Uche is in charge at the ISL. That is what I tell everybody who asks about the ISL. I could still run the ISL because I started it but the ISL is about social leadership, developing talents, nurturing talents and encouraging growth. Being equal participants and facilitators for a better reality.
I never asked Uche if he wanted to be in charge but he demonstrated enough interest in a partnership in developing the ISL, a love for helping people and a love for children and youth his community.
We have been doing this leadership experiment for about a year. I have been away from the ISL for 3 months allowing Uche space to be fully in charge.
Leadership is an important principle in our society. Understanding what it means and how it works. A lack of leadership has been blamed for several problems we experience. It is important to develop leadership. It is certainly one way that important work continues.
I have looked at this process as a part of the art of leadership. These are the things i have observed and these are the things i have tried to do.
It would be even more interesting to hear what Uche has to say about leadership at the ISL. he may take a different view.
Uche says you have to grow something inside them. You have to grow something inside them so that when they think about doing “wrong” the thing will help them to think differently. This is what he told me when i asked him if he thinks we can change anything for these yutes who come to the ISL. I believe him. What we have done to the children is wrong. What we have done is so wrong. They came into a life that we made and they suffer as children into adulthood to then make more children and this cycle will never change. Children will always come, and make more children.
Two boys came to hang out at the ISL yesterday. Sunday evening. They came while i was playing a game of draughts with Uche. Uche called one them to come sing his songs for us. He started singing and he had some funny lyrics. You know how cute it is for kids to be singing showing their talent from early it gives a nice feeling about the possibility of talent, creativity and youths in Jamaica. But one of the songs was about having a girlfriend, the more I listened to him singing I had questions about his life, his world, what he sang about. Where did he live?how come he sounded so adult, or so grown. I asked him two questions based on what he was singing.
His response made me cry for the rest of the evening into this morning. I am not crying now but i know that what we have done to the children is wrong. They don’t have the thing inside and they are not children. We haven’t given them a chance. We haven’t thought about them. They came on earth but they haven’t come from our hearts. The “we” is not just their parents. The “we” is us all of us. The us that create their reality. The “us” that ignore them. What we have done to the children in Jamaica is wrong.
The boy sang about murdering any man who sexually violated his sister or mother. He would murder them with a Winchester. I asked him if he knew how to murder someone and what a Winchester was. He explained that the Winchester was a gun like a ” one pop”. Uche told me they could be made with old windshield wipers. He told me he knew how to murder someone and in explaining he showed me what he would do. He would walk up the person and seem friendly and say something like ” wah gwaan chargie, lend me u lighta mek mi light me spliff”. He would then would then go into his pocket pretending to take out a spliff and instead take out a knife quickly and just cut his throat with it. He also showed me another way to murder someone.
He sang a song about a girl or getting some girl. I asked him if he had a girlfriend. He said “mi have too much girl” mi get gal everyweh”. I asked him if they knew each other and he said no. he said sometimes he has a girlfriend but her friend likes him so he has to make her friend his girlfriend as well. I asked him why he wants to be with his girlfriend’s friend and he said, ” if them want me i can’t refuse them, you mad mi haffi deal wid all a dem, you don’t know what can happen when mi get big suppose one weh mi deh wid a gimme bun?” I dont remember what he mentioned but he started talking about one girl who he wanted to “deh wid”. his friend told him she is good to do things with because she “clean” she doesn’t do oral sex. I asked him what he meant by doing things and he told me have sex with them. The other boy who was there shouted to me that he can “have sex good”. i asked him how he knew. He said when he does it to the girls they cry. He said they cry because he is doing it good. He said one day a girl came to his house and he did it with her in the bathroom and she ran out of the shower crying. she just cried. he smiled as he was telling me.
Everyday i learn that this is not the problem of the poor. These boys are not problematic because they come from the inner city. This is something that all of us have created a condition in which humans decay. Adults and children hurting themselves and each other.
