Vanderful Return to Tofo, July 2022

Viva Viva Ooh Eeeeh!
Viva Viva Ooh Eeeeh!
Viva Viva Ooh Eeeeh! 

‘Viva’, the Portuguese expression or cheer that means “long live!” or “Hurray!”, loudly sang by the children of Tofo after performing their own Expressive Arts Production ‘Acabou Côco’. 

It’s unbelievable that almost 3 years have passed since our incredible Expressive Arts project in collaboration with Gutsakisana and the engaging Surf Craftsmanship workshop which resulted in Manu Shapes.

We are so delighted to announce that at the end of June, the Vanderful team will be returning to Tofo, Mozambique. Our goals are: to begin organising the building of a Vanderful Play Centre, visit the local schools to generate awareness of our team’s return, support Manuel in mentoring young people to learn how to shape surfboards, deliver materials AND implement another Expressive Arts Workshop with ‘Gutsakisana’… all in the space of a month!

This time the Vanderful team will be full-on Girl Power. Vikki will be returning to Tofo with Julie (who volunteered for the Expressive Arts Workshop 3 years ago) joining forces with Sonia and Mariana both Co-Founders of Gutsakisana. This team will be strengthened by the presence of three new volunteers! Two of them will be taking care of important behind-the-scenes-jobs. Amy R will be Vanderful’s very first Data and Evaluation’s Manager focusing on data management and monitoring and evaluation.  Another, also called Amy, will be handling all of our social media whilst we are in Mozambique. Last but not least; our third new volunteer, Rahel who lives in Mozambique has already begun assisting Gutsakisana with logistics and planning.

Vanderful Volunteer Julie, who is currently living in Brazil, has written an account of her previous experience volunteering for Vanderful and reflects on the impact Vanderful had on her personally, this you can read below!

Hopeful reflections in the lead up to

our return to Mozambique

by Julie Roos

A little longer than 2 years ago, I came to Brazil with the plan of pursuing a teaching job and living abroad for a year (or longer). Before making my way to Brazil, I had the opportunity to participate in a captivating Expressive Arts workshop implemented by a wonderful non-profit organization ‘Vanderful – Seeds of Hope across Africa’. This was July 2019 and taking place in Mozambique, in a village right on the beach, called Tofo.

I had actually been to Tofo two years previously with my younger sister, Camilla. So I was so stoked to revisit the village of Tofo, with its warm people and beautiful beaches.

On my second day back in Tofo, I took a boat trip to spot dolphins and humpback whales. On that particular boat I had the pleasure of meeting the Vanderful Team. We got on chatting and they told me about their running project:

‘Vanderful / Seeds of Hope across Africa’.

Vanderful started with an idea, a mission which embodied all that the team wanted to do with their lives:

Provide a way for people to work together for the common good of children and young people from deprived areas of society.

The Vanderful team (including a dog and a cat) wanted to transform these shared beliefs and hopes into action, this through the implementation of Expressive Arts and Surf Craftsmanship workshops; sharing skills, opportunities and experiences for those children who need it most.

They kicked off this mission with an 8-month journey up the west coast of Africa in a Volkswagen Kombi. During this trip they executed projects in Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. 

I got invited to observe the ongoing Expressive Arts workshop. This quickly turned into participating and collaborating as this project was really something that resonated with me as a Primary School Teacher and personally:

dispersing joy and awakening self-exploration and self-consciousness through the body, by play, improvisation and in collaboration with children.

Since graduating as a Primary School Teacher in 2014, I have been broadening my educational experience in many different ways. I always have had the urge, even as a young girl, to learn more, explore more, to go out into the world and embrace everything it had to offer.

Only that the ‘embracing’ part seemed to be the tricky part…

In my experience as a school kid, you were rewarded for what you accomplished on your own, not what you could do with others. Also, it seems that most of the time there was only one right approach and one right answer. Being challenged to look beyond the answer or to inquire about an alternative method or viewpoint, was uncommon.

This teaches us there is only one final solution and it’s defined by authority.

My inert childlike curiosity back then felt inhibited and was restricted within the boundaries of the school and by the content of the workbooks.

Those who do not think outside the box are easily contained.

I came to comprehend that my truth, thought process and doubts (about myself) weren’t considered and didn’t matter. This is a feeling that internalises over time. If I look back into school reports from back then I read;

‘Julie is a caring but very sensitive child, she needs to try standing up for herself more often.’ 

How does a child stand up for himself or herself in a non-violent and constructive way? 

Is this something that a child would feel comfortable or confident trying if he relies on external validation for every answer? Or let me ask it in another way, how do we teach children to embrace their sensitive part and use it to the fullest? Wouldn’t that create more empathy and connection

But that was little Julie’s experience 20 years ago, right?

Or are we still forming children that are only capable of learning what is already known? Or are we raising empathic and curious children with the understanding of learning as a lifelong process of discovery and joy? 

