Saturday, December 20, 2014

News from Kampala, Uganda

Our intern, Emma Dolhai, set off for Kampala, Uganda, in October 2014.  We asked if she could “field test” our new Training Manual in Theatre for Social Development.  She has been reporting as the project progresses, and given us useful feedback on which training methods have been successful and/or challenging. Here she reports from her work with Uganda Hands for Hope, working in the slums of Kampala, educating children who have never had the chance to go to school and helping women find alternate sources of income. Emma reports:

                This past week I had the privilege of attending the annual “Liftoff to Literacy” day at a primary school in Kampala, Uganda. The final event in a week of literacy-themed activities, the school had organized a giant celebration for the students and guests. As a volunteer with Uganda Hands for Hope, an education-based NGO that makes its library of books available to schools in the community, I was lucky enough tag along. The highlight of the event, judging by the reactions of the students, was a skit put on by their teachers, who played newly elected government officials all trying, and mostly failing, to read their oath of office. It was classic comedy at its best, with the words often hard to hear over the laughs of the students, all jostling to get the best view of the show.

            If reading about Bond Street Theatre is an exercise in hope, then going out into the world and seeing their principles in action is an exercise in truth. What we at Bond Street do so well is bring creativity to an increasingly interconnected world with a rapidly rising demand for outside-the-box thinkers to solve ages-old problems. Talking to a friend about the recent terrorist threats in Kampala, we both came to the conclusion that conventional methods of countering violent extremism simply won’t cut it. No matter how many people governments fight and jail, a new generation willing to use illegitimate means to deal with legitimate grievances will rise to take their place. The only way the cycle of violent extremism will ever be broken is if future generations are given an alternate means of self-empowerment. In fact, as long as any group in any country is excluded from the opportunity to tell their own stories and is silenced instead, discord will always be close behind. As we talked, all I kept thinking was, “wait until you see Bond Street’s latest project. It’ll knock your socks off”.

Then in November and December, Emma gave us a great update on her workshops with the children:

Overall the workshops went really well and the kids seemed to have a great time.  I feel like their willingness to try something so totally new and different (and their enjoyment of it) was really great proof of how effective theatre is as a method of cultural exchange (…but of course, you already know that).

Four workshops were conducted with 80 pupils ranging in age from 7-13 at St. Charles Luwanga P.S., St. Barnabas P.S., and Uganda Hands for Hope in Kampala, Uganda. All spoke English as a second language and all workshops were mixed-gender.

Despite the fact that English is the official language of Uganda, the language barrier was greater than anticipated (most children speak Luganda at home and know English in the context of school). While the teachers did not stay for the entire workshop, it was helpful to have at least one waiting somewhere in the wings in case a particularly difficult concept required translation. Choosing exercises that could be easily demonstrated as opposed to just explained verbally was also key!

Areas of Success:

1. Using the “name game” as an opening activity and “calling your name over the mountain” at the end of the workshops was a great way to see the change in the confidence level of the students.

2. In the final workshop, I personally knew many of the students I was teaching. There was a marked increase in confidence from some of the shyest students when they were given the chance to be lifted during partner lifts (acrobalance moves).

3. By the end of the trust walks, most of the children were turning to their partners and asking whether they had felt safe (without any prompting).

Feedback from the headmaster of St. Charles Luwanga Primary School:

“It was my first time to see such workshops and, I was inspired with the performance you did. It stimulates the mind and set your mood and the sense of humor. It did wonders on the side of kids… wow!  They were motivated, excited, and now they are asking me when you are coming back again! Now those whose classes you didn't visit are yearning to do workshops with you, because the pupils in P.4 &5 (grades 4 and 5) shared the happiness they enjoyed in your workshops with them.

Surprisingly, the following day some parents came to my office thanking me for the workshops you did with their kids. I was happy to hear such feedback!  To tell you the truth, my kids miss you big time!“

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