durban University, 
What it did mean is that the forum work here was really more about showcasing forum theatre rather than completely engaging with it. We worked on a tailored version of the family scene from earlier. A seven minute slot with a 10 minute forum. 
In the bus on the way over to the event the driver recorded us as we also rehearsed our two songs - and we were in pretty good voice. When the group were singing all together it sounded lovely - when they broke off and sang Mariah Carey it sounded awful. I like to think it's me that makes the difference........
When we turned up at the event we were greeted by Lu and Marius. This, like all the other events so far, was pretty much a mystery to us other than the basics. What was interesting was that the audience was predominantly white people - which meant nothing other than we hadn't played to this type of crowd before. We hoped they would take to it as much as our theatre group today. 
Overall the pieces went well. Both songs went down a treat and sounded lovely in the bouncy white walls of the gallery. The performance of the forum piece was strong and Rhian did a particularly good job at forum-ing for this tough crowd. We did see some interventions, however, one man choosing to change the attitude of the father figure, making him more understanding of his wife's plight. One girl choosing the role of the daughter and trying to reason with her family and make a family connection. The final lady choosing to play the part of the mother allowing the father some breathing space as he came in from a hard day at work. I could see Jordan struggling to be continually nasty to this very sweet lady in the role of the antagonist, but he did a great job - proving that even the best ideas can have obstacles.
After the pieces we stayed at the event, ordered some food and listened to the band, the musicians were really fantastic. Of course I immediately thought of Ben and how much he would love to her the music - I recorded as much as I could to show him when I get back. The next best thing to being there!
It was so great to hear some 'proper' music again. In the local villages the songs and music of the children was so infectious and spontaneous I must confess I found Rhianna very difficult to listen to as we entered the much more tourist focussed Durban. (Rhianna here can be substituted for any of the following - Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, Bruno Mars, Example - they're all rubbish.) 
It was also really interesting to be at an Afro Jazz gig which I have never had time to explore. From what I can gather the chord structures are much simpler and is created much more for it's beat than its complexity. That didn't mean the pieces were simple, not at all. The skill of all the musicians, including the singer, were duly noted. 
In some of the later pieces we got a chance to dance along with the music and 'let our hair down'. It was great to see the students enjoying the sound and really getting involved. Lisa got particularly involved and ended up on stage with the female singer. It was a real highlight - completely surreal.
When we got back to the hostel the students whipped out their scripts and did some rehearsing for tomorrow. I'm really pleased that they took advice to work on their pieces and just cement them before performing them again. This will improve even more in front of a new audience now that they know what to expect from the day. 
Tonight I've talked a lot to Katy and Marina about their connection to the schools they worked in this week and their desire to still help them throughout the year. I think this shows the benefits of this project - the fact that the students came here to help is one thing, inspiring them to continue to help is another. This is a project about education, making people aware of what kinds of lives people have all over the world. Theatre can play such a huge role in shaping people's existences and changing people's minds. People like Lu are bringing Arts to the communities. But all of these initiatives rely on other things too - support, management, good will and, of course, money. We discussed ways that they could possibly fundraise for the schools, using their experiences here as a drive to make a difference. 
I'm really proud of how the students are already thinking of ways that they ca be part of this work in the future - not just pitying those they've seen but taking A proactive stance in changing their futures for the better.

K-Cap - Performing Forum - Friday (Part 1)

by Patsy Burn

This morning we rose after a late night. The rich food had played havoc with our digestive systems, our sandwiches were made a little later and everyone had lost a little spring in their step. A week of travelling was starting to take it's toll. However, it was good to see that South African freestyle is alive and well in Durban and we arrived at our 9.30 appointment at 10.10.

Over breakfast and throughout the bus journey the students nervously recapped over heir forum pieces which they made over a week ago. The jokers were particularly nervous - yet again we were entering I chartered waters and didn't know what to expect. What if they wouldn't interact with the theatre? What if they didn't understand the plays? What if they just didn't think we were any good.
When we arrived at K-Cap and shown into the theatre space we realised how different this place is to our previous work. The large theatre space is well equipped and felt much more 'structured' than our previous venues. We decided to split the group into 3 and perform our three forum pieces about a workplace where a boss is abusing his power, the sexual politics of relationships and HIV infection and family relationships. The students were still really nervous - maybe it was having to work with a group nearer their age and with more theatre credentials? These are all members of Twist Theatre group who meet here weekly. 

