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New Year, New Beginnings

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Janet Lindley Watts, Dramatic Need Operations and Development Manager for South Africa and Rwanda, reports from the ground in Rammulotsi, Free State.

Our new group of Grade 8 Students!

I woke to the sound of steady falling rain at Rietpan Farm near Rammulotsi this morning, so packed my car in readiness for a quick getaway as the farm roads very quickly become waterlogged and impassable! But it soon stopped and, although it remained very grey and gratefully cool, did not look like it would become floodlike.

Kekana ‘Tatu’ Somfula, Dramatic Need’s operations manager and senior arts facilitator in Rammulotsi, Free State, Lawrence Chabalala, (DN arts facilitator) and myself were due to leave for Welkom (about an hour and a half’s drive from Viljoenskroon) for the ASSITEJ  South Africa’s multidisciplinary arts facilitators’ training workshop. ASSITEJ SA is the South African chapter of the international organisation for the support of theatre for children and young people. They offer wonderful arts teacher facilitation workshops that our team are attending. I hoped the rain would not return as the roads are tricky and potholes are not our friends when it’s very wet! We were due to stay in Welkom for two nights and would be returning to Viljoenskroon on the Sunday.

It had been a good week and we are settling into the new Dramatic Need programme for 2019. We are working with the following fantastic groups of students:

Evergreen Primary School: (ages 5 to 9)

Evergreen is a local primary school which sits adjacent to our largest arts centre on Rietpan farm in the Free State. We have had a long relationship with the school but have recently re-started our arts programming with their young students. We are offering them a series of art activity classes for their age group organised and led by Lawrence after school on each Friday. The children are thoroughly enjoying their arts classes, especially when it comes time to create their own artworks.

Our new primary school learners from the Evergreen School on Rietpan Farm.

Adeline Meje Primary School: Grade 6 (ages 10 to 12)

Adeline Meji is a school in the centre of Rammulotsi Township, Free State and the site of one of our smaller shipping crate art centres. This is an in-school programme where we are working with the creative arts teacher to facilitate her grade 6 students. There are three Grade 6 classes, each with about 40 children. Each week we focus on a different art discipline, covering music, dance, drama and visual art. This week we used the art of mime to explore different ways the students could create their own artworks using their bodies as sculptures. This is a wonderful and non-threatening way for them to begin to express themselves through drama, starting with frozen images and moving on to little mimed scenes.

Our arts facilitators Tatu and Lawrence leading a workshop with a new group of students.

Grade 8: (from the five local high schools and aged 13 to 14)

This is our after-school group on Mondays. The number of student attending is still fluctuating but we maintain between 35 and 40 students each week, which is manageable and fun. We are going to use the same lessons with them as we are with the Grade 6s in order to streamline prep and resources, but obviously will raise the level of intricacy and expectation with this group. We also have more time for games and meaningful discussions arising from the work. The Grade 8s wrote their monologues this week; these are their own stories about a day they will never forget. These monologues are the first step towards our next big Children’s Monologues fundraiser, which takes these stories and develops them into professional performances, and will take place in 2020. They focused well and wrote quietly for the whole session, which we began and ended with some lively games. They can choose if they want to remain anonymous or not, and it gives them a chance to explore a day that may or may not have been a good one for them, and rethink its impact on themselves and their lives. They are a very engaged group that are keen to explore new ideas and experiences.

Grade 9 to 11: (from the five local high schools and aged 15 to 20)

These students cone after school on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week. All our loyal attendees are back from the previous year and although we lost last year’s grade 11s, as they have to focus on their final year exams, we have gained many new and enthusiastic participants! This week we began a four-week session to explore the meaning of the signals and signs. They loved it. Tatu led the session which took them through exploring the signals and signs we see around us every day. The students then spent time each designing their own personalised sign that sends a message they feel should be seen by their community. Over the next three weeks they will paint large versions of these on to the wall of the local stadium (permission received from the municipality!), which is a place most of the community walks or drives past at some stage. Many came back a second or third time to make more signs! It was lovely to see them so engaged in their creations, of which they were very proud. This will be a wonderful opportunity for them to start to define their personal values and views which they can share with their whole community.

Our first Morning Art Club members - we're delighted to have them!

MACs: (Our Morning Arts Club for those who have left school aged 18 to 25)

This group is for those young people within the Rammulotsi community who have left school but haven’t yet found a job or vocation. We have a steady group of 6 young people at the moment, both boys and girls, and others have showed an interest and will hopefully join us during the coming weeks. During their Thursday session we go over the lesson we will be teaching the Grade 6s the following week. We are training our MACs as arts facilitators so that they can eventually teach the grade 6s, but they have to participate in each session and, as with the grade 8s, we facilitate these session in a manner appropriate to their level of maturity.

The MACs are slowly warming to the idea of what DN can offer them. And what they can offer to DN. When they first arrived this week they were incredibly shy and reserved, but after one or two games they started to relax and become themselves. They engaged very meaningfully with the lesson, which centred around the creation and understanding of Tableaux. We also introduced the idea of conflict in theatre. These concepts will be taken forward in more complexity and detail during the course of the year. It is very rewarding seeing these young people who have previously struggled with school or work blossoming by the minute as they learn how to explore their inner and creative selves in this safe, non-judgemental and equitable space.

It has been a good week. The schedule is quite a demanding one, but we are all enjoying the work and the rewards it offers. Tatu and Lawrence are star facilitators!

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