Date Posted: 2004-01-14 02:23:50
Nestled in the thick undergrowth of roadside shrubbery, 2 minutes from my apartment in Maadi, sits a blue gate guarded by a doorman. Step inside and you find a two storey building that houses the Senior School of the African Hope Learning Centre consisting of 7 tiny spaces converted into classrooms (2 or which exist in the basement) for 100 or so Sudanese students from year 8 11.
The building is unmarked and goes unnoticed to the majority of Egyptians who walk past its gate on a daily basis. This is intentional, as the Sudanese are a despised community in Egypt, and any organization that resources them are considered suspicious at the very least or against the system at the very worst.
But within these walls exists the triumphant outcome of years of hard-work and perseverance to sustain a community that has suffered terrible hardship, civil war, famine and political unrest for over a decade. An attempt to bring together a disenfranchised, displaced people
to reclaim their identity and integrity
to prepare for a new future
and to invest in their children.
Since its inception some 5 years ago, the school has grown from 50 students to its current capacity of 700 over two campuses housing a primary and secondary school. Financially supported by local church groups and staffed by volunteers who are themselves Sudanese Refugees, the centres not only offer basic education, food and community communion but a sanctuary of safety and positive activity that cherishes their native culture
a purpose and place that would otherwise leave no alternative but to wonder these foreign streets aimlessly in search of purpose and place.
Being my 5th day in Cairo, I was fortunate to be invited to meet with the schools Principle Dr Nani and Senior School Coordinator Simon Peter to discuss my involvement in the centres curriculum. Since setting up the project via email back in Australia the organization has seen changes in its leadership, and my many concerns included a misunderstanding of my purpose and role within the organization.
What I experienced today was on the contrary.
Although their knowledge of what I have to offer was limited, we soon found that we spoke the same language (so to speak). Their objectives met mine and it was recognised that my involvement would be mutually beneficial. They identified a need for creative expression within their curriculum that currently only covers the basics in education
literacy, mathematics and geography. They understood and appreciated the benefits of arts-based activity in the establishment of an individuals well-being and sense of self
the need for play and celebration to provide a holistic investment in their students as they prepare for immigration to the west.
The meeting alleviated many fears I have experience since my arrival. I have been concerned over the language barrier, concerned over my role within the team of teachers, concerned over the appropriateness of my work within the overall objectives of a Christian-based organization.
The good news is that the school teaches in English; desires for all their programs to work together; demands that programs operate on premises during school hours; as well as considering the arts as something important yet unavailable to them till now.
In the past they have had expatriate teachers attend the school with arts programs that have not lasted the distance due to the energy required to introduce new disciplines and the frustrations of language, culture and communication. But the important thing is that they are not willing to give up
and are willing to give me energy and support to make this a success.
Therefore we agreed on a basic, interim program that will see me work with all senior school levels (ie: 2 x year 8 classes totalling 40 students / 2 x year 9 classes totalling 40 students / 1 x year 10 classes totalling 20 students / 1 x year 11 classes totalling 10 students) for 2 days a week (School operates Monday Thursday and Saturday 11am-2pm) to lead up to a public performance at the Maadi Community Church in March.
The program will be evaluated throughout the next 2 months and if successful may branch out into the Primary School. During the program a young person (possibly a graduate) will support the work and in turn learn the discipline to eventually continue the work after my residency is completed.
The public performance outcome, however small, will give the program a focus... a goal - which eventually may lead to more adventurous performance projects with audiences' outside the community... that is the dream.
Anyways... little steps... little steps!
Then I was then taken on a tour of the classrooms to meet the students with Simon Peter. As I was introduced to each class a great sense of purpose, excitement and nerves welled in me
along with a feeling of this is SO right.
As I left the school Dr Nani said to Simon Peter I feel in my spirit that James knows what he is talking about.
What an affirmation!
I cant wait to start my first two classes on Saturday.
And deep down, my intuition tells me that this is the tip of the iceberg
that my work will impact more people than just the students I work with
that I have the potential to create a greater understanding of the refugees from Sudan to a wider audience through my arts practise and their creative expression and talent.
And I want it
I want to be busy
I want to impact
and I will try my hardest to make a difference for this community by providing the tools and framework that will develop their sense of pride, validation and celebration.
BRING IT ON!
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