Of course once the groups split up and started working there was nothing to worry about. All of the group really enjoyed the pieces and were quickly reacting and taking part. The theme sod the plays really seemed to strike a chord with the participants and they were completely engaged. 
In the group exploring sexual politics one girl, Samantha was particularly engaged and was quickly up on her feet and helping out with Jenny's story as she tried to avoid sleeping with her boyfriend Oscar. The main themes seemed to be to look after yourself first and make sure you feel safe at all times. This lead to really interesting discussion around sexual politics but also the differences between South African and British experiences, 
The women in the group seemed to really understand what their rights are and how important testing for HIV is. They also seemed empowered throughout the discussion - as it went on feeling more and more comfortable to reveal things about themselves and their lives. They talked about the clinic where they get tested and although wearing condoms is promoted they said abstinence is the main suggestion given to them.

The men in the group told a different story and even though in the forum they were suggesting all kinds of strategies to help Jenny the protagonist out of the pressures she had from friends and boyfriends the boys said they could relate to Oscar's character - 'If you have a girlfriend sex is a MUST. You have to get them to do it'. Even more worryingly they have real problems with getting tested in the clinic - they find it embarrassing, but also see that by going to the clinic people will find out that you are having sex at all. 'The nurse is like our mothers' one person said when asked why he'd never been tested. 

The most shocking thing for me was when they suggested they would find out their results by their partners being tested - 'if she gets tested and she's negative, then I know I'm negative'. Their condom etiquette was also really difficult to imagine saying that you only needed to wear a condom when having sex with a virgin, 'after that it's ok'.

For the rest if the sessions the students will be running workshops and then creating new forum pieces with their groups around the themes that have come out. But already there's so,e fascinating work happening here.

K-Cap - Performing Forum - Friday (Part 2)

by Patsy Burn

Master - Sing me something else........
Servant - I don't know any other songs
Master - It doesn't have to be in English!

I've really enjoyed today, going round all the three groups and watching their pieces. But even more impressive is how natural the ability of the group are. When we asked them to create their own forum pieces. Not only did they completely understand the concept but also their performance levels were so high. They threw themselves in with huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm, but also so much thoughtfulness and care about what they were producing. It was clear that the ownership of this part of the work was completely theirs. The students were also very impressed and even commented that they were outperformed by some of the participants. I don't think it's quite as simple as that, I think the act of performing here is a very different social activity. Nonetheless all the students have vouched to work doubles hard to get their pieces ready for another workshop tomorrow.

In the abuse of power group I sat in on their workshop following the performance to see how they would develop the forum-ing I'd seen. They had a small but strong group of 5 women and they explored power relationships through status games and 'master and servant game' where you can ask your servant to do anything you wish and they have to comply - this lead to interesting discussion about ow they felt and linked to some good images about the subject.
I also went to see the family group and looked at how their piece had developed. What was impressive  was that they managed to incorporate music and dance into their new forum piece as a few of their members considered themselves dancers and not actors. 

Their new forum piece about drug use centred around a young boy who wanted to be creative but because he wasn't encouraged became involved in drug taking and misuse. 

As I watched the piece Marius explained that Wonga ( the drug they were referring to in the piece) was the new 'trend' in drug taking, marijuana being a big issue for many years. Wonga is created by breaking down a certain HIV medicine and smoking it. This leads to people robbing HIV sufferers or gaining the tablets through illegal means. In Maghabeni, where we were on Sunday, Marius said someone was suspected of dealing the drugs and the township burnt his house down. This is clearly a huge issue in these local communities. 

Lunch was served to us so we could sit and eat with the group. The main topic of conversation was whether they were going to eat the tripe or not? I politely declined having tried it before but insisted everyone else should try it. Only for cultural exchange purposes of course. General consensus - not good.

After lunch we all gathers in the theatre to see the pieces being performed by each group. The abuse of power piece began it, jokered by Katy and showing a man in the village who wants to take a third wife in order to give him a son. There were many protagonists in the piece and so people could play one of many characters. The scene was interesting as it showed a side to the Zulu culture which we hadn't discussed previously and is so different to England. In the forum the women in the audience were particularly interested, this being a more female based issue. 
In the sexual politics group they stuck with the theme of men getting tested for HIV and explored a young couples relationship as well as how a man feels when he is confronted with an old friend who has the disease. In forum-ing the piece we saw Millie try to convince the boys friends to go and get tested with him, which as antagonists they wouldn't. However, again the theme that you should look after yourself first and do what you need to make sure you and those you care about are safe.

The lead protagonist in this was a very good actor - really exciting to watch and clearly revelled in the play. We were all a little in awe of him.
In the final piece the group about drug abuse performed and showed the full story, starting with a young boy who wants to learn to play the drums but isn't given any time or attention before turning to drugs. It was really heartwarming to think that the group did recognise the arts as a means of escaping potentially bad situations or a way of changing their own lives. One boy in the forum got on stage to learn to dance with another girl, there by banging his fate.
As always it was too short and we didn't get a chance to get really deeply into the forum work. But now that the students know what to expect hopefully we can portion time out more evenly and get an opportunity to see even more interventions and start more arguments - that's where forum theatre is most successful. 

Tonight we're off to a jazz festival organised by Lu and Marius within which we're going to perform one of our forum pieces and our 'choir' songs. This is also a chance to hear students and professors from the jazz department at Durban university which I'm really looking forward to. Afro Jazz is very popular here so I'm hoping to hear lots of that.

Forum Work - 'The First Time - Natalie and Anton

In this blog, students Natalie and Anton describe their experience of using their forum piece in the community -

We have been accepted by the community, especially the younger children we worked with. The culture here is so different to back home, it was amazing to experience it.

Africa has opened our eyes in many ways. Every child we worked with may have been deprived in terms of money, supplies, equipment for school, but the make up for it with their spirit and personalities, their musical abilities definitely push them to be the best they can be.

Our forum play was called 'The First Time'. The group was made up of, Tom, Anton, Natalie, Chanika, and Holly. I think its fair to say, we were all a little worried about performing our piece to the students in the community centre, because its subject -  HIV, safe sex, and peer pressure, is, yes, universal, however, HIV is much more a subject the African students can relate to than us, I guess we just felt under educated on the subject matter. Having said this, on arrival once again we were greeted with open arms, and the piece was received positively.

Introducing forum theatre to the African community was worth every moment, performing it here showed us why and how forum theatre truly works.

Our sex related subject sparked deep understanding and provoked a conversation. We learned how sexual health is challenged in the South African community, the male population are afraid to go clinic and get tested. 'We get tested through the girls, if the girls negative we are'. Whilst people have fear in England, there's the option to go with friends, the boys here didn't even want to do this, because of the stigma that comes with being HIV positive.

As a big group we created a new piece of forum theatre. The South African students decided to do a piece on HIV also. It was a strong piece as what they showed us was true, it was things they were experiencing. Their get up and go attitude, was displayed from the start, they were so keen to be involved especially with the interventions with our forum piece

All of our group were so happy that we got this group, the guy who played the protagonist was amazing, he was extremely talented and he shone on stage, he allowed the audience to connect with him.

The transitions of the group were amazing, in fact they were smoother than what we had done, and we had about 3 months whereas they had about an hour. The commitment and understanding shown by this group made us proud and thankful.

The most rewarding thing for us as a group throught forum was; Seeing the interventions. One girl was quiet throughout our working with her but she got up, taking the protagonist role and fought her corner of not having sex with the antagonist. It showed us that forum can allow people to be empowered.

Another moment was the conversation we had with the students. We never went expecting them to open up about their lives and feelings towards HIV, but they did. We could not of asked for a better ending with this group.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Happiness at the Happy Hippo - Thursday

by Patsy Burn

After leaving Mr Dlamini's house this morning we drove the three hours to Durban to get ready for our workshops tomorrow and Saturday. Today we knew we had a little down time before starting again tomorrow and so the students were looking to some time on their own - and to be really honest so were Matt and I.

We stopped off twice along the way looking for Durban's speciality dish Bunny Chow - spicy curry served in a a scooped out loaf of bread. Marius, Lu's husband, later told me it came from India where the workers would take their curry in bread as they didn't have bowls and they could pack it all together for a day of work. There is a very large Indian population, the largest in the world outside of India. 

Alas, our two stops along the way provided no bunny chow, only a petrol station, a diner, KFC, Nando's and Wimpy. We agreed we could eat that anytime so we ventured forth.

