Imagine being stuck under a foreign sky with forty unknown people and one objective – to leave the world a better place for our youth. Now imagine those forty people divided into three delegations – Zambian, French and South African – and all the barriers that needed to be crossed. I am reminded of Maria Popova’s words, “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naivete.” For that very reason the cultural exchange between France, Zambia and South Africa is one of the most enriching experiences I encountered thus far. We left with more than hope in our hands.
From Zambia we met Barefoot Theater, a group of deeply inspired and passionate dancers, actors and singers hell-bent on reintegrating homeless children back into society. We voyaged into their world littered with sounds and colour; where dust clung to the trees and the poverty was inescapable. Every single time a foot pounded the earth or hands reached for the sky, the struggles faced daily by Zambian children were shared. Aided by lightning fast dance moves and the calling of the drums – each engagement with our Zambian brothers from Barefoot Theater left us excited, tired and above all hopeful.
From the city of Toulouse we met the French delegation. Stemming from all walks of life their love for samba music is what draws people to them. Through music they are able to reach anyone regardless of age, creed or race. Yet it is the youth they are determined to positively impact. This can be seen clearly with the Pourquoi Pas Nous band, children who love the drums and just happen to have learning disabilities. Pourquoi Pas Nous means ‘why not us’ and under the leadership of Samba Resille have managed to break down walls (both their own and of others) through music.
Yet it was a visit to a boy’s orphanage that broke down the walls of all the delegations present. The French and South Africans presented Barefoot Theatre with sanitary pads for the homeless girls in their care. I recall Phodiso Matloga, our fearless South African leader looking at me as we entered the boys orphanage in Zambia and saying, ‘You are going to cry…’ And did we all cry…. The walls were lightly painted, the trees offering what little shade they could while children thronged within the walls.
The Barefoot team provide continuous workshops to the children in the orphanage and other organisations they are partnered with. Once a week street children are found, offered a bath, food and a chance to take a step off the streets – if they chose to. The street children are found in states of disrepair, dirt caked in their skin, on dark and dangerous corners. Some of their eyes still filled with sleep induced by the drugs bubbling in their bodies while others nurse injuries they succumbed to the night before. A few were reluctant to join in the activities but the pounding drums and the vivacity of the Zambians could not be resisted for too long.
Hugues from Samba Resille said, “I tried talking to a child who was a bit older but every word felt like an injustice. After all I am white and privileged. Yet, this child with so little took on the task of reassuring me. He said that if he has to wait 100 years to see a door open, he will. Until then he will survive the streets and everything else. I walked away believing he could…”
Christelle Dreyer, a dancer and artist in her own right was equally affected,” I know I complain about being disabled but these kids live in such hard circumstances that I had to pause… “ Christelle champions the rights of the disabled wherever she goes and imparted life lessons to those who chose to surround her at the orphanage. Shamiela Jaffer summed up the day with one sentence, “It was in that moment that we all became human….” Yes, we put aside all of our silly anxieties and tasked our minds and bodies to what was before us – children who needed help. Children at risk. This was the reason we were here after all…
Best practises were shared as well as the challenges faced by all. We deduced that the Zambians have a rich culture of dance that transmits any message to those most vulnerable. The French have a sincere exploratory and curious nature that cut through any perceived notions of a place or a people. It was Greg Ecureuil from Samba Resille, who revealed one element that unites South Africans, and had I not travelled I would remain unaware of. South Africans love to sing. We have good and bad songs for every occasion and need very little encouragement to lift our voices to the heavens.
I left Zambia deeply affected, determined to give more, certain that my voice is armour enough to tackle the social ills South Africa is confronted with. And even more certain of those at my side. As I stared at the Zambian moon one last time the words of the poet Rilke comforted me…
‘Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.”