Would you cry? How does this make you feel? What are you thinking about? Do you agree with Uche? Can you see how we create the conditions in which humans decay? Do you understand why we need to grow the thing inside them?
What are some of the things you see emerging from the Maker labs? We were asked this question yesterday in a meeting with our Maker labs partners Tony and Christie from the Metabolic foundation.
The Maker labs is hosted at Di ISL on Wednesday and Thursday from 3-7pm. We develop project ideas together and guided by Tony and Christie we learn how to make things, fix things or come up with cool recycling ideas. An important part of the Maker labs now is our engagement with children. On any given day at the maker labs we have on average 15 children and young adults age 6 to 20. Some of these children know each other from the community or from school. What we make is sometimes determined by the materials we have available, we have made things from pallet boards, cardboard and newspaper.
Earlier when we started we were asked what were some of the projects we imagined building a solar dehydrator, a window farm, a tech corner for kids, chalkboard paint and a roof top garden. We also wanted to do some projects with the Arduino board and the Rasberry pi.
So far these are the things we have observed:
“Miss what Africa look like?” She leaned over the table waiting for my answer. I told her it was beautiful. She asked me like where? I could see she really wanted to know and although I was pleased I was surprised.
A few months earlier this little girl and a few other children who came to the Di Institute for Social Leadership (ISL) were distressed about the rumors that we were going to take them to Africa. They said they wanted to talk to me and settle this matter. Was I taking them to Africa? They did not want to go. They did not like Africa because it was full of people who would eat children, take them away from their parents and kill them. It was full of starving people. After a long conversation with them, listening to their fears explaining that I was not trying to take them to Africa, but I have been there and I am African and I love Africa, they slowly stopped coming. So I was surprised when I saw them again that evening and the little girl whispered to me “Miss, what Africa look like?”
Her question is all I could think about for the rest of the evening. How could I tell her more? There must be others like her who want to know. Little girls and boys who have the same question. Little African Girls and Boys living in Jamaica who didn’t know what Africa looked like expect what the adults told them if they did tell them anything or what they saw in some Nigerian films. There must be more children out there with the same curiosity.
I decided I was going to show them photos. I thought that I could collect photos about Africa and create an exhibition. An exhibition about Africa, especially for children. We could call the exhibition “Looking at Africa”.
For those who couldn’t come to the exhibition at the ISL we would take the exhibition to them, maybe libraries maybe schools.
The exhibition will open on Monday Feb 2, 2015 at Di Institute for Social Leadership and continue running throughout the years in different locations.
We are asking people who live work or travel to Africa and who have photographs to contribute them to the exhibition.
You can be a part of the exhibition by submitting your photos of Africa to firstname.lastname@example.org or telling us if you would want to give a talk our presentation about Africa during the exhibition.
For more information
Afifa Badiliko Aza – Creative Director and Co-founder
tel: (876) 799-0102
Di Institute for Social Leadership( ISL) was started in December 2013. After one year we decided to ask Uche Onobe his thoughts on the space and to share with us what the space means to him.
Today makes one year since we decided to open the Di Institute for Social Leadership. We have tried to share different reflections on the process, the experiences, the shifting goals, the objectives and the things we have learned. I am happy that we made it to the end of the year and we are looking forward to more years and more learning.
For me the Institute represents a space for experimentation and using a soulful and artistic approach to creating and growing communities and societies that are critical, responsible, responsive, self-sufficient. It is a space for creating a collective consciousness, and relationships based on love, equality, equity, and understanding. It is a space that activates Africa in the past and in the present, it seeks to foster the African identity not through mere aesthetics but through ways of thinking and being.
The space is both physical and spiritual it is a thing as well as the embodiment of a set of ideas you experience or feel and then begin to live.
