„The things are packed, everybody is on board and off we go.” On Friday 7th June at 9 a.m. the group of the project “Street Theatre and Circus”, a cooperation of the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/ Ugandan German Cultural Society and In Movement – Art for social change, started their one-week tour through Uganda. The journey first took us north of the country, to the cities Lira and Gulu and then to the west, to Masaka. As main responsible for the organizational part of the project I would like to share some personal impressions of this week, that I experienced with the ten children, the facilitators Ife, Patrick and Lukas, the founder of the Girl Be Project Remy, the photographer Oscar and our bus driver Mr. John.
Before the tour the facilitators together with the ten children created the street theatre and circus play “Walk in Wonder World” in three intensive rehearsal weeks. Therefore dramatic, acrobatic, and circus elements were used. In the first week the theme of “Wonder World” was approached through theatre educative methods, basic elements of acrobatics were learned and the children presented the skills they already had. The practical work on developing the play “Walk in Wonder World” started in the second week. Our “Wonder Players” learned how to present themselves on stage, and the different circus numbers of the play were worked out and put together in a script, written by Lukas Geschwind. The third week the group spent on polishing up details and completing the play of 40 minutes that now contained dance, acrobatics, somersaulting, juggling and clowning. In addition to that costumes and face paint were chosen and a portable stage construction was built. The musical accompaniment was taken over by the facilitators themselves: Ife supported with vocals, Patrick through drumming und Lukas played the Ukulele and the Melodica.
Soon it was clear that the tour through Uganda was almost like a tour through “Wonder World”. On the way to our first stop we crossed the bubbling Nile and drove by an ape family on whose sight the whole bus got excited. The children come from difficult backgrounds and were not able to attend school this semester, because they could not afford the school fees. They live in deprived areas of Kampala and hardly have the chance to leave the city and to escape the traffic, the smog and the dust. Through the theatre educational work on the theme “Wonder World”, it was revealed that all of them imagine this place as a green oasis with trees, water, animals, clean air and fresh fruits. In travelling through Uganda they got the opportunity to get to know better their country with the incredibly nice nature and the abundance of species and they had the chance to exchange with people of different areas in Uganda and through that to make new friends.
After a little detour in the direction of Gulu („Oh we go to Lira first!“) our bus driver Mr. John brought us safely to our first stop, the Ngetta Parish, a bit outside of Lira town. It is a wonderful place where we were hosted for three nights. On the big grassy space between the two dorms and the kitchen there is a huge mango tree with countless ripe fruits which became a highlight for the children on this tour. Two little pigs and some chicken were wandering around and the air was fresh and clean. Here we met our contact person Sibylle Mani from the Justice and Peace Commission who organised the accommodation and also the shows and the workshop. On the first evening of the tour the boys of the group already had a performance at the “Lango Night”, a monthly event for young upcoming artists from Lira and surroundings. The next day during breakfast they excitedly told the girls who had stayed home about their performance. („We got to perform in a club!“). We spent the next morning at the organisation Child Restoration Outreach (CRO) that aims to reintegrate street children into the society. There our facilitators gave workshops to the themes dance, poetry, acrobatics and juggling. The children of the “Wonder World” group supported the facilitators actively. An afternoon at the pool was thereafter honestly earned. Although none of the “Wonder Girls and Boys” is able to swim, we all had a lot of fun while playing in the water. After the refreshment there was a football game with the students of the John Bosco Technical School. After dinner the children were invited to show them some parts of the play „Walk in Wonder World“, which was to be seen in full length at the market place in Lira the next day.
As we arrived there on Sunday with our tour bus the theatre group from Lira already was awaiting us with roaring music from a bad sound system and announcements with an overdriven microphone that were welcoming us as guests from Kampala. Because of the aesthetical understanding of the people on the market being obviously different from mine, soon a big crowed was gathered. While we were setting up our mobile stage the music was turned down and the poetic, theatrical and acrobatic journey through “Wonder World” began. For some time our “Wonder Players” led the audience into a world where waterfalls flow upwards, where you can talk to animals and that is full of surprises and wonders.
On Monday morning, after taking a group picture with Sibylle, who was a great supporter to us, we continued our journey to Gulu. There Ben Porter welcomed us at his Recreation Project. The project contains ropes courses in a forest and uses outdoor adventure excursions to pass trust, self-confidence and hope to children. Our young theatre and circus artists got the chance to spend a night in a tent in the forest for the first time. After checking out our campsite we continued straight to the venue of the next “Walk in Wonder World”, the Remand Centre, a prison for youth. The performance was scheduled for 3 p.m. but some of the children only came back from school at 5 p.m.. The remaining time was used for some theatre educational games together with the boys of the Remand Centre. This was a great experience, for everyone that was participating.
As we came back to our campsite after the performance, the “Wonder Girls and Boys” had time to try the ropes course, climbing walls and other equipment of the outdoor adventure trial of the Recreation Centre. After that we had a nice typical Ugandan dinner with rice, sweet potatoes, beans and kalo, which is a dark mash of millet. As I woke up the next day some of the children already were up to take advantage of the adventure trail for one last time. After Ife provided us with some rolex, a Ugandan specialty of chapatti and egg, for breakfast we jumped on the bus to go on the long ride to Masaka. At 8 p.m. we were warmly welcomed by Phillip Ssentamu in the house of his mother. Phillip is the director of the Byana St. Mary Hill Primary School and Orphanage, were our children were invited to show their „Walk in Wonