Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Igniting Power of Imagination. Education through the Arts

By envisioning the school of the future, I sense that the traditional educational system might not be enough to prepare the youth to handle the future, if it doesn’t contemplate the Arts as an integrated part of the school curriculum. The reason is simple: the more the world progresses, diversified, well technologically connected and fast, the more education needs to respond to the need of creating community and re-define identities. A quality we all have and that needs to be revalued is imagination. It was Italian writer Italo Calvino that said ‘Imagination is like communicating with the soul of the world’.
Why imagination? Being a writer and an avid reader as well as being raised in a single-parent environment where I didn’t have many friends, where I was the only child, imagination has been my daily companion. It is deeply rooted within ourselves and it’s not difficult to consider it as the engine of our being human. It has its foundation in two words: What if.  It was William Shakespeare, in his comedy ‘As You Like It’, that underlined the importance of the word IF through the tirelessly inquisitive fool Touchstone, who keeps on questioning ‘what if?’. It is Touchstone himself who foresees what poet Adrienne Rich defined as a ‘revolutionary question, the virtue to uphold’.IF is important, not because of how things are, but how they could be. The free exercise of imagination shapes the world in which we live, it creates many possibilities and realities.
The ‘spiritus phantasticus’, as Giordano Bruno defined it, that spurs from a creative mind, helps the exploration of new territories of the human sensibility and also allows to one to leave their comfort zone, enabling them to explore different ways of self-expression.
I have been using art as a tool for social change, working with marginalized communities in different countries and it has always succeeded to help create community, to break boundaries, even linguistic ones, to overcome stressful and difficult times, to find a language that could be inclusive and representative to all. Art in education plays a significant role, as it helps students to empower themselves. They can not only enter different cultures and mindsets, but also learn to identify themselves. Art can be a ‘window and a mirror’, to quote Rudine Sims Bishop, as it allows young people to shape the world that they inhabit; any also others so that everyone is able to identify him/herself, and also to explore new territories.
In some social contexts, being an immigrant or belonging to a marginalized group requires a lot of strength. I’ve been addressing issues like female genital mutilation, diversity, gender equality, and identity, through spoken word, theatre, creative writing and visual art. This connects different communities that wouldn’t have the chance to know each other otherwise. They’ve been able, by expressing their imagination, to envision a future with a more sensitive eye on what a sustainable, inclusive, empathetic society should look like.
When young people confront themselves with the obstacles of the societies they live in, often feeling misrepresented, judged, or marginalized, the Arts come to offer them a safe, non-judgmental space with which they can express their true self. They can freely rely on their imagination and creativity to solve conflicts and misunderstandings. There’s an inner quality about the Arts that brings to light our intimate consciousness and its exploration reminds us that awareness is the first stage from which we can start overcoming stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination.
On a more academic level, art contributes in cognitive activity, reading skills and critical thinking. It improves motivation, teamwork, concentration, and self-confidence. Art connects the youth to the world, and opens them to new ways of seeing the world around them, creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion. It encourages young people to find and express their abilities while learning. It is often believed that the Arts is a field exclusively for artists, but that’s not true.  Art is an important tool through which learning becomes a rewarding experience whatever ability one has. The Arts help them to feel a sense of ownership for what they learn and allows them to embrace their personal experiences through sharing stories, ideas, dreams, hopes, and becoming change makers, paving an innovative, multidisciplinary path.
In the 19th century, American writer George Eliot said: ‘It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various point of view’.  She had made a statement not only as a woman creative writer in a male dominant literary scene, but because she herself had a curious mind. Her curiosity led her to learn a multitude of subjects, from science to foreign languages, and acquire a vast base of knowledge. Eliot did this with the eyes of an imaginative mind, which allowed her to create a world that could not have been seen otherwise, in the narrowed minded society she lived in.
Eliot’s idea applies to the concept of how we should envision youth education today: an education based on exploring possibilities and different perspectives, promoting inclusiveness, equal opportunities, diversity and multiplicity.

The article was submitted to the Nuha Foundation Blogging Contest 2016.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Nuha Foundation Blogging Contest

I've participated to the Nuha Foundation's Blogging Contest. My essay is called The Igniting Power of Imagination: Education Through the Arts .