When we arrived at the Happy Hippo the students were really thrilled with their new accommodation. No less than 4 showers! And a really cool communal section where people can cook, eat, talk, work and relax. This is a great place to end the trip.
As we all got settled we ordered take-out Bunny Chow and it went down pretty well. The combination of bread and curry was hugely filling but not much was left over. Matt looked particularly happy as we sat eating bunny chow in the rooftop sunshine. 
Afterwards the students went for a walk to the beach. We took them through the nearby sealift centre to the beautiful sand and blue water. As the students dispersed Matt and I paddled through the water and looked back at the coastline. This is clearly the place for tourists. Lots of the architecture and atmosphere is very much like Brighton, Blackpool or Tynemouth - a place promising glitz and glamour and a forgotten past where it was more popular. But in amongst it all lots of closed shops, half finished and derelict buildings. As well as new, more commercial sites boasting fast food and chain restaurants. This is really different to everything we've experienced on this trip before. 

Although lovely it does lack the certain 'human charm' of Amawushe or Maghabeni. There's something quite unsettling about indulging in some of the things the children we left behind cannot have. Of course, this is also a chance to let off steam after an intense few days - no-one begrudges the indulgence. But occasionally we remember those people. I think I preferred it there. 

Matt and I met with Lu and Marius to talk about the day. We have such exciting things planned for the last part of our trip and the students will get to perform their forum pieces about cultural differences and forum the work. I know this is Matt's particular passion and I'm looking forward to see what the students have come up with. We're also going to a Jazz festival (Ben will be jealous), watching a dress rehearsal of a play in Durban and meeting academics from the local universities who work particularly in theatre for development. This is all as well as the students great work. 

Tonight, we dine. All together. Ready for an early morning and a new challenge and completely new experience.

Goodbye Mr Dlamini

by Patsy Burn

So we stayed our final night in Mr Dlamini's house. And what better way to spend it than to watch a Kaiser Chiefs match and have a few beers together over dinner - especially after a more than necessarily stressful trip to the Spar.

Sarah cooked chicken and I threw some vegetables and tins together. I had grand plans of making something completely different however after 10 minutes I realised everything was going to taste exactly the same as everything we've eaten so far. So, emancipated by my realisation, I threw together all the things that had been used before - chakalaka, baked beans, mixed beans, peas, tomatoes, onions and peppers. 

After dinner Mr Dlamini came to speak to us. He seemed pleased with how the day had gone and asked us about how we thought it had gone. He asked us lots of questions about schools back home and seemed surprised that children didn't immediately stand up when teachers enter the room, that we didn't have prayers before class or that we couldn't carry a stick around. It is so different here but as he asked us more questions it was sometimes difficult to answer - why don't people in England believe in God? Why is divorce so high? Why don't we sing and dance at will? 

He's clearly very proud of his school. He started working a factory when he left school before moving to Johannesburg to work as an office clerk. He said he didn't learn English at school but picked it up 'on the street'. Remarkable considering his grasp and ability to chat to us all. If only we'd been as good with Zulu.........

You can also tell how much he cares about the children and wants us to understand how difficult life can be for them. He talked openly about how HIV and Aids have affected his teaching staff and both diseases are high in the teaching profession. Shockingly he said over a quarter of the children we'd been working with are HIV positive and many have lost one or both parents to the disease. I think deep down we all knew but we hadn't really discussed the facts yet. 

We've been really honoured to stay here and it's been so wonderful to truly experience what living here is like - even if it is only for a short while. For the students it's been important to appreciate the value of things we take for granted - food, water, space, comfort. Some students have adapted more easily than others but we've all made compromises from our everyday lives. 

Creature comforts have crept in - showers are a daily conversation starter, cups of tea, toilet paper, cadbury's chocolate, KFC - but to students who have never experienced this type of life before we've done pretty well. Much like Mr Dlamini doesn't have anything to compare London to and finds it hard to visualise, so do we find it hard to truly appreciate the bigger struggles these people face. But staying here has been a good start.

Performance Day - Amawushe School

What a wonderful day!

