Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jessy's Experience Teaching Theatre at Kakamega School for the Deaf

Jessy tells us her thoughts about her recent experience leading theatre workshops with deaf students in Kakamega, Kenya.  
Today, I led a one-hour workshop with a group of sixty deaf students at Kakamega School for the Deaf. Ages ranged from 7 to 17.  All of the students participated in the first three activities, and only classes 4 through 8 participated in the second half. This was largely due to the fact that their sign language was more fluent (some deaf Kenyans don't learn sign language until 9 or 10 years of age). 

I had some time to speak with the head teacher of the school.  He told me that some of these children are orphans, some have wandered in off of the streets, and others are abandoned by their families.  Any kind of disability is seen in Kenya as a curse, and families often want to rid themselves of the child in fear that the curse will directly affect them.  

Of course, I had a person sign as I spoke.  This was an interesting experience - and also a real "performance" in itself.  Sign language is such an expressive form of communication.  It includes facial expression, body movements, and even the occasional sound or squeal. 

They liked this activity, but they obviously didn't know that they were supposed to shout "Awooga!" They still jumped, but I realized how helpful the sound itself is in coordinating the jump of the two people. 

Passing Energy in a Circle
The students had some difficulty with this one.  Making eye contact with the person to whom they would like to throw the energy proved difficult.  This may have been due to the fact that the group was large, or maybe they have difficulty focusing their attention on one area of the room just in case something else happens around them that they need to react to.  I'm not entirely sure.  They were also trying to keep their eyes on the interpreter at all times just in case he gave them further direction.  Because of this, we ended up just passing the energy around the circle one at a time instead of throwing it across.  It still worked, and they still seemed to really enjoy it.  

I think it is important to note that deaf students have to keep their eyes set on the interpreter at all times in order to know what is happening.  This would make activities such as Walking Through Space (pg. 26), Trust Walks (34), and Group Start, Stop, and Jump (pg. 38) particularly challenging.

Follow the Leader 
Students, especially those who are ousted from society due to their disability, have a deep desire to please.  Creativity plays no true role in their education system.  This is in part due to Kenyan culture and in part because they are so far behind in their schooling to begin with.  Because of this, they often try to copy what the teacher does.  Therefore, after I demonstrated the activity with my interpreter, they used my movements exclusively and did not add any of their own.  

I have experienced this to some degree in the past, especially in societies that use rote learning styles, and I think that it is something interesting to note - demonstration can sometimes hinder students' ability to think on their own.   

Following these three exercises, I asked each class group (class 4 to class 8) to pick a story of struggle from their lives and present it as a drama/mime for the younger students.  It was interesting that all of the scenes began with characters greeting one another with handshakes.  Handshakes are very important in Kenyan culture, and forgetting to shake someone's hand can be considered very rude. 

I think it could be great to include some kind of disability section in the manual.  It would be great to identify which activities in the manual lend themselves most to deaf individuals, blind individuals, physically challenged individuals, etc.  This would be another way to make the manual truly accessible to all groups.