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“Necessary Arts” Reaches the Unreachable in Kilifi, Kenya

By Teresa Cantú
“Necessary Arts” Reaches the Unreachable in Kilifi, Kenya

I recently joined an incredible group of women in Kilifi, Kenya to volunteer with Necessary Arts, a nonprofit with the ultimate goal of using the arts to develop global citizenship. I became interested in Necessary Arts because I know that learning takes many forms, and with access to education people feel empowered to become role models within their communities. After three quick but incredible days I found myself asking, “Have we accomplished our goals?”
My answer is a resounding yes. Necessary Arts came to Kilifi to make positive contacts and engage in an outreach experience. Our numbers grew with each day, so it is clear that participants spoke to friends and family. We not only met children, but also adults in the community. We have strong role models, contact information, and most importantly, enthusiasm from these adults. Additionally, we met the head teacher at the local primary school, which allows us to reach an even greater audience of students and educators in the future.
Secondly, every attendee became a performer in our Necessary Arts community. The activities selected gave students the opportunity to perform as much as he or she liked. We saw leaders emerge and performers shine during skits. We witnessed students playing together and depending on fellow classmates for support. Students who might be shy in school had their fellow participants to act silly and expose certain vulnerabilities with. Each student engaged in reading activities, spoken word, and written work.
Lastly, the goal of Necessary Arts is to discuss global ideas and experiences. Being that this trip was based on making connections and outreach, I felt it important to make Kilifi feel like the center of the universe. We spoke about their village and the experiences of their community. I think this is the most important step when entering a new group, especially one you want to work with in the future. It is our job as teachers and volunteers to let the people know how we truly care about their world and experiences. We listened to the stories of the children, adults, and teachers and we read the words related to their lives.
Further discussions can take place involving global contexts and learning in future visits. Upon the closing of our final workshop Suzzi asked Answari, a former local teacher and workshop participant, “So what do you think? Do you think this type of work is good for this community?” and he responded passionately with an affirmative, “Oh yes, most certainly.”
Answari is a man that wants more for his community, and he even has plans to start a computer class free of charge for Kilifi residents. He also gladly provided lunch for 40 hungry kids to ensure that no one would go without for the day. He is the perfect community role model. He was also quick to hold us accountable to our message for the sake of his community when he asked, “So, when will you return?”
The day concluded with an invite from the children to the beach for an afternoon swim. Fully clothed, they bounded into the crashing waves that brought the afternoon tide higher and higher. Their laughter and smiles were infectious, and the same children that were shy two hours before became obsessed with being the models for an ever-clicking camera.
The beauty of a digital camera is the instant gratification of seeing one’s photo, but it also means that photo can be easily erased. As Suzzi and I snapped away we were fully aware that others would never witness these photos, much like the very experience we were a part of.
I do not want this trip to mimic that digital camera. One visit can easily give instant gratification in knowing that we gave our students an enjoyable experience, but I do not want these children to become easily disposable photos. Each one is important and their experiences are worth remembering and sharing. I know Necessary Arts will do continued beneficial work with these students and community. As for me, I know I now have the personal desire to return to continue what we’ve started together.

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