In Movement: Creative empowerment in Kansanga
“Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The trick is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately: We don’t grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Or, rather, we get educated out of it. Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.“
- “Schools Must Validate Artistic Expression” from Edutopia by Sir Ken Robinson.
To frame my analysis of In Movement, a creative empowerment project for disadvantaged children, I want to incorporate the theories of Sir Ken Robinson as it relates to their purpose and goals.
Written by Abigail Bartels
Sir Ken Robinson is a renowned author and speaker on the topic of re-evaluating our education systems worldwide to become more relevant to a post-industrialized world.
He is a strong advocate for valuing and developing the creative mind and creative skills. Especially in our education systems, where we have been directed away from the right-brain strengths that are most likely to help with global challenges like job creation, population growth and loss of jobs due to machinery.
Robinson states the problem as such: “We can’t afford to go on that way. In the next thirty years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will graduate from school than did so from the beginning of history to the present. This is because of the transformative effects of technology on the nature of work, and the huge explosion in population.”
To learn and to grow
In line with this analysis, the director of In Movement, Justin Silbaugh, articulated his conviction that their project is determined to value and develop the creative capacities in children. Not necessarily for direct employment in the creative fields, but in training the mind to find solutions, solve problems creatively, build confidence and inculcate respect of self and others.
So, does In Movement do what it claims to do?
Definitely. I visited one day to watch the program in action. At around four o’clock on a Friday, 40-50 Ugandan school age children filed into the quiet green compound. They all changed into their In Movement T-shirts that held the logo of this year’s theme, “Afia Ni Utajiri”, which is Swahili for “Health is Our Wealth”; they got their journals and pencils and headed to the dance pavilion.
There they sat down and responded to a prompt that was on the board: “Name and draw the limbs of your body” and “What did you do with your limbs today?”
The children got straight to work in their journals, small giggles and interactions, but mostly intent on their task. The facilitators interacted with their work, answered questions, and moved among the students encouraging their self-expression.
I had come with a group of American college students. While typically, a group of young school students in that setting might be distracted to have these eager American college students around, the In Movement students were focused on their purpose for being there—to learn, to grow, to be a community of potential together.
After their time of journaling, they put away their journals and did some warm up activities—dancing and stretching. The children then broke into small cohorts and met together with different facilitators in groups of 15–20; doing dance, fine art, drama, etc.
Local role models
The director, Justin Silbaugh is not an artist—he brings his experience as an educator and an administrator to the table. His manner is humble, committed, strategic and impressive.
He clearly had good rapport with his staff and his commitment and relationship with the students was compelling. It is clear that he is committed to this vision of transforming the self-esteem and confidence of children via creativity, community and role models.
In Movement is a multinational team from many different backgrounds and walks of life. Currently, the majority of the creative facilitators (teachers) are Ugandan artists. This is one of the keys to the success of their program, because these facilitators are able to provide arts instruction as well as serve as role models for the students.
In Movement also supports the ongoing professional development of the facilitators to ensure the excellence of the program.
Another aspect of creativity that impressed me was the planning and scheduling of their programs and curriculum. They have designed intensive instructional environments for their students that focus on maximizing the Ugandan school holidays.
This includes residential art camps at offsite facilities, weekend art camps, Saturday classes, intensive weeklong workshops, and afternoon classes for younger students.
A supplement to other education
While many outsiders or donor-based projects prefer to disregard the Ugandan school system and attempt to replace it with an entire educational system, I respect the decision to supplement the education of these students.
Despite the consequences (transporting the students to the site, transporting facilitators to some project sites for street children), I think this validation of the mainstream values of culture and education is appropriate, sustainable, and ultimately a model of creative development—for children and for the staff.
Not only does In Movement help build this creativity, confidence and community through their curriculum, they also enable the children and the staff to test and share their talents with the wider community. Many of the camps, workshops and classes culminate in performances and art exhibitions challenging both facilitators (teachers) and students to present and share their work.
In Movement involves students in cultural events in the community, including the Europe Uganda Cultural Village, Laba! Street Art Festival, Kampala Dream Circus, and others.
They also expose the children to professionals who are doing creative, community work.
The students participate in field trips to cultural institutions for performances and exhibitions, and visit sites such as wildlife conservation centers and waste disposal facilities for hands-on learning opportunities.
When I spoke with the director, he shared about his current energy in working with new software to further document and evaluate the success of this work in the lives of their students. While this documentation will help with their fundraising needs, it is also helpful in trying to share the reason and method of their approach for other communities in Uganda and beyond.
Any time you are trying to provide an alternative to the mainstream philosophies and practices, it is invaluable to show the results of your theory, the testimony and proof that investing in the creative potential of your students is significant in their lives, livelihoods, and the community beyond.
So, two thumbs up to In Movement! For the commitment to creativity, for the alternative model of meeting local needs, for the support of local artists as facilitators, and for the bold witness to the importance of re-thinking the education of our youth.
Let me end with a closing anecdote from Sir Ken Robinson that illustrates the gift In Movement provides to our children and our future:
I heard a great story recently about a six-year-old girl in a drawing lesson. The teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention in class, but during this lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated.
She asked the girl, “What are you drawing?” And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl said, “They will in a minute.”
You can also visit the website of In Movement.
Abigail Bartels is a freelance writer living in Kampala.
All photos by Bukenya Joseph.