This morning was full of anticipation as e all packed into the bus. Most talk was about the afternoon's performance and the meeting of the two schools. We had no idea what to expect and were hoping for a positive start to the day. 
When we arrived at Amawushe Sophie and I went to reception class to help them draw houses and families. The teacher asked if I would draw some people and she seemed pretty impressed with my artistic skills, although I think maybe a stick man would have sufficed - I took it all a bit too seriously. 
We helped the children draw their houses. When the books came out the teacher pored out the tiny remnants of crayon onto the table and the children dived on them trying to find their favourite colours. We could see why the felt tip pens and the masks went down so well yesterday. 
Afterwards Mr Dlamini said we could work with small groups if we wanted. Again the choir were practising all day so we couldn't work with the oldest kids but we did manage to work up some pieces with the reception class, a small group of girls and boys from yesterday. 
Again this was quite a frustrating time. Some of the boys we were working with weren't at the school today as they had gone to hospital for circumcision. Some of the people who said they wanted to be involved the previous day now had changed their mind or were nowhere to be seen. It's so easy for us to get frustrated, as we would back at the university if someone is late, absent or not engaged, but we forget what a struggle it is for these children to even get to school and the home lives they come from. 

However, by the time we got to the end of the session we had a good few pieces ready for performance and things that the learners could be proud of. We many not have taught them all completely new things, or got into the most in-depth or serious of Drama, but we did empower the children to perform things they previously hadn't - drama scenes about gangsters, showing a group of girls as possible models in their future, or to perform a rap that one girl had written herself. We had made them feel capable and able and that was the most inspiring thing of all. 

The performance itself was a completely different experience and one none of us were really prepared for. It was great to be reconnected with our colleagues from the sister school and there was definitely safety in numbers. For the first time we got a glimpse of their learners who seemed to have exactly the same connection with the St Mary's group as we felt we had with ours. 

The programme for the performance was being created throughout the whole day and it was really difficult to get anyone to tell you a straight answer until the last minute. We also had lots of performances as a school which we had no idea about and so they were all included. We had no idea what was going to happen next so we sat, and waited, and braced ourselves..........

What followed was 2 hours of song, dance, drama, poetry, music and more dance. The school were so keen to make sure we got to see all of their work at it's very best. We were treated to performances from the choir who sang in full costume and danced a traditional Zulu dance. All the rehearsal was clearly worth it. We also saw a traditional gumboot dance with our very own Tom making his South African gumboot debut. Some of the moves were so fast and so precise, it was a pleasure to watch it. 

The drama pieces went well. You couldn't always hear all of it in such a large open space, but the ideas were lovely. Giving those learners an opportunity to live out a version of their lives as it could be, in real life or in fantasy. As one girl rapped with the help of Sarah and Natalie you could see she felt so honoured to be given the chance to do it - and she was a really good. 
The singing also went down a treat and from the 'babies' all the way to the oldest performers music and rhythm couldn't be ignored as a primary source of communication - these children have music in their soul and this was a great way to get them involved. 
And as for the other group? You could tell they'd employed similar tactics with their younger children opting for large group songs which worked really well. And their translation (through language and Drama) of 'Little Red Riding Hood' showed real creativity and, again, used rhythm as the core of their storytelling to great affect 
We left the school a little sad, but also feeling like we had achieved good things. We came here to do something and we felt like we had achieved it. But I think we all felt that there was so much more to do and that's what made leaving so hard - imagine if the children had this everyday?

We felt very blessed and very privelaged - not only for our experiences here but also with a greater respect and appreciation of what we have at home too. 

And as for our singing performance? I reckon we could sell out stadiums.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

A huge improvement - Zamukulungisa Primary School - Day 2

Millie Jones writes about her groups 3 day stint at Zamukulungisa Primary School -

Today was much better, having planned lessons that acknowledged the approach to learning that we observed yesterday we were able to work with the children in a way that felt familiar to them whilst allowing opportunity for us incorporate aspects that we believed would be beneficial. Really we wanted the teacher to see how combining drama with other lessons is a great way to keep the children engaged whilst educating them at the same time.
According to the South African 'freestyle' approach to timekeeping we arrived at the school 30 minutes late for our 8am lesson. When we walked into the classroom they were all sitting patiently, waiting for us to begin. We jumped straight into it feeling quietly confident, Chanika was to write down the work on the board, Sophie was to lead and I was to assist. 
Our lesson was pretty repetitive and very simple. Sophie would do an action, for example, she would jump, she then repeated the phrase 'I am jumping' with the class joining in as a whole. Each action required them to actively 'do' something, which appeared to give them great pleasure. Then it was my turn: 'Millie is .....' 
I soon realised that the higher I jumped, or the stupider I laughed, the more engaged the students were. The looks exchanged between the students were a mixture of delight and shock- it was clear this was not the type of lesson they were used to. 
The lesson went extremely well and the 10am break was filled with excitement and discussion that the previous day had lacked. I learnt a lot from our work, aside from refreshing my memory on the technicalities of present progressive tense, I began to really understand to need for repetition. I noticed the teacher yesterday doing it and it was clear that repeating the answer is an integral part of their learning a new language, but it felt like a tool that forced the children to memorise rather than understand. However, it felt today that through the use of active engagement that the students wanted to repeat the tasks and their enjoyment allowed them to subconsciously learn.
After the lesson had ended we were quickly passed to a different teacher who asked us to lead a fitness class. Of course we recruited Caitlin to do this and said we would assist. The class revolved around relay races which were enjoyable but highlighted how unfit we all are- even Caitlin got outrun by some students. After some team appreciation time which included shouting 'Su-per He-roes' for a prolonged amount of time, taking group photos,  and generally just disturbing the rest of the school, it was time to re-group and begin our second and last workshop before tomorrow's performance.. *gulp*. 
We played some warm up games that built upon exercises from yesterday, and although the language barrier was still restricted their comprehension of the tasks they still managed to creat some great work. It was lovely to see that through the use of images language barriers can be broken. One boy wants to be a pilot and so the whole class crated a plane around him; a plane looks like the same no matter what language you speak- it was clear that there was ways in which we could share common ground. 
After a positive start the workshop almost came to a full stop. The heat and the fitness class were beginning to take its toll and the pressure of creating a performance for tomorrow was draining us all. Finally in one last bid to engage the quickly distracted class we asked if anyone had a story they would like to tell us, after some persuading D.J (that's not his real name) began to talk. With her pen at the ready Chanika listened carefully, hoping to make note of anything that we could turn into a performance. 
'There was a young boy and his nan' he said, we were excited, 'one day the boy asked if they could cook each other', excitement quickly turned to confusing but Chanika continued to write. D.J carried on his story which concluded with the boy killing his granny and feeding her to his unsuspecting friends. We were in no position to be fussy, and Chanika still feeling positive powered on encouraging the group to act out the story, the group speaking in their own language and D.J playing the role of translator. 
It actually worked well as a piece of theatre, and so, with no time to spare, we finally had a piece to show for the following day. 


We still have no real idea what this means.........but we love the dance routine. As soon as the choir sang this we had it swimming in our heads for the whole time we were there. We even tried the dance but......well.......we were rubbish.

The choir were entering a competition the day after we left the school and they were working so hard to get everything just right. The choir leader was an intense man - he rehearsed them all day int he boiling heat and issues a swift slap on the hand if you got the notes wrong or stepped out of line.

It was fascinating to hear the choir singing the same songs over and over. In all the choir leading I've done you're workign towards consistency, making something sound the same every time. Here that was very different. Every rendition was different - sometimes a different form or harmony. Because none of the music is written down they're creating some of the parts purely by listening to melodies and playing with chords.

What was also fascinating was how informal their performances were. Yes they had dance routines, and yes they had costumes - but they were laughing and chatting in the routines and really enjoying the act of singing. I wish I could have bottled up just a little of that enthusiasm, excitement, sponteneity and openness and brought it back with me. I think we could all do with a little of the freedom and confidence they have.

Fascinating to watch and listen too! I hope they won the competition!

Performance Day - Zamukulungisa Primary School - Day 3

Millie Jones writes about her groups 3 day stint at Zamukulungisa Primary School -

It was the day of the performance and I had no idea what to expect. We began by teaching another English lesson and then at 10am all of the students, teachers, and even our bus drivers gathered on the grass to watch the performances. We kicked off by warming the audience up with one of their local songs, the energy was so high and it was clear that the school was excited to see the work we had been doing.

