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child counts: Is competition a good way to develop the arts among
December 15, 2009
28th November CHIPAWO children came together for a festival. It
was a very child-friendly time to launch the CHIPAWO 20th anniversary
- and this was duly done by the Executive Director, acting for the
Chairman, who was absent in Malawi at a SADC Theatre Festival. The
following are two perspectives on the day, by two different observers
but fundamentally raising the same question: "Is competition
a good way to develop the arts among children?" The first is
by Mnatsi Zhou, the CHIPAWO ITC Officer, and the second by myself.)
FUN by Mnatsi
Zhou I had the pleasure of attending two events on Saturday that
that really should have been good fun for children. The first venue
was Alfred Beit Primary School in Mabelreign. There the Alfred Beit
CHIPAWO Centre held a mini arts festival where CHIPAWO children
performed to a an audience predominantly composed of, well, CHIPAWO
children. Schools and CHIPAWO centres from in and around Harare
(Norton, Chitungwiza and Bindura) were represented.
Set in the school hall,
there wasn't much in the way of décor, simplicity being the
buzz word. The second venue was the 7 Arts Theatre in the posh shopping
centre of Avondale. The show was Jikinya, the annual traditional
dance contest for primary schools. All ten provinces of Zimbabwe
were represented by the winning schools after district and provincial
competitions and in addition there was a visiting troupe from Botswana.
Pomp and fanfare were
the order of the day. Considerable effort was put into decorating
the stage and some fancy, at times disturbing, lighting effects
were used liberally. The only thing the two events had in common
were the brilliant costumes. Two altogether great days for children?
Let us look a bit closer.
What is fun?
Wiktionary defines fun first as "amusement, enjoyment or pleasure"
and secondly as "playful and often noisy activity".
There was certainly a
lot of playful and noisy activity at Afred Beit. The loudest of
the bunch being the Mount Pleasant-based CHIPAWO Supasenta. They
beat their tunes out of a set of steel drums - you can imagine the
decibels - and while they were at it showcased a Tswana dance to
said tunes into the bargain.
Waterland Layiti (infant)
Centre, based at a preschool in Chitungwiza looked quite playful
as they gave a gumboot jive performance but looks are deceiving.
They stomped and clapped their way through a surprisingly well-kept
rhythm. Surprising, that is, if you don`t know CHIPAWO. The oldest
dancer of this group was barely four years old but they gave what
was for me the most memorable piece for the day. They just looked
carefree despite their obvious skill. The same can be said of just
about every other performance.
And the part about 'amusement,
enjoyment and pleasure'? You just needed to be there to feel it
- the anticipation as they marched to the wardrobe room for their
costume changes, the look in their eyes as they watched their contemporaries
on stage and their shrieks of laughter as they almost raced off-stage
to watch the following centres do their thing. The fun was an almost
tangible factor at Alfred Beit.
Having left this, I found
myself seated in the darkened auditorium at 7Arts. The dancers were
also children and they too were well drilled and practised in their
craft. The activity there was certainly noisy as most traditional
dances are accompanied by some very enthusiastic drumming and vibrant
song. For me the 'playful' part was struck off the list when I saw
the desperation in a boy's face as he struggled to fasten his costume
leg-piece that was coming undone in the middle of a Chinyambera
(Shona hunting dance) performance. Backstage the picture was one
of a near palpable anxiety as competing schools waited to take to
the stage. Onstage a few of the more experienced singers and dancers
did seem to have fun as they proudly showed off their talents.
and pleasure were plentiful in the audience especially among the
distinguished guests (all adult) in the front row. It would be unfair
to say that the children in the audience didn't have their fare
share but some said they were quite worried about their position
in the contest, given how much 'better' the other schools seemed
At the end of the day
there could only be one winner and of course the winning dance teacher
was on hand to showcase some noise and playfulness as he danced
up to the stage with great amusement, enjoyment and pleasure to
see his wards accept the top honours and cash prize. Our own 'Nde'pi
Gen'a' crew was there - this is the CHIPAWO Saturday morning children's
television series - and they got some interviews of the runners-up.
One boy said: "Izvi zvirikubohwa tanga tichifanira kuhwina"
(this is annoying - we should have won). His teacher shared the
same sentiments in not so many words.
So what is there to learn
from the two occasions? Firstly, children being children with other
children equals fun. Secondly children performing for adults equals
work, potentially heartbreaking work. And last but not least. green,
blue and red flashing lights and a backdrop sequined with shards
of glass do not work for traditional Shona dances or those from
CHIPAWO and competition
by Robert McLaren It was a busy Saturday morning for Farai, the
young director, and the crew of the CHIPAWO children's television
show 'Nde'pi Gen'a' (What's up, gang?). They had to start off with
the CHIPAWO@20 launch at Alfred Beit School then go on to the Dance
Trust Outreach concert and end up with the finals of Jikinya, the
National Arts Council's primary schools traditional dance competition.
