My first time in Congo

When I arrived at Sanza Mobimba, I felt a very strong energy. Kids were singing and playing. I remember thinking “there’s freedom here!”

I introduced myself to the teachers and explain what I wanted to do there. Their first reaction was “je ne sais pas…” – they didn’t trust me. They’re not used to express themselves like that. I look at the drawings inside of the classrooms and they’re amazing! Full of personality. It makes me feel hopeful for the workshops.

Carolina takes me to Ngaga to gather some plants for my first workshop. I brought everything to Sanza Mobimba and organized a beautiful display of materials. They use acrylic paint there, so I decided to work with it as well. I created two characters with the materials, to use as an example for the kids to understand what we would do.

I put all the materials on the floor. Kids were really quiet and just observed. The teachers seemed very interested. I explained the idea: “Let’s create a character, and then, we’ll tell a story with it!” – no reaction from the kids. The teacher approaches. She explains again, in lingala. Two, three times. Still no reaction. At this point I start getting really worried. I start spreading the leafs around, giving pieces for each kid: “this is a nose! that’s the eyes! that’s a mouth!” They laughed. They relaxed and started building, very slowly and shy. They’re not used to express themselves, I kept thinking. They sing and dance a lot, but it’s mostly repeating what the teachers taught them. Suddenly I see a character. It’s very good! I start recording and more characters are born in the meantime. The teachers are having so much fun! They’re painting too. They’re so creative! In a very basic way, some of the characters reminded me of Picasso’s work.

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Time to tell stories. I put all the characters in the middle of the kids and explain to the teachers. “Do you think it’s going to be difficult for them to tell stories?” They can’t say. Everything is so new! I try to ask very basic questions “Is this character friends with this one? What happened to his hair over here?” – nothing. No answer. Teachers started talking with them in lingala and I let them take over the workshop. They start telling stories themselves! Kids love it and seem really happy. So they start participating as well. Mission part I is accomplished.

On the next day I had an idea to create two theaters made of cardboard as a gift for Sanza Mobimba. One is for kids to draw and tell a story. The other one, you create characters and place them inside the box. Kids gather around while I create those, learning and trying to understand what I was doing. I thought it could be a great idea, this way they can always create and change the characters, even when I’m not there. It could work as something they would do everyday. They could get used to it that way. They love it!

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When Eva, Astrid, Pieter and Roger arrived, I already knew where and when we were going to do our next workshop: in the platform at Ngaga. It’s an amazing place in the middle of the forest, with lots of space to work and with a great atmosphere to tell stories and learn about conservation.

Aisha selects ten kids, the most creative she could find. They were super quiet and concentrated while drawing. I ask why and Aisha explains that is because they don’t want to disturb the life of the forest. Conservation! The results are incredible and the stories are really good and spontaneous.

by Pieter Henket

Astrid invites us to go work with a village of pygmies the next day. We go. They had never used a brush or painted before. Much less told a story! So I thought it could be tricky. But the teachers were so confident and enjoying the concept so much that the whole workshop was easy and beautiful. Kids created amazing characters, expressed themselves freely and told amazing stories.

By the end of my second week in Mbomo, I go say ‘au revoir’ to the teachers. When I arrive at Sanza Mobimba, everyone is painting and telling stories! Carolina says kids nominated a little corner at the center, where they gather all the materials they find interesting to create. Teachers realized that they can teach through stories – that kids relate and express themselves much easier and with more engagement by doing so. The concept works! Creative expression through character design and storytelling is a very strong tool for human communication. We proved that now. And we need to keep going!

If you want to read the continuation of my journey, click here.

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