By envisioning the school of the future, I sense that the traditional educational system might not be enough to prepare the youth to handle the future, if it doesn’t contemplate the Arts as an integrated part of the school curriculum. The reason is simple: the more the world progresses, diversified, well technologically connected and fast, the more education needs to respond to the need of creating community and re-define identities. A quality we all have and that needs to be revalued is imagination. It was Italian writer Italo Calvino that said ‘Imagination is like communicating with the soul of the world’.


Why imagination? Being a writer and an avid reader as well as being raised in a single-parent environment where I didn’t have many friends, where I was the only child, imagination has been my daily companion. It is deeply rooted within ourselves and it’s not difficult to consider it as the engine of our being human. It has its foundation in two words: What if.  It was William Shakespeare, in his comedy ‘As You Like It’, that underlined the importance of the word IF through the tirelessly inquisitive fool Touchstone, who keeps on questioning ‘what if?’. It is Touchstone himself who foresees what poet Adrienne Rich defined as a ‘revolutionary question, the virtue to uphold’.IF is important, not because of how things are, but how they could be. The free exercise of imagination shapes the world in which we live, it creates many possibilities and realities. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

Anyone can leave a comment below the link's page and also share it on Facebook and Twitter.
There 's a 2000$ prize. in the eventuality I'll be the recipient of it, I will be able to set a permanent free writing workshop for marginalized youth in Nairobi and also help to build sustainable bookshelves in Nairobi Slums.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Writing Workshop in Kibera

Last week I had a presentation of my Writing Workshop with the children of Kibera (Katwekera section).

Kibera view

Kibera is the second largest slum in Africa. With an estimated population of one million people living within 2.5 square kilometres, it is one of the most densely populated areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
Youth in Kibera face particular challenges. Many grow up in deplorable living conditions, lacking basic infrastructure and services including safe water, proper housing and sanitation, health services, garbage collection, law enforcement and access to an education which could lift them out of poverty.
Lacking employment and hope and faced with extreme hardships, many youth are pushed to engage in risky activities such as prostitution, early marriage, and substance abuse; activities which also put them at greater risk for HIV/AIDS.

John Adoli the founder and director of the community centre in Katwekera, has given me the opportunity to come and teach children how to write stories, starting from theirs.  By creating this space he has provided a safe place for kids and youth to gather and spend their time involving them in educational and artistic activities.

Presenting the workshop I decided to use a simple variation of Renée Watson's Visual Poem which made possible for all the children to tell who they are in a more intimate way: so following Watson's example they had fun portraying themselves and telling what they like and who they are.

These are the children holding their works.








Even if I'm volounteering,  and I'm not always in the position to do so, I can see how kids would love to know more about books and writing. They like stories, who doesn't after all! The problem is that sometimes they don't have parents to tell them stories nor books to read. 
After the meeting they felt inspired and some came to me and said they wish to become writers! So I knew my work has been valued.

The idea is to let them write stories and make a small anthology out of their works to present in their community and also to share with other communities in Nairobi's slums to inspire many more youth.

Journal's to be
Today I bought for them excercise books to decorate and personalize (we will do in the manual art workshop on saturday) which will become their daily journal. If they practice keeping the journal, they will improve their writing skills and give space to their imagination.

The children are willing to write and hungry for books, and for this reason we are looking for books for kids from 7 to 16 years old which could be part of  library to organize in Kibera-Katwekera and also to provide them colors and paper to write. 
Ofte their vocabulary is poor due to the lack of books, without books they can't improve their reading and writing skills.

Sending books in Kenya might be expensive, but in countries like UK and USA (Googling is easy to find many options) there are many cargo services that send items for a reasonable price.

Who is willing to send books (writers, publishers, private) I can send in pvt the address. 
Who is willing to sponsor the two workshops you can donate here:




Workshop Children €200
Workshop Youth €200

Each donation will allow each child to have access to reading books, paper, pens, colors.
With this amount the books we will be able to purchase will be the ones available in Kenya.

For international author's books the price is high so we need a different approach:
- If you are an author and you'd like one of your book to reach Kibera-Kenya you can ask your publisher to send a donation copy on your behalf (i will provide the address);
- If you are an indie author let me know if you can give a discount on your books so that I might purchase directly from you  (Amazon has very expensive shipping rates to Kenya).

Once we receive the books, before setting up the community library, we will train kids and educators on how to catalog and keep books in order.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

FGM in Iran ... The Documenatry

Rayehe Mozafarian
Activist, Researcher and Artist Rayehe Mozafarian has directed, edited and produced a short video interviewing women in Sirik city (Province of Hormozgan), about Female Genital Mutilation. The video, which is part of the StopFGMIran campaign,  took four days to shoot and it happened in coincidence with a wedding ceremony: it was intentional to put the two events in the same video, the interviews and the wedding ceremony. While I was interviewing some midwives, I was invited to the wedding and it seemed a perfect combination to emphasize the importance of addressing FGM and the sufference of women who have undergone or will undergo the cut."
Rayehe explains the reason why the faces of the women interviewed are blurry: I didn't get permission so I had to obscure their faces. 
Rayehe is now planning to produce a longer documentary for which she already had permissions from the Government.  A work that will enlighten the presence of FGM in Iran. 



Rayehe has been working extensively in two different related campaigns: StopFGMIran and Stop Early Marriage in Iran.

She is the author of: The Ring which is intended to find and make light on child marriage and its causes (published in 2016), Razor and Tradition (Utopia Publisher, Paris 2013), Tigh o Sonnat (Razor and Tradition) (Takht Jamshid Publisher, Iran 2015). 
More about Rayehe's Work here.

Razor&Tradition

The Ring








Friday, 30 September 2016

Mother... a Poem

  
Art by IKI
I

Does my whiteness
prejudice my worth to this continent
where I first breathed
and the sound cuddled  my tiny ear
like the blink of a soft jacaranda petal?
Does my forced exile
compromised the sense of belonging
to this land of lost fathers
whom I buried in grief too early -
though is never the right time for farewells?
I elected my space according to
emotion not geography
feeling not citizenship
intellect not borders.
I thought myself as an illegal seed
carried in a borrowed womb
for mysterious reasons that elude
the logic of the mind.
Elephants migrate spreading seeds in foreign lands
the wind blows above the soil
carrying a bunch of tiny gems
feeding new horizons,
why couldn’t I have had the same journey?
A seed launched out of circumstances…
It comes a time you got to kill your mother
to find your own belongings
shrug off the virginity of a safe place
embed in a different landscape:
love  doesn’t have to coincide with blood
there’s a natural sentiment that comes along
ignoring given bonds.

I have two mothers:
my biological mother looks like me,
pale and strong bodied,
my other mother is brown like the soil
with a golden shade between her eyebrows
her name is Sera.
Mama Sera
it was the time when History didn’t match with justice
and segregation fell lives apart
dividing people by
color
race
ethnicity
minority
it was the time when History kidnapped people lives
and threw them in a cell underneath,
Jo’ burg was burning behind the walls built
to secure the wardens’ lives;
waving their phallus they pleased their ego
entering the unlocked doors of the dreamer’s sleep.
But you were there, Mama Sera
you were there everyday
from Alexandra township walking your body
like  the gentle flame of a candle
on the shores of every day’s aspirations
to clean the sense of unease
that history has weaved on this patch of land
so fertile of life ‘n love.
No one, a part from myself,
knows how secretly
I dreamt of an equal dialogue
between my two mothers.
I longed for a love that would not be defeated by roles,
a love that could be one and inseparable
but life has chosen for me 
Mama Sera
to be you my spiritual mother.


II

That’s how Mama Sera
became my second mother.
She did not feed my stomach
she fed my imagination.
She did not carry me in her arms
she showed me the direction for the day
I could be strong enough to walk on my own.
She did not wash my face out of the sleep
she gave me a cup filled of water
and sang me the song of the rivers that travel all their way
to wash the surface of the mighty ocean
from losses and oblivion.
She didn’t lace my shoes
instead stood by my side encouraging me to do it myself
regardless to my tears of shame.
She did not bring me gifts for Christmas
she let me sit on her lap and tell me stories
where the hero wasn’t a beard old man sliding on the snow
but a child who walked three miles to fetch water and who
along the road met the ghost of his grand father
who saluted him playing the sacred drum.
She did not push me to my dreams with Cinderella’s league,
she encouraged the ancestor’s to bring me stories from the of old times.
She didn’t wish me  happy birthday,
but taught me the reasons why we should be celebrating our life every day,
in struggle and peace -
celebration is a luxury of the losers – she said.
She didn’t fill my schoolbag with milk for the day
but taught me responsibility for the things I care.



