Volume 18 Number 6
Nomads Find a Home in the Arts
01 December 2005
New Generation's workshops are given by volunteers and include art, drama, guitar and drumming as well as capoeira (a Brazilian martial art). The group believes in giving room to creativity and personal initiative.
NEW GENERATION, a group of artists who have created an open forum where people can exchange artistic skills, gathers daily in Vauxhall Community Centre, in London. They consider themselves nomads: they do not have a fixed performance space, and they wander from place to place, as if looking for a promised land.
It all started when Laura Villegas, from Colombia, decided there should be more than TV for young refugees who do not have the money to pay for an artistic education. 'They find it difficult to know where their place is in a new culture; that makes them feel alienated and depressed,' says Villegas.
The project has been running since 1997, but things were not easy at the beginning. After the first workshop that she organized, the young boys and girls realized they were not able to achieve the strong sense of cooperation and responsibility required and so they abandoned the project.
Only a 13-year-old girl, Marta Callejas, believed in Villegas. The two women worked together inspiring others to join them.
Today, New Generation's workshops are given by volunteers and include art, drama, guitar and drumming as well as capoeira (a Brazilian martial art). The group believes in giving room to creativity and personal initiative. 'The objective is to teach students how to design a project, how to get the budget and then produce a result,' says Villegas.
Refugees from Rwanda, Somalia, Palestine, Mexico and Venezuela have been part of the group, and though many of them have moved on to other things they have been given inspiration to follow their own path.
Identity is a theme they handle with care: they know where they come from, but they also know they have to adapt to a new society, without ceasing to be who they are. They use an aphorism to illustrate their philosophy: 'To respect differences and the right to disagree'.
The group does not have a leader and anyone can make a proposal. They see their pieces as works in progress in which things can change according to the needs of the present moment. The last play they staged, The Surprising Death of Joselito, was collectively created. It portrays the life of a man who goes through different situations, starting in the Baranquilla carnival in Colombia and ending up in Iraq, where he is tortured by soldiers.
Working together strengthens the voice of New Generation and gives them a sense of community which is essential for their lives.
Andrea Cabrera Luna
Mapuche first, then Chilean
'THANK YOU Ngunechen (God) for what we have, for who we are. We are proud of being Mapuche, people of the Earth,' says Maria Romero Cheuquepil before the first meeting of the university year. She is President of the Association of Students and Young Pehuenches in the heart of Temuco, Chile. She is also the Dorm Mother for the Pehuenche Students' House.
Romero was born in Lonquimay in far eastern Chile, a community of 8,000 people nestled in the Andes. Her first language is Mapudugun; however due to laws stemming from the 'Pacification of the Araucania' (which the Mapuche see as the military takeover of their territory), she was forced to attend boarding school and speak only Spanish. Teased by the Chileans of European origin , she found it a challenge to understand 'why me' and 'what it meant to be Mapuche'.
When Romero moved from her rural home in Lonquimay to Temuco, the change was drastic: 'People would tease me for being Mapuche, for being from a small town, for speaking differently'. At university, her studies were challenging, as was being far away from home for the first time. She set out to find others in the same position as her.
Today her organization provides housing and services to Mapuche students, and helps them adapt to city life. 'It's what I wish there had been when I arrived, a group of Mapuche brothers and sisters who would understand me without judging me,' she says.
While her organization's primary focus is on students from the Pehuenche region (one of the four regions of the Mapuche territory), admittance is open to Mapuches from other regions. Some students speak very little Mapudugun, as they grew up in Spanish-speaking communities unaware of the beauty and strength of their own people; but now they are learning from Romero, house-mates or visitors.
After struggles with high-ranking government officials, Romero managed to get the government to stock their dorm kitchen. In addition, due partly to her persistence and dedication, Mapuche students can get scholarships for their university studies, often receiving application assistance from other Mapuches in the association. Romero dreams of travelling with a group to share the Mapuche culture outside Chile.
'I am Mapuche first, then Chilean,' she says. Why is it important to preserve her culture? 'Because it's who we are, and without our traditions, we would be lost as a people,' she replies without hesitation.
Monique Hélène Mizrahi
Ubuntu-'I am because you are'
THE LITTLE town of Kagadi-Kibaale is not only the oldest conflict zone in Uganda, but also the place where Mwalimu Musheshe visualized the 'Uganda Rural Development and Training (URDT) Institute'.
Musheshe is no stranger to conflict himself; he suffered imprisonment and torture during past dictatorships, and escaped a grenade attack on his life for standing up against mismanagement of finances by so-called NGOs and peoples' projects. When asked, 'Why didn't you leave the country like many do in those difficult and life threatening periods?' he said, 'If all Africans think likewise and leave whenever there is trouble, who will be there to carry the work of rebuilding our nation?'
Since people in Kagadi are used to conflict, they were mistrustful and it took time to be accepted by them. Rather than using a conventional problem-solving approach, Musheshe introduced a creative process, which requires the active participation and ownership of the people. This initiative embodies the African philosophy of Ubuntu: 'I am because you are'.
Starting with the most urgent need, a clean water storage and usage system, URDT launched a host of projects to address sanitation, education, agriculture, communication, health and family life.
Today, after 18 years of living and learning with the community in Kagadi, URDT runs a girls' school with 240 students from the poorest sections. It also provides a micro-credit banking system that gives loans to poor women and graduates of the diploma course.
The Institute has a huge solar energy programme that gives power to nearly 70 per cent of western Uganda, a fish farm, a tree plantation project, a coffee plantation, an orchard and a maize-grinding mill. In addition, there is a regular supply of nutritional vegetables from their organic farm and a mini-zoo with a collection of endangered animals and birds. It also runs the only community radio station in Uganda.
Impressively, 99 per cent of graduates of the Institute go back to their rural homes. 'We do not educate people to go and look for jobs in cities,' Musheshe explained. 'We educate them to go and create jobs for themselves and others in their communities'. Their motto perfectly encapsulates the whole ethos: 'Awakening the sleeping genius in each of us.'