Today is Lesotho’s 40th anniversary of its independence. The town of Maseru is in full festivities with the exception of 4 dedicated clowns who check their email and answer to loved ones. We are a bit too tired after another full day of teaching workshops to party it up but at least I shimmy a little in my seat. Finally, I have found a little space to write a report from the field about our time here.
October 3, 2006 – SOS Children’s Village, Maseru, Lesotho
We awake this Tuesday morning not to the distant crows of roosters but rather to the pounding beat of seSotho jive in the adjacent cottage. It is barely 6:30 AM and the youth at the SOS Children’s Village have already begun the day listening to the repetitive rhythm of bass and accordion punctuated by a vocalist’s shouting above the din. They must have the bass turned all the way up on the stereo for the vibrations shake my bed like a California earthquake. I stumble out of bed and, after a quick but piercing hot shower, prepare a pot of oatmeal for the rest of the team.
We are staying at the Children’s Village for 5 days as part of a Life Skills and Empowerment Workshop in which the children explore their dreams and aspirations through theatre games and exercises. Due to the scheduling of the residency during Lesotho’s Independence week, we have the unique opportunity to conduct classes throughout the day, working with all the children with the exception of those who are under the age of 6. Of course, this is not entirely true as the little ones get plenty of interaction with the clowns in between classes as well as plaster their faces against the window of the hall where we teach to see what’s going on. Later, we hear them mimicking the exercises in their own groups near the playground!
SOS Children’s Village is a model developed in Germany that provides care and shelter for children who have no other recourse. There are 10 cottages in which 10-15 children live together with a “mother.” Although we prefer to work with community based organizations that have identified vulnerable children who are still living in the community, these orphans are equally in need of compassionate, loving, and nurturing care as well as inspiration and guidance. The director, Mr. John Tuma, explains that many of the older children and youth (those above 15) do not have a positive vision of the future or any idea of who or what they want to grow into. As SOS is working to reintegrate the youth into the community, we find ourselves crafting our workshop to focus on self-identity, awareness of the group, and the visualization and physical embodiment of their life dreams. While we wish we could offer more concrete career counseling, the first step is to identify and believe that your dream is possible – especially when life has dealt one with the incomparable blow of losing one’s parents and the resulting sensation of despair, isolation, and lack of self-confidence.
After a morning of two workshops for the younger children, we meet with 12 youth who straggle to the hall a half hour late. It is 2:30 and though we were about to give up on them, we welcome them enthusiastically. Cell phones pour out of pockets and are placed on a table in a multi-colored mosaic of modern technology. Alice begins with a warm up to get us out of our heads and into our bodies. Isolations, vocal exercises, . Feeling like a challenge, she leads us in yogi sun salutations that stretch jeans and have the boys giggling as they try to balance in a lunge. We then move into a series of exercises designed to develop group awareness and focused energy. The Star Game where one person runs across the circle and then jumps in unison with another shouting, “Awoogah!” Group juggling paying attention to the energy in the room when we increase the number of balls from 1 to 6. We come together in a tight circle and see how high we can count without saying a number at the same time. Today, after many failures, we make it almost to 20 – an improvement over the mere 12 yesterday. Finally, the workshop turns to the Life Dreams exercise for the day: the identification and physicalization of an object that is necessary to achieve one’s dream.
Pilots find goggles and flight instruction manuals. Doctors measure out dosages in syringes. Accountants type away at computers. DJs listen to headphones. Ocean explorers don scuba equipment. We pass the pantomimed objects around in a circle as each youth builds upon the action of the group. Sometimes one decides to break or destroy the object which opens up a brief discussion on how it feels to see one’s dream disrespected by another, but usually the object returns to the owner in good condition. The exercise is both affirming and helpful for the youth to see their dream living outside of themselves before bringing it back it back home. An hour and a half has flown by. Nobody exhibits any eagerness to leave but our time is up. We talk briefly about the exercise and then finish with a ritual of sending a squeeze around a circle with our eyes closed.
As I walk back to our cottage, tired from a full day of teaching, I am filled with a sense of joy. The workshops are progressing far better than we could have expected in this first partnership with SOS Maseru. Alice, Selena, and I are working together like a well-oiled teaching machine reinforcing one another and giving support when needed. It is vacation yet our attendance has been consistent. No one is forced to come. They want to. I see the reason in the faces of the children and youth and how they greet us throughout the day. In the smiles, the laughter, and the concentrated silence. In the confidence of Khekheletsu, a young teenage girl who comes on her own will to 2 workshops a day and stands proudly to say, “I am a doctor!” In order for one’s dreams to come true, one must take the first step in believing in them. Khekheletsu, like many others at SOS, is well on her way.
“Grow into your ideals less the world rob you of them…” – Albert Schweitzer, humanitarian, doctor, philosopher.