III

I ‘ve spent afternoons staring at the cupboard
where you kept some of your belongings
clothes, old magazines and the box of perfumes
you received your first day of work,
someone assumed you needed to have one
and on the fundaments of this assumption
all of a sudden, I embarked on a different ship.
I started secretly, intimately, sailing on a different sea
driven by a sense of unease
which attempted to pollute my love for you.
That’s how you became my second mother.
I’ve spent bunches of time thinking weather
I should just open the door and throw those perfumes away
cause the idea that made them to be there was wrong.
For this I loved you more
and you became my second mother.
I’ve spent all my lunches sitting by your side,
close to the kitchen’s window where the stove stood
generous of steamy pots
I ate from your hand sweet pap dipped in hot chilly
      - gravy,
the food you were asked to prepare for me
wasn’t appealing to my taste.
I did an effort eating two meals
but I did, because I wanted that privilege
to remain still in maternal complicity with you
and for this I loved you more
and you became my second mother.
I played with my brother Tumelo.
When I was sick you brought him home
to fill my loneliness
playing kudoda and laughing and crying.
empathy acts in mysterious ways.



IV

Time has delivered an answer to the life I embraced
and I’m back
I came to look for your face
Mama Sera.
To mirror my wonder in your eyes
to caress your skillful hands.
I came back to listen more songs
and stories.
I came back to see my brothers and sisters
who grew in the secrecy of my room
fearless and curious.
I came back to sit at the same table eating together
the dreamt food of my childhood
remembering the two of us sitting by the stove
eating pap from the pot
while the food on the table
was getting cold and tasteless.
I came back to tell you
I managed to break the chains of my exile
that I came back to stay
that I had encountered the fear of loss
that I faced the judgment of the ignorant.

Strengthened my bones I chose
hardship out of hypocrisy and mediocrity.
I came to tell you that I’m your child,
never lost,
just suspended in a limbo
waiting to bring you something
you could be proud of
but you had already gone.
I wanted to be sure I existed in your life
as well as you existed in mine -
                          -  memory needs a double check.
I came back and drew your face on the red soil
outside in the field where we used to walk side by side
moving my first steps toward life.
I drew a big face with the golden shade between the eye browses,
it was the sun that marked your skin
                                  – you said in delight
so that you could enlighten your children’s journey
towards freedom
in those arrogant days where freedom wasn’t available
I’m one of your children and I found my path
towards the destination you aimed for us.
Barefoot in countless sunny days you taught me
to feel before thinking
to think before judging
to chase hate out of my life
to trust myself
when I cannot trust others.

You’re now my memory
I’ll dig in the earth and deposit my seed
deep inside
I’ll send it to the future
so that your grand children
will harvest love and gratitude.
Like a tree I will stand waiting for the birds
to rest on my branches and feed my lelhala.
Hours, days and weeks will shift in other rooms of time
While nostalgia will nourish your absence.


From my last short poetry collection OUT
Kabiliana Press 2016
Work Art by Iki


Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Walking Race. A radio drama about gender equality and politics in modern Kenya.

Even though more and more Africans have access to internet through the phone, Radio is by far the dominant mass medium in Africa. Within the continent, Kenya has a huge number of community radio stations that are enabling isolated communities across the country to voice their own concerns. On air, ordinary citizens discuss issues that are central to them and this makes community radios an important platform to empower people  through information.
Mtaani Radio (99,9 FM) is one of the newest independent community based Radio in Nairobi located in Kivuli Centre, Kabiria serving Dagoretti Community. The intent of the radio is to build bridges with its listeners and empower the community to celebrate diversity and participate in its development.
Among its programs, there is attention on social issues like: Child’s rights education, Women empowerment, Youth empowerment, Health.

With Patrick Kisarenge
One of the newest programs is The Walking Race, a radio drama written, directed and produced by Patrick Kisarenge Modi. The Walking Race is a 12 episode’s drama that addresses the community on a number of themes related to politics and gender inequality in anticipation of next year’s Kenyan National Political elections.  We want to sensitize the community on the leadership of womeneducate and empower women to achieve a career, educate men to trust women says Patrick - women should not anymore be seen only as care takers but also as empowered leaders capable to run for important posts in any field.
Each episode of the radio drama goes on air twice a week, Sunday at 7 p.m in English and Monday at 9.00 p.m.  in Kiswahili with the title Safari Ndefu.

What happens if in modern Kenya a woman is willing to start a career in politics? In Kenya there’s still this strong imbalance between men and women. even though women represent 50% of the Kenyan popoluation and 60% of the country's registered voters, only 19% of women are parliamentaries. Gender inequality arises within Kenyan families and when a woman intends to start her own business or run for a post in politics - says Patrick -  she often finds obstacles within her family. The desire of economical independence and time out of the family, is often the cause of marriage breaks.

Back in 2012, Patrick started conceiving the idea of a play featuring women and politics before election time: I was inspired by a common saying which says that behind every successful man there’s a woman. I wanted to go further that and asked myself who is behind every successful woman? I initially thought about making the woman protagonist of my play a woman president but there were no role models to be inspired by, so I thought about a woman who is running for a more local post in politics as a MCA (Member of County Assembly).
Four years later, the play has been adapted for the radio and this coming week the second episode will be on air. 

I had the opportunity to assist to the rehearsals and I found very compelling the idea of generations confronting each other discussing about gender roles, questioning an old patriarchal system and coming at peace with the idea that gender equality should be the path towards a more successfull society.  
Another issue touched by The Walking Race is the importance of building an inclusive community by embracing all diversities. Kabiria and Nairobi, on a larger scale, are home to many refugees and immigrants and as part of the society, they should be able to have a voice and a political representation.

Rehearsal

Rehearsal
 
Rehearsal
(Cedric Mugo, Chege Kamau, Bridgit Aringo and Ann Wachira)

Rehearsal (Cedric Mugo and Ann Wachira)

Rehearsal (Cedric Mugo and Chege Kamau)


The cast was chosen after an audition: The actors are at their first experience in acting and this makes the whole experience extremly important for all of them - explains  Patrick  - also the Radio Drama is all done on a volunteer basisWe didn't find sponsors yet, so we are still looking for them but we are hopeful that some  will show up and help this important project to achieve the best result.


The actors are:

Chege Kamau in the role of David (Kuseti's Dad)
Cedric Mugo in the role of Kuseti (Angela's Husband)
Bridgit Aringo on the role of Mapenzi (David's wife)
Ann Wachira in the role of Angela (Kuseti's wife, MCA aspirant)
Evelyn Kinya in the role of Leha (Women group member)
Jane Mwangi in the role of Susan (Women group secretary)
Nancy Muthee in the role od Mama Njeri (Women group member)
Humphrey Sakawa in the role of Jamo in the role of the thug
Daniel Tsimbego - in the role of Robaa (thug)
Hesborn Gekone in the role of the Kapten (aspiring male MCA)
Michael Barnabe in the role of John (Leah's husband)
A police  - in the role of officer Kip


To know more about Mtaani Radio  and participate, visit

Friday, 2 September 2016

THE CUT. TESTIMONIANZE E NARRAZIONI. MUTILAZIONI GENITALI FEMMINILI

ACQUISTA
KABILIANA PRESS
E' USCITO 


The Cut Voci del cambiamento, è un libro-laboratorio che esplora il complesso tema delle MGF in tutte le sue possibili sfaccettature utilizzando diversi registri linguistici, da quello informativo a quello artistico. L'autrice racconta la sua esperienza di lavoro di artista con donne sopravvissute alle mutilazioni affermando il potere della scrittura come atto di resistenza e di denuncia ma anche come percorso terapeutico verso il superamento del trauma e l’affermazione identitaria. Attraverso le preziose testimonianze e narrazioni di attivisti e artisti incontrati in giro per il mondo, il libro di Valentina Mmaka ha il valore di portare all’attenzione dei lettori l’urgenza su un problema che affligge 200 milioni di donne nel mondo. L’opera ha il merito di essere uno strumento informativo e formativo oltreché un’ispirazione per tutti coloro che desiderano impegnarsi e dare un contributo alla causa e partecipare attivamente alla creazione di un dialogo pubblico sull’argomento dando la possibilità a chi è vittima di queste pratiche, di far sentire la propria voce e segnare il cambiamento delle culture che le sostengono. THE CUT condivide anche il percorso artistico dell’autrice che utilizza l’arte come strumento di resistenza e promozione della giustizia sociale. La seconda metà del volume è quella dedicata al lavoro svolto nell’ambito del collettivo Gugu Women Lab in Sudafrica e a tutti quegli artisti che come lei sono impegnati nella sensibilizzazione sulla tematica

PER INTERVISTE -  RECENSIONI E PRESENTAZIONI* CONTATTARE
valentinammaka (AT) gmail (DOT) com

*L' autrice è disponibile anche a fare presentazioni via Skype