We started with a specific problem (the lack of learning opportunities and social support services for youth from low income families and communities) and we started with a desire to explore a concept, social leadership. Using an approach rooted in art practice we have been able to begin to articulate a sustainable alternative model for the future. A collective consciousness, community and Africa is at the centre and it anchors and grounds the questions that we ask and the solutions or possibilities we see.
For example we have began to understand how to create opportunities for learning that are not about formal education models. We are beginning to see how different people can learn or be thought new things without being in a classroom. This is both very exciting and very important because we are giving ourselves room to think about complex problems and to understand complex answers, answers that are grounded in an African experience in a black experience and answers that are projecting a desire to create an alternative future or alternative possibilities that are driven by our desire for a healthy collective.
As a part of the process this year there has been a lot of defining and redefining. For example we are constantly defining the word social leadership. We are constantly redefining community. We see these as very important components of our project. We should always be able to question language, create new language.
Some of our language here may seem abstract but it is how we have to begin to put forward the vision and then break it up in smaller pieces. In other post we will highlight in more details some of the projects we have started during the year and how we want to continue into 2015.
This week we are doing registrations for learners for a CXC Mathematics, English and Reading Programme at the Institute for Social Leadership. CXC or the Caribbean Examination Council is the certifying body for Regional examinations. It is the most basic requirement for acquiring a a job and gaining admission into colleges or Universities locally.
Many students graduate from High School without any CXCs and often struggle to get some after or end up having much more limited options for employment because of this lack.
At Di Institute we thought that if we were able to provide them with an opportunity to do CXC subjects, at a minimum Maths and English we would be helping them to open opportunities for employment and further studies.
As we began registration I became more puzzled by the situation and began to question our decision to offer Maths and English or even my view that CXC provided a solution.
We have been talking to youth 14-22yrs and this is what we have been understanding;
Are we trapping youths like these in a cycle of poverty with CXC preparation and qualification for these jobs?
So as early as 16yrs old youth are prepared to go and find a job.
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What have we learned from 5 months of working with children at the ISL? There are many considerations for working with children from “inner-city” communities in Jamaica and not all “intervention models” are suitable for children. It is important to document what are the successful ways that we can work with groups of children over a long period of time and establish these as model for discussing and critiquing.
We started in April one week after the first open day. We didn’t advertise. One child came and called some others and there we were a room full of children from the lane next to us. We allowed them space to play and we began to develop a after school programme that could engage them when they came. Within the first 4 weeks we noticed there would be some social dynamics we would have to deal with; there relationship to each other, how they related to us as newcomers to their community, manners discipline and respect. This was the first time we were doing this. We took a break to reflect on some of the challenges we were having and attempted to reorganize.
What we tried to do differently
What we learned after this
Week 2 of Political Potpourri 2 with Motza Ramon at the ISL. Adding more images and exploring more ideas. Motza demonstrates a kind of discipline and process that is important in developing a body of work as an artist. His work with images from the Jamaica Gleaner and the Jamaica Observer is particularly useful for deconstructing the process and methods by which “ideas” and “narratives” are created and disseminated in “news”. Political Potpourri also gives us a chance to see Jamaica and the what surrounds us in the pattern of news and news making. The exhibition is also designed to be interactive and visitors come to make news as well. The exhibition continues next Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Sistren Theatre Collective began in 1977;
as an Independent Cultural organization of working class women who employed popular theatre techniques in their exploration and analysis of the social, political and legal condition and status of Jamaican women. Focussing particularly on poor black women, Sistren uses personal testimonies as a critique of a system, which discriminated against women on the basis of gender, class and colour.
In 2014 Issues continue to face us, tensions and contradictions continue to rise and threaten our communities and the survival of our selves. Dialogue is important. Debate is important. The Sistren Theatre Collective has shown that its methods are relevant and make sense to us. It helps to delve in, understand, take action and recreate.
Beginning in the next few weeks we will be attempting to replicate and make use of popular theatre techniques to discuss ideas of leadership, community and resistance. We hope this is the beginning of spreading the model even wider.