All these events were
on the same day quite coincidentally. In other words neither knew
what the other was doing - and here we are talking about the National
Arts Council of Zimbabwe, CHIPAWO and the Dance Trust, two of the
most prominent players in arts education and the national council
with which they are both registered! There is obviously an issue
here - and the newly confirmed Director of the National Arts Council,
Mr Elvas Mari, and I did have a bit of chat about this. Perhaps
something will be done about it. We hope so.
The organisers of the
CHIPAWO@20 children's festival knew about Jikinya but they did not
know the date. It was thus by accident that the festival, involving
CHIPAWO children mostly from primary schools, was slated for the
same day as the finals of the national primary schools traditional
dance festival. But what would have happened if CHIPAWO had known
the Jikinya date before organising its festival? Would some of those
brilliant children who performed with such skill and gusto at the
CHIPAWO festival have been there at the 7 Arts Theatre competing
in the Jikinya primary schools traditional dance competition?
The answer would have
been 'No'. Why?
CHIPAWO is a child development
organisation that educates and develops children mostly through
the arts. CHIPAWO does not believe that competition is a good way
to develop children. CHIPAWO's position is well known - and the
National Arts Council is fully aware of it. CHIPAWO does not compete
in Jikinya though children from schools which have CHIPAWO arts
education centres have often won the competition or done well.
CHIPAWO has two different
programmes involving children and the arts - the Arts Education
for Development and Employment Programme (AEDE) and the Performances
In the AEDE Programme
CHIPAWO works with children in many AEDE centres and facilitates
the opening of such centres all over the country. The children who
participate come from all different backgrounds, rich and poor,
girls and boys, town and country, and includes the physically and
As the name of the programme
makes clear, it is an arts education programme which is designed
to educate and develop the child and prepare the child for employment
- not necessarily in the arts. In this programme all children are
welcome. Artistic talent is virtually irrelevant. The idea is to
strengthen the confidence, self-belief and self-esteem of children
by helping them to learn, create, challenge and demonstrate proudly
to other children, friends and parents what they can do.
To achieve this, the
AEDE Programme includes in its syllabus an arts training and creating
component in which children do drama, music and traditional and
modern dance and sometime video and television. At the same time
they receive an education in culture, child welfare, children's
rights and issues relating to their sexuality and health, such as
child abuse, gender and HIV/AIDS. The syllabus is designed to assist
them develop confidence, a sense of identity, communication skills,
democratic practice, freedom and a critical culture - all of which
impact positively on their ability to find or create employment
when they grow up.
In such a programme,
a competitive spirit would wreak havoc. The core value of CHIPAWO
is SHARING. The name, 'chipawo', is a Shona word, which literally
means 'please give' or 'give also'. The founding impulse of CHIPAWO
was sharing when twenty years ago adult arts practitioners got together
to share their experience and skills with children.
Once the element of competition
is introduced, the spirit of sharing is replaced by the selfish
desire to do well at others' expense. Those who win go away celebrating
their success while the vast majority, who have failed, go away
either angry, resentful, despondent or demoralised. Instead of teaching
each other, each child tries to keep their skill to themselves.
Instead of enjoying the performance of others, each child is either
hoping the others will fail or resenting their success.
Relations between children
are now characterised by jealousy, selfishness and unfriendliness.
It is true that one or two super-gifted individuals who win everything
all the time, have their skills developed and opportunities to develop
still further placed at their disposal. The AEDE Programme has to
achieve a balance between opportunities for gifted individuals to
develop freely and ensuring that their relations with other children
remain generous and encouraging.
The CHIPAWO AEDE Programme
is about building children, not breaking them down; about developing
children, not sapping their confidence; about children working together
and sharing, not being selfish and exclusive. In the AEDE Programme
it is the child that counts and every child counts.
In the Performances Programme,
things are a little different however. Here, though children still
count, the quality of the performance counts equally. Though CHIPAWO
adheres to its principle of not involving children in competition
against other children, in the Performance Programme the most experienced
and the most able performers are selected by audition and assisted
to strive for the highest standards of artistic performance. Many
of the graduates that have subsequently made a career in the arts
are the products of this programme eg. Danai Gurira and Chipo Chung
(theatre) and Chiwoniso Maraire, Rute Mbangwa and David Chifunyise
It is to be
hoped that many other graduates, graduates of the AEDE Programme
of CHIPAWO, who have not entered or done well in any arts profession,
are out there working together with others in their chosen fields,
confident in their identity, aware of their own rights and those
of others, aware of their value and that of others, and contributing
in the process to the making of a juster, more humane and happier
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