“We feel forgotten here, but now [during this workshop] we feel important and remembered because you have come to us and made us happy!” These are the words of an elderly man who attended our arts based workshop yesterday. He was one of the smiling and enthusiastic participants enjoying every moment of the workshop.
I am deeply honoured to work with an organisation that remembers the people living in places in crisis, an organisation that makes people happy. I was appointed as CWBSA’s Programme Manager last September, and I applied for this role because I am a believer in the transformative and healing power of the arts, and I believe in using arts, not just for art sake but as a tool for engagement with ourselves and each other. So far, I spend most of my time behind the scenes in the office dealing with the logistics of our projects and writing funding applications amongst other things. When I found out I was going on the tour in South Sudan as the tour manager I was elated because it meant I could see the CWBSA’s work first hand in the field, it meant that I would experience the theory in real life. This tour is generously funded by USAID and we are working with VISTAS (Viable Support in Transition and Stability) to implement it, and Iam honoured to be a part of it.
My elation remained steadfast regardless of friends and family’s reservations. One of my friends even pleaded with me not to go. But I knew the importance of this work, and the volatile situation in South Sudan was not going to deter me from not going. I understood that there’s a possibility that I might be in danger in South Sudan, but why do we live if we have not found something worth dying for? This might be perceived as dramatic by some, but I am a believer in finding and doing work you are so passionate about that you would risk your life for.
Is this risk of being here worthwhile? My answer to that would be a resounding YES! On this trip, I am reminded of how strong and beautiful the human spirit can be, and this reminder is worth the risk of being here. Some of the VISTAS team are from here, and some have families living in the POCs (Protection of Civilians Site), and yet they are not completely worn down by the circumstances, they remain motivated and support their families. They are some of the most exceptional people I have ever met. The kids, youth and elders that have attended our shows and workshops thus far, have welcoming smiles and a brightness in their eyes that lights me up. They are all very open to participating in all the activities, and seem truly moved by our being here. Yesterday, I witnessed the elders in the workshop joyously dancing and singing, fervently trying to master some of the juggling skills they were being taught, one of them even remarked that while doing the activities they had forgotten about their challenging circumstances. I loved seeing the different personalities of the children come alight as they partook in the activities, it reminded me not to just look at them in a sorrowful away, but look at them as little humans with immense potential. I am not directly engaging with the children and families here as much as the artists are, but I am deeply grateful to be here to have a few moments with them, be it taking selfies, or shaking their hands, or dancing or trying on some of the local attire or hearing their laughter.
I cannot begin to imagine how it feels to lose everything and be confined to a Protection of Civilians Site, surviving on very little and having almost no options. It goes without saying that it is highly challenging and traumatising. But like what one the people from VISTAS said, “Your workshops and performances are contributing to healing the trauma that the people here have experienced.” He also indicated that they might be incorporating some of our activities into some of their workshops. This is a wonderful validation to the work we do, but the greatest validation is obviously the wonderful feedback from the people themselves!
I am here with some of the most beautiful people. This team of clowns is inspiring me every day, they are very dedicated to this work, and exceptionally talented. We all get on like a house on fire. I am afraid I am becoming more of a clown every day I spend with them, their clowning spirits are very infectious. I might need to change roles soon.
We have 11 more days here in South Sudan, we are off to Malakal and Jubu after this, I am already feeling exhausted, and emotionally fragile, and the sun is unforgiving, but this work is worth it all!
– Linda Kaoma