The Ajoda group were keen to be involved in cultural and educational work in their local area in South East London, and to transmit their experience to younger generations, especially to African children. Their enthusiasm was an ideal starting point for a local project in a local school with a majority of pupils from Africa, quite a few of whom had arrived recently and were still somewhat disorientated. The class teacher of the Year Five class in question was also Nigerian and was very enthusiastic about this link. She could see how the benefits for the children would extend beyond mainstream curriculum areas of English, Geography, History, Religious Studies and Citizenship into social skills, personal development, tolerance and self-esteem.
The African elders became very close to the children and worked with them in small groups without direct leading from the director. There were moments of real transformation, as when a young girl, recently arrived from Nigeria, went from being very quiet and shy to being the protagonist of the group, thanks to the reassurance she derived from working with the elders and the importance that was suddenly placed on her cultural identity. To watch her suddenly light up as they spoke to her in her native language about where she was from and places she knew was startling for the people watching. It was a magical project, empowering the African-origin youngsters to welcome their white classmates into their culture. The play was finally presented to parents and the general public to much acclaim, with the elders in their full African costumes full of colour and style. The inclusion of songs learned by the children during the project was a vital part of the play and drove the piece forward with an infectious energy.
Afterwards, the Ajoda groups sent the following comment:
Working with the children in performance further transformed and stabilised us as a group. Children were able to understand our stories through our actions and working with us increased their levels of awareness, tolerance and understanding. They were able to consider the great changes the elders have gone through in their life journeys from the innocence of their disciplined schooldays in Africa to their present day experience as elders in Britain. The play made the group plan and work together as a team, giving us a foundation for future projects. The collective ideas and ideals pursued in the overall project are things we want to maintain in our future work. The project helped Ajoda as an organisation to be mindful of the needs of its member and other groups, both old and young.
The older people had been motivated by a desire to share their experience with younger people to enhance their sense of cultural identity and their feeling of global inter-connectedness. The African elders had told the children: “It takes a whole village to raise a child” and had made it clear to them that the village elders have a crucial role in this process. The children understood this idea through their direct experience of working with the elders from Ajoda.
Theatre projects such as this, involving young and old and inter-cultural exchange, provide a particularly productive way of bringing the generations together for creative co-operation and mutual appreciation.
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