Rhian's group went first, performing an adaptation if Little Red Riding Hood, she narrated in English and D.J kindly agreed to translate. The piece was received well and it was great to see how the group had used ensemble and chorus work as a way to included all of the students whilst also making the piece visually clear to a non-English speaking audience. 
Our group went next and I think they shocked all of us with how well it went. They all spoke loud and really embraced the chance to perform to a large audience. I felt so proud watching them and couldn't help feeling a little ashamed for doubting their pieces viability for performance- they were great and proved me very wrong. 
The rest of the day was a incredible and emotional experience. It was good to finally see the other group's work and their school. The difference in facilities at the two schools was vastly different but they all managed to come together, embracing the chance to share experiences with only the difference in uniforms separating them. 
The journey back to the principles house was quieter than usual with people coming to terms with words that had been shared and the understanding that, at least for now, we had to say goodbye. Although there was a lot of tears, I think we all used our experiences a motivational one rather than something to feel down about... It wasn't long before we were all sharing with each other our plans to return to Africa or another developing country to continue our work in the near future.
My experience at the school has been incredible, and despite the frustrating language barriers and my initial longing to be at the other school, I would not have wanted to be placed anywhere else- I can only hope that the children learnt as much from us as we did from them.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Amawus School

A sleep is as good as a rest - Amawus School - Tuesday

Well, today is much more positive. Over dinner the group did so much planning to try and get ready for today. There was much conversation about whether we should do the same things - but I was really impressed by how proactive everyone was. The other group from the other school were just the same, discussing their sessions late into the night and very early this morning. There's a real sense that they want to get this right, to really be valuable while we are here.

It would be easy to sit back and just observe - the learners love having us here, as do the teachers so we could rest on our laurels. But it is amazing how quickly you connect to these pupils and want the best for them. 

Today I started by observing a lesson with Sarah. Observation quickly turned into teaching and Sarah was very good at working with the students at their level. As we moved into teaching metre, centimetre and millimetre my 30 year old brain was starting to show. The teacher was impressed, although worried when Katy said we don't have kilometres in England and tend to use miles in travel, she quickly realised we would try our best. 

Over in the reception class Sophie L, Emilie and Holly watched some class before helping them with their writing and spelling. The teacher was very impressed by how Sophie used 'join the dots' to help them write their own names - 'This is a great strategy' she said, 'I will use this always'.

Today we were given even more freedom, and although the group seemed a little smaller than normal we were managing the work much mor easily. The balance of students to learners seemed to be working really well. 

So, a really great start and we're hoping to do more Drama today too with some of the older groups who seem really interested in taking part.

Meeting the Chief - Amawus School - Monday

After a great start the groups started to break up. Sarah, Hollie, Hev, Sophie and Katy helped the children make masks of their favourite animals that they can wear for the performance tomorrow. I thought it was a really great idea - even if the children couldn't perform something completely, they could be apart of it with what they made. It reminded me of the Ham House birthday a few years ago when we allowed participants to make puppets and costumes. By working like this the participants had real investment in the work, and that's the thinking here. After a very chaotic 10 minutes as the youngest learners (around 50 of them) piled into one classroom before being escorted into two the children really enjoyed drawing and showing off their masks to each other and to their teacher. 

In the other groups the games had moved indoors and were working on some really strong images and freeze frames - exploring 'happy' and 'angry' as well as community, future self and how they can make these things happen. Natalie and Tom managed to get some good work out of a pretty rowdy group of boys - the picture above showing what makes them happy. In Jordan and Emilie's group there was a group of girls who really knew how to make an angry face and started to understand the Drama games much more quickly that yesterday.

However, the biggest difficulty today has been momentum - every time you start to build something something happens to change it. Either lunch, or choir practise, or the heat and so building the Drama work into something this afternoon has been difficult. However, the learners are all engaged and enjoying what they're doing all the time. 

The most interesting development are a few children who love to write and so this afternoon Natalie and Sarah have been working with 2 girls who like to rap and have been helping them write lyrics in English. The appreciation those girls have is vast. This morning one of them brought guava for Sarah and Nat to try and they gave reciprocal gifts - a packet of skittles and 2 chocolate eclairs. Such a small thing but the young girl was clearly overwhelmed at the generosity. 

