Women sewing at Busy Bees in Zambia (Photo by Liz Marshall)

Arts in Africa

How grassroots organizations in Africa are using the arts

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, grassroots organizations are using the arts to help their communities heal and cope with the daily challenges of HIV and AIDS. They know that theatre, storytelling, music, dance and other forms of expression are powerful tools to educate communities, allow children and adults alike to work through their grief, to honour loved ones, and to cope with the daily challenges of communities.  

Here are just a few beautiful examples of how these organizations are using the arts:

  • At the Music Therapy Community Clinic (MTCC) in Cape Town, South Africa, community musicians and trained music therapists work with children, grandmothers and people living with HIV and AIDS to help them express and work through their grief.  Through workshops that use singing, spoken word, traditional gumboot dancing and musical instruments like marimbas and steel drums, MTCC’s musicians are able to break through and help people heal.
  • At the Phoebe Education Fund for AIDS Orphans (PEFO) in Jinja, Uganda, the Windows of Hope programme helps children and youth affected by HIV and AIDS to build self-esteem and learn about the virus through song, discussion, drama and workshops. Through PEFO’s brass band, orphans and other vulnerable children have the children to learn a new skill – playing an instrument – but also form lasting friendships and gain a sense of belonging.  PEFO has also hosted fashion shows for grandmothers as a way of drawing attention to the vital role that grandmothers play as caregivers, and giving them a forum to express themselves as powerful role models.
  • Consol Homes Orphan Care in Malawi developed a novel way to help children work through the trauma of losing a parent to AIDS. Their ‘Practical Joy Playground’ looks like a regular park – full of see-saws, swings, ropes, parallel bars and a climbing wall – but each obstacle in the play structure represents a real obstacle that the child has had to overcome in their journey as an orphan.  At the end of the course, children gather for a debriefing session with a counsellor to discuss the different obstacles they have faced and what each one represents. For many children who are coping with loss, grief and anger, this physical expression of their emotional turmoil is an important catharsis. By participating in the playground obstacle course, they share their experiences with their peers and take comfort in knowing that they are not alone.
  • Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ekupholeni runs healing programmes for people affected and infected with HIV and AIDS. Through workshops and support groups for caregivers, children who are coping with loss, and terminally ill clients. Ekupholeni’s regular healing ceremonies – which can include testimonials, song, and symbolic acts such as releasing balloons filled with special messages and intentions into the air – act as a powerful way for communities to come together, eliminate stigma, and heal.
  • In a remote, rural village of Uganda, orphan children are finding solace and support through the innovative curriculum at their schools. Both Nyaka and Kutamba – sister schools run by the Nyaka AIDS Foundation – use music, poetry, drama, drawing and play as therapy to help students process their grief. Students also  take part in anti-AIDS clubs and write memory books to help them recall what their mother and father were like, and to remember their families.  “We are dealing with children who have suffered terrible trauma,” says Nyaka founder Jackson Kaguri. “As a result of talking about issues, they are able to cope.”
  • Based in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, dlalanathi is an organization that works to bring healing and hope to children and their caregivers, using play for communication in communities affected by HIV, poverty and loss. Through play, stories, metaphor, doll-making workshops, collage, and other innovative arts-based tools, they help children and their families to understand and accept loss.
  • The Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust in Hillcrest, South Africa uses a memory wall as a way of encouraging healing with the communities they serve. When someone dies at the centre, they create a special memorial plaque to remember and name the person who has passed away. The wall is a moving tribute and a powerful way to remember friends and loved ones.