(Ashley Bradfield is a Program Instructor in the Scholars Program.)
As a new employee at For Love of Children, I had no idea what to expect on my first day of workshop training with my future students. My official title is Program Instructor, and I will be facilitating workshops for the next five months with a group of 8th graders and 10th graders in the Scholars Program.
After an interview with the staff, I knew this was a place I could see myself working, and working well. I have turned down countless jobs since graduating from college a year ago, much to the dismay of my frustrated parents and my empty bank account. But from the moment I walked into the brightly painted room, saw the smiling faces of the four women I would be working with, and met some of the students, something seemed new and exhilarating about this place.
The first workshop showed me that I couldn’t have been more accurate. Throughout the day on Monday I kept hearing buzz about some South African group that was going to be joining us. “Oh man,” I thought to myself, “I already don’t know what to expect and now there’s a group from SOUTH AFRICA coming?!……Sweet!” I guess it’s a good thing I like surprises because, in this line of work, we must be well equipped to take full advantage of surprises and teachable moments.
4 p.m. hits and the FLOC middle school students start flocking in. I introduce myself to a few and begin learning some names when I notice the smell of McDonalds wafting into the room. I follow the scent of Big Macs and french fries down to our largest room and find a group of youth I do not recognize. “Aha! The South Africans are here!” Now, I really start getting excited. FLOC students keep asking me what all the excitement is about. “I don’t know, but it is going to be awesome, super awesome,” I respond with confidence.
Once we are all situated in the room, our chairs and bodies facing the front where an imaginary stage has been set, Dr. Leslie Jacobson, theatre professor at George Washington University, introduces the much-anticipated South African youth group, Bokamoso. Bokamoso, which means “future” in the South African language Tswana, is a youth foundation that aims “to transform the lives of youth and empower community leadership in Winterveldt, South Africa” (www.bokamosoyouth.org).
We are about to experience months worth of their hard work, reflection, creativity, and dedication.
A group of about a dozen youth, ages 19 to 26, gather at center stage and begin humming an internationally recognized tune, “Amazing Grace.” Already, I am impressed and moved by the voices of these youth–I can tell they harbor raw artistic talent. The next hour and a half I spend with them will only prove their talent even more.
After the opening “Amazing” scene, the group launches into a play that tells the stories of several young people from the town of Winterveldt who are coping with the issues that they are facing as they grow up. We meet a young woman who is struggling to take care of a dying mother and her siblings, while simultaneously supporting her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, an intelligent and promising young man, is given the opportunity by a hopeful professor to attend university in Capetown. He must decide whether he wants to follow his teacher’s dreams for him, or his own.
We see another young woman learning how to deal with the temptations of living in the big city of “Jo-burg” while staying true to her Winterveldt roots. The final character we meet is jealous of his friend’s opportunity to attend university. A talented cabinet maker, he is failing in school but has big aspirations for himself. He begs his professor for another chance, which he receives in the form of an apprenticeship with a local craftsmen.
The stories of these young people are bound by one common theme—the desire to achieve success. Throughout the play we are exposed to their personal struggles in reaching this goal. How will they attain success? What does success mean? Where will they find success? Who can help them reach their goals? Through rousing song and dance, Bokamoso shows us that success is different for everybody and that we are the ones in charge of our futures. They leave us inspired to create our own destinies, make our own choices and accept different versions of success, while also putting a little more song in our heads and rhythm in our hearts.
I left that Monday feeling extraordinarily inspired. Not only did I get the opportunity to experience the creative work of an incredible group of youth from all the way across the Atlantic, but I also got to see them inspire and excite a group of youth from right across the highway from my house.
The connections that were built and the amount of talent that the FLOC students were exposed to during this two-hour workshop are immeasurable. During our reflection period after the Bokamoso workshop, the 8th graders I spoke with were impressed and excited by all the upbeat dancing. This is great news for me, as I come from an artistic background and plan to incorporate all sorts of modes of creative expression into my workshops with them. I am now confident that my ideas will be a hit with this group. I feel blessed that my first workshop experience with FLOC was unique, and I am eager to continue the creative traditions and inspirational lessons that Bokamoso shared with us in their success play and interactive activities.
**The youth from The Bokamoso Youth Foundation will be giving a performance Friday, Feb. 4 at George Washington’s Marvin Center Theatre. For more details, please visit the events page of http://www.bokamosoyouth.org **