Monday 13 May 2013

'if this isn't a challenge, I don't know what is' - Zamukulungisa Primary School - Day 1

Millie Jones writes here about her groups 3 day stint at Zamukulungisa School -

Alarms began to wake us at 6.45 and one by one we reluctantly began to get ourselves ready for the day ahead. For a brief moment I longed for my bed in Twickenham- my feet were numb and although I was was wearing five layers I was still freezing; we were beginning to realise that Africa's winter wasn't the tropical climate we had planned for. These dramas were quickly erased over breakfast and the excitement and speculation about what the day ahead would bring quickly took over.
After dropping Patsy and half of the group off at their school we finally arrived at our school. We tried to reserved judgment as much as possible with the general acknowledgment being 'this is different'. We briefly met the principle and the other teachers who, compared to the previous day, greeted us rather formally. There was a brief discussion and I opted to be placed in a grade four English class, naively I assumed that at least the teacher would have a good level of English- I was in for a surprise. 
On arriving into the class the teacher asked me 'what are you doing', I replied 'I will just be observing your class'. Clearly this word 'observing' was misunderstood as she continued tell me that I had an hour to teach them anything. I felt helpless.  I managed to explain that I was to watch rather than lead for the first hour and so she taught and I marked their work- trying to take on board as much as I could for when I would be in her position. 
The children break at 10am for breakfast and after the teacher expressing her passion for having me try some I was brought a huge bowl of rice and beans. It was nice- very salty and very filling. I only ate a small amount, but the children who probably wouldn't have a proper meal until the next day, ate as much as they could. 
After break I lead an hour long lesson that focused on me communicating with the students in English. We played a few games and sang some call and response songs, overall it was an extremely difficult experience. I was beginning to understand how different the students level of English was to that of the previous day, and mainly how that lack of a common language calls for a reevaluation of how every exercise is executed. The lesson ended and I felt drained but I knew that I had learnt a lot and that it could only get better. 
Our drama workshop went more positively and we were instantly able to put into action all of things we had learnt from our individual experiences that morning; we used exercises that took little explanation and that we could demonstrate clearly, used call and response songs, and repeated instructions as much as possible. The group clearly enjoyed using their imaginations and were happy to perform, with more planning we knew we could create some great work with them. 
The bus journey back to the principles house was hard- I think our group wanted to quietly reflect on the challenges of the day and how these could be addressed in our work tomorrow, but the morale of our students who had been at the other school didn't allow for that. We all responded to their enthusiastic intrigue as best as possible answering all if their questions as positively yet truthfully as we could; it was clear that we had had quite contrasting days. 
We are all determined to make tomorrow a better day and everyone has been busy sharing experiences and planning lessons all night, and now after assisting in making dinner (I made salad and almost used cabbage instead of lettuce), and searching my room for insects, I am wearing half of my suitcase, preparing myself for another tough night.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Maghabeni School

Maghabeni School - our first workshop (Part 1 - the meeting)

So, today we got up and had some breakfast. A very slow toaster almost thwarted us but we just about managed to be fed and watered before our collection at 8.30.

There was interesting chat over breakfast - most people really intrigued by what to expect during the day and last minute planning - as well as the obligatory 'how did you sleep' convo. 

After initial disbelief we piled into a minibus set for Maghabeni School - the location of our first workshop. The cramped conditions and overall excitement, coupled with a tiny steel bridge caused a morning hysteria. Spirits were high.

As we pulled into the township it was great to see the local people and where they lived. The surrounding countryside was beautiful, spattered with small huts and houses. We passed a huge recycling plant pumping stuff into the air, as a beautiful lake ran past below. 

Once at the school we met with the principle who showed us around. On the walls there were pictures of the children and awards and statues they had won. In amongst the regular committees - classroom committee, sports committee and arts committee there was also the HIV and AIDS committee - another reminder of where we were.

The students, around 30 in total (although more joined throughout the day) couldn't have been more welcoming. Clapping and cheering for us and throwing themselves into our early activities. 
As part of the welcome some of the pupils (ranging in age all the way up to 25) wanted to read us their poems. These poems were so beautiful - showing a real natural ability for writing, but more importantly delivered with such vigour and enthusiasm for the spoken word - these children were storytellers. The first poems were  in English - I Know One Day You Dream, about the hopes and aspirations a parent has for her child and My Body Belongs To Me, a poem about one girls right over her own body - 'no one can touch my private parts'. 

The following poems were in Zulu - as the poets spoke the principal translated. Stories of young and misunderstood love, human rights and the political views of the country and the drugs and prostitution which Lu had already discussed with us in our meeting. We were experiencing first hand their own view of their community. Even though we couldn't understand the language we could understand their view point and the obvious support from their peers. These were people who had something important to say.