Childhood Development & the Importance of Play: An Interview with Tartaruga Feliz

They say “it takes a village to raise a child.” In keeping with our ongoing commitment to impact producing, while bringing to birth such a multifaceted ‘child’ as the Congo Tales project, we needed many allies, guides and support along the way. To uncover and develop native stories through the eyes of children deep in the rainforest, we needed a strong community of dedicated and skilled individuals. To insure the health of this child, we needed a “village.”

Deborah, better known as “Tartaruga Feliz”, was a very important part of this village, playing a vital role in the development stage of our project. In the very early stages of this work’s inception, she journeyed to Congo to volunteer within and also to teach the teacher program with SPAC. By initiating creative storytelling workshops that focused on character design, she was able to tap into a remarkable reserve of creative potential within the children of Odzala. Using her advanced skills in early childhood development, the results were remarkable and became a big inspiration for the project and its creative progression.

by Pieter Henket

Why did you get involved with Tales of Us Congo Tales?

I got involved because I believe in the importance of the core of this project, which is creative development. Yes, children learned to draw, they learned about conservation in my workshops. But in the background, what was really happening was an empowerment of their ability to express themselves.

Why do you believe that children’s voices should be “loud” and “weird”?

I want to make children feel that they don’t need to follow norms of behavior. That is what schools make us think. When we go to school, we’re constantly crushed- told to behave a certain way. In this process we forget our “weirdness”- what makes us unique and in contact with ourselves. When human beings have space to freely express themselves, without fear of being judged or of doing something that is considered “wrong”, they get in touch with the most important aspects of themselves. The results can then spread through all spheres of their lives and they can keep ownership over their lives.

What did you learn by being kicked out of kindergarten?

I learned that I could not fit in. At the time, I thought there was something wrong with me (I was only 6). Today I look back and I’m glad I never had the strength to conform to these norms. It’s probably what makes me see everything that is wrong with the way we educate humans today.

What is your favorite thing about your work?

I have many favorite things. But if I had to choose one, I’d say it is this magical moment that always happens during my workshops, where children are totally immersed by what they’ve created, and are just playing freely, and dancing, and smiling and laughing! It always reminds me of the core of all of us: we’re here to be creative and free. We’re here to play life! Every workshop, every interaction I have is always meaningful to me, and it helps me to keep working, it validates my ideas and it helps me not to be discouraged by the blocks I meet along the way.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell young Deborah to not take the school years so seriously. They made me think everything was so absolutely important, but in the end, you can choose how to live your life. Your life is not going to be shaped by what happens in school. It’ll be shaped by the experiences you’ll have in life (and how you react to them), and by the people you meet along the way. I’d say, hang in there. And play! Play as much as you can!

by Pieter Henket
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