And this story of little Julie is the perspective of a white privileged child from a middle class family, born into the direct environment of the school. Minorities, other ethnicities and children from poor families filled up my school too. They still do fill up schools, I have been a teacher in those schools. Are they seen? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here writing this book of a text to tackle individual teachers. From firsthand experience I can say teachers have such complicated and underrated jobs, yet we describe it as rewarding and fulfilling as we see we can make that difference in an individual’s life. It is so inspiring to see how fellow teachers maintain their unwavering devotion to make the best out of it.

It’s just the system and approach that doesn’t seem to do much to help teachers and to extend our most valuable members of society; our future; our amazing children. The education system is failing students by teaching them things that are directed towards a specific group of people… while not exactly telling/considering everyone’s story.

How funny that we strive to let our kids grow into imaginative, sensitive, bright, inquisitive and passionate beings, but at the same time a child’s inherent love — for art, the environment, music, drama, philanthropy and generally making the world a better place — are not necessarily being nurtured in a land of constructed environments, from monkey bars to fill-in-the-blank worksheets.

Nowadays life demands even more traits like out-of-the-box thinking, innovation, creativity, and flexibility.

Which methods and ways can we use to instil these traits in our future generation? How is it possible to support a child’s development so that it leads them from becoming self-centred to self-confident in executing these traits?

How does school instruct them on how to be happy in a time so filled with anxiety?

And; should this be an instruction or a conversation? A practice maybe? 

How does a child learn to accept the spectrum of human emotions and navigate through them in a healthy way? Well, alone won’t be the answer. Experiences that allow collaboration, communication and teamwork for all students too often only happen beyond classroom walls. We come to the problem of education systems mostly being devoid of any skill-based education. Are the essential social emotional skills to create non-violence really being practised and integrated in schools?

Are there enough experiences provided so that children are being stimulated to find their passion in life?

Why is it OK to dream of being a lawyer, but not a gardener? 

Long-term social emotional capabilities are more robust when children have a chance to learn in collaboration with others and through play. It is in play that basic social skills—like sharing and taking turns—are learned and practised. Children also bring their own language, customs, and culture into play. As an added benefit, they learn about their peers’ in the process. During play, children use all of their senses, must convey their thoughts and emotions, explore their environment, and connect what they already know with new knowledge, skills and attitudes.  

This is something that as educators, we understand in our souls but often find it difficult to implement given the restraints and restrictions of the modern classroom and accountability environment. But, it is very critical to address this disconnect directly in order to make progress. When I was a child, I found a lot of fulfilment and refuge in the arts and being raised in a creative family did help for sure. 

(To the right)

I looked up at my father; street theatre artist/clown and director who travels the world with his passion, spreading laughter and displaying unconventional ideas into the world in an attempt to make the people question things, the system and our relationship with the self and others (different from our direct environment). 

(Below)

I was inspired by my mom’s sketches and even more by the way she always strives to create equilibrium in her graphic artwork, and to an extent, into so many facets of her life. I am very grateful for her nurturing my creative development in childhood by providing time, space and material for us to experiment, create and play. As long as my sister and I cleaned up after ourselves and put everything back in its original place, of course.

I was enrolled in an after school diction and theatre club, and the drawing class every Saturday morning which I both attended until my end of high school. I loved it. I mean mostly. As like any other child I also had my days feeling less motivated or tired. But I remember mostly being deeply engrossed in the activities.

Do you sometimes experience this “state of flow” you tap into when you are creating?

It takes your mind off whatever is stressing you, well at least for a little while, since you are so immersed in the activity. You may experience flow when you’re practising an instrument, playing a sport, gardening, writing, painting, or drawing. This is what it was like for me: a flow, inventing and imagining with others, and an emotional outlet. 

This is what it still feels like for me when I engage in these activities. Even though the visual outlet (drawing and crafting) always has felt easier than the performance outlet. I think it has to do with the fact that drawing, most of the time, is an activity you engage alone in. Which is in my case often so. 

Whilst for theatre and drama you have the extra challenge of taking into consideration other people; your co-performers AND an audience. Emphasising that the audience only sees the product and not the process. And liking it or not an audience comes always with a judgement; a praise, a tip, a suggestion. Which can be difficult. 

How often do you notice children and yourself feeling uncomfortable to say or do the wrong thing in order to be misjudged by those around you?

But then we can ask ourselves the question;

‘Why are we engaging in an artistic activity and why are humans drawn to the arts?’

To deliver a product? Yes it can be in some cases. But maybe we should rather call it a ‘byproduct’ to redirect our attention to other motives. Ones I mentioned earlier, like this state of flow and the emotional catharsis art can provide. And maybe just because it gives us this feeling of fulfilment? A feeling of overcoming something? A feeling of realisation, internal and/or shared with others. 

When we are involved in art there is a transition happening, always. It doesn’t matter whether you are the observer or creator. Either mentally within you or in connection with the other, a transition will come into existence. 

From inner to out as you give form to your (sometimes subconscious) ideas and emotions.

From one to the other next to you, a co-creator, who’s involved in the process: you exchange viewpoints, sentiments, suggestions, encouragement,… and eventually also patience. As you are into it together, decide to create together.

This is when in art you transcend above the transitioning effect and tap into its transformational qualities.

For example; you afterwards reflect on how you transformed throughout the process as an individual, looking back in a sketchbook from 5 years previously. Or you are happy applauding and appreciating your co-actors on how they dealt with unexpected setbacks during the rehearsals or lack of inspiration after you had a standing ovation from the audience at the premiere. 

The most profound transformation within the arts you can make, I think, is by taking into account another party:

From inner to out, from behind a dark curtain into a spotlight bright stage and also from a compassionate idea into a plea: What if you could transform the audience? The listener? The onlooker? Any one curious? The community? All at one? And after that, the whole wide world! 

Let us use the arts as a vehicle to share the unheard stories, traditions, perspectives and needs from individuals and their communities perceived by our systemic racist system as subordinate or at least vicarious. Let us create art AND opportunities at the same time.

Any small step you take can start a ripple of change around you, from your neighbourhood to the world.

Let us use the arts to heal ourselves AND the world to an extent. 

This realisation really struck me after taking part as a facilitator during the ‘Vanderful Expressive Arts Workshop’ in Mozambique. In different ways. Let me explain.

During participating I found that the patience and grit the team exerted was definitely creditable, especially taking into account the (un)expected challenges throughout this project. I, honestly, often struggle with this virtue of patience, especially if things tend to turn out differently than previously deliberately planned or wished for.

Does that sound familiar to any of you too?

Well, this project on the other hand taught me a lot on the importance of enjoying the process rather than being over fixated on the outcome. By which I don’t mean that intentionally setting goals beforehand isn’t important.

Although I think we should rather put the emphasis on creating inner trust and resilience through cooperation and (self-) reflection in order to match the desired outcomes. 

For me, the self-reflection part wasn’t too hard, I mean; Story of My Life. Questioning yourself and your actions is something positive right?

Well not if it is excessive and turns into overthinking and being highly self-critical. Anyone else out there? 

In this state of mind the other becomes crucial and cooperation provides a way forward. But why can it feel so difficult dragging other people in? Why do we too often feel as if we should solve something alone? Why do we too often feel like we need to prove ourselves, as if failure is not an option? 

It made me think, maybe it was because little Julie during school time came to understand that the point of a lesson or activity is to pass a test… 

Why do we often find it hard to ask for help? Maybe because we have learned to compete.

The collaborative aspect of the projects (Expressive Arts and Surf Craftsmanship) implemented by Vanderful was abundant:

  • For every implementation of their workshops in Africa they collaborated with (a non-profit run by) local people. 

The Expressive Arts workshop we implemented in Tofo, Mozambique, was in collaboration with ‘Gutsakisana’ (which means ‘reciprocal joy’ in Gitonga, one of Mozambique’s languages) a non-profit organisation aiming to unite the children of the community through cuisine, crafts, music and drama.

This decision of joining forces with the local community wasn’t only because of the obvious advantages regarding organisation, but mainly out of the mindset; ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’.

Now you probably think; ‘Ooh I heard this one before.’ 

Well, this phrase has been echoed around the world millions of times in recent years. However, the idea remains the same. Focus on your local environment and your small acts will add up, slowly leading to change amongst a group of people, then a neighbourhood, then a community, a city, a state, and so on.

And who knows better in a certain community what needs to be changed than the people actually living in that community?

  • All of Vanderful’s projects strive to affect the most vulnerable members of our society; our kids, our future. By giving them a voice, learning them to use their voice

This became for me oh-so-clear during participating in the Expressive arts workshop in Mozambique alongside Vikki:

In the workshop the children had the chance explore their inner experience in a different way and learn to be part of a team; through a series of expressive games and warm ups, Vikki introduced the participating children to the uniting power and therapeutic qualities drama has to offer. 

On top of that, Vikki truly managed to intrinsically motivate the kids by incorporating a crucial activity:

‘Community Mapping’.

Vikki provided the kids with a simple map of their village Tofo and took them out to (re)explore the village, dividing them in teams and having them pay attention to three important assets: People, Animals and the Environment.

The children then indicated the most important areas for People, Animals and the Environment on their maps. After identifying these points of interest, they discussed how they could be improved. The children vote for their favourite point of interest. This is how they established the main topic for the end performance. After making this decision they continued improvising scenes and rehearse!

Vikki describes this as an essential part of her workshop as it helps the participants understand the unique needs, assets, and perspectives within each individual community, an important step which ensures that local perspectives and ideas of the children are always at the centre.

For me, the accumulation point of this project was the performance itself.

All our props, costumes and scenery were crafted from materials collected during a beach clean-up we organised with the children beforehand.

For the play ‘Acabou Coco!’ (‘The coconuts have all gone!’)

the whole community was invited.

It took a while until all the kids were in costume and we managed to complete one last full rehearsal prior to the audiences’ arrival. Then, when everyone was getting excited ‘backstage’; even more children began to take part.

The final head count was 72, some of which we had never met before… but why not join in! The performance turned out to be a great success. I will never forget this day and it is ingrained in my memory as a blissful day of love and flow.

It totally embodied Vanderful’s objectives and was celebrated by the parents and the community at large. 

Thank you for reading my story.

Curious about our future plans of building Vanderful Play & Vocational Centres?

You can read all about our first one which will be in Tofo, HERE.

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