- Get Involved
New York Amsterdam News, Oct 27-Nov 2, 2005. Vol. 96, Issue 44
Healthcare activists, educators and therapists working in South Africa, Malawi, Senegal and Kenya came together in Tarrytown, NY, last week for the third biennial performance summit, Performing the World 3, sponsored by the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy, an international research and training center for new approaches to human development and community building. Among the 278 participants from 24 countries around the globe was a diverse contingent from the African continent, many who were meeting one another for the first time. Part of a new performance movement, their innovative community development programs incorporate theatre, improvisation, dances, poetry, music and oral traditions.
“It’s heartening to discover the array of culturally based programs that are helping to educate and inspire our communities,” said Jack Ogembo, a lecturer at Maseno University in Kisumu, with a special interest in ethno medicine. Brandishing a diagnostic divining rod and dressed in flowing robes,Ogembo introduced PTW3 participants to the traditional medicine men who even now are relied upon by a large part of the Kenyan population.
“Performance is the language that everyone understands,” said Pamela Ateka, an accomplished poet,storyteller and award-winning actress with the Community Focus Group project in Nairobi. Also in traditional costume, Ateka performed a “parable of writing,” which she developed to teach the principles of HIV/AIDS prevention. “Families won’t come to a lecture; but they will come to see me perform. And off of that experience, they find it easier to talk about sex and AIDS with their children.”
Other presenters included Alexandra Sutherland, whose students at Rhodes University in Grahamstown,South Africa, aspire to teach drama and theatre. “My teachers are still dealing with the tragic legacy of apartheid,” said Sutherland. “Even now, children are bewildered by teachers who invite them to be creative.”
Canadian Julie Vaudrin-Charette is part of a clown-theatre troupe that teaches school children in Malawi and Senegal principals of good hygiene. “What a discovery!” says Charette. “We found that laughter creates a space for change.”
Stompie Selibe and Betsi Pendry traveled from Johannesburg, South Africa, to share the work of the “Living Together Project,” which uses theatre, dance and music to engage the social taboos and stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS. Selibe demonstrated the powers of the talking drum. “The beat of the drum invites even the shyest person to jump into the conversation to share their story.”
Some 90 cultural organizations working to organize sustainable, creative communities in some of the poorest countries in Africa, Asia and Latin – America presented their cultural/theatrical programs for engaging the ethnic strife, violence, diseases, and emotional distress that plague communities across the globe.
“Performing the World 3 was a celebration of the growing global performance movement,” says Dr.Lois Holzman, the East Side Institute’s director. “Our mission is to bring together creators of performance projects springing up in urban centers, towns and villages the world over, and to share best practices of building sustainable communities. Without helping people in our communities fully develop their capacities to be creative, even the best relief programs will collapse once the infusion of aid ends.”
Kitche Magak is a lecturer in literature and mass communication at Maseno University in Kenya. He has been involved in community development for over 10 years and specialized in health communication.