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Theater and Storytelling: Tools of Empowerment for Young Men in Rural Ghana

Project Overview

A six-week cultural theater workshop for Ghanaian orphans.

Identifying the Problem

Due to severe poverty in Ghana, many parents cannot afford to provide their children with food or an education if they live at home. Consequently, many Ghanaian children spend their childhoods in orphanages, which are often poorly-funded, offering sub-standard nutrition and education and few opportunities for imaginative play. In many cases, the children are even required to work long hours as farm laborers in order to sustain the orphanages. 

In addition to being alienated from their own family members as well as traditional family networks, these children are also isolated from most Ghanaian cultural traditions. Amy wanted to provide a group of boys at a Ghanaian orphanage with a creative space that would grant them access to the traditions of their culture through theater, drumming and storytelling.

Creating A Solution

Amy has a passion for the Theater of the Oppressed, which encourages disadvantaged groups to create politically and socially conscious art as a means of empowerment and inspiration to make positive changes in their own communities. Amy learned about the Theater of the Oppressed during an internship with Theater RambaZamba, a professional company for actors with disabilities in Berlin, Germany. When Amy learned that one of her colleagues at Theater RambaZamba had connections to Bawjiase, a community in Ghana with an orphanage, she decided that together, they could create an effective program that would use Theater of the Oppressed methods to empower Ghanaian youth.

While in Berlin, Amy and her colleague received additional training in theater methods through their internships with Theater RambaZamba. The team then communicated with the head of Countryside Children’s Home, an orphanage in Bawjiase, about their proposed project. They also arranged the logistics of their trip, including housing and fundraising. After this was confirmed, Amy and her colleague developed a six-week theater workshop focused on play, imagination and creative thinking and writing.

Once Amy and her colleague arrived in Bawjiase, they negotiated the time, rehearsal space and access to drums to allow the ensemble to engage in valuable traditional practices of storytelling and drumming. They also set off to recruit boys from the orphanage to participate. They then began their daily rehearsals, meeting after each rehearsal to debrief and re-assess the project. 

One of the workshop’s main goals was to facilitate an exploration of topics of interest to the ensemble of children. The children chose to focus on traditional storytelling and drumming, but the workshop also pushed the children to re-imagine traditional Ghanaian stories in ways that were relevant to their own life experiences. About three weeks into the rehearsal process, Amy and her colleague shifted from teaching basic performance skills to devising a piece for performance. As an ensemble, the group narrowed the stories to their three favorites, cast drummers and actors for each story and finalized the shape of each piece.

The workshop concluded with the ensemble performing for an audience of children and adults from the orphanage, the associated school and the community. The performance was a combination of traditional and original storytelling methods, and was a huge success.

Lessons Learned

Traveling to a new country to attempt a culture-based project is fraught with innumerable challenges and subtleties, especially as a white westerner in post-colonial Africa. For Amy, it was important to challenge herself to spend as much time as possible building relationships with Ghanaians rather than with other foreigners. By spending her evenings doing homework with her students, helping the orphanage workers bathe and feed the babies, asking her neighbors for cooking lessons and participating in religious services, Amy was able to integrate herself into the local community and better understand Ghanaian culture. She found that the best way to gain insight into the local culture was to develop friendships with people in the community. But she reminds others that even if you do build strong relationships within the community, it is important to remain flexible, because it is likely that nothing is going to happen the way you anticipated.

Get Involved!

While not being able to visit Countryside Children’s Home as often as she would like, Amy has maintained relationships with her ensemble members through Facebook, e-mail, and phone conversations. She has made it a goal to provide support for the continued education of the boys who participated in the theater workshop, by helping ensure that they can afford to complete secondary school or training school. Additionally, as an occupational therapist, Amy is involved with an initiative that provides occupational therapy to children with disabilities in Ghana. Anyone wishing to contribute to either of these secondary aspects of Amy’s project can contact her directly.

Funding

Amy took out a $1,000 loan to cover the costs of this project, which included her airfare, housing, food and costs related to the project.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

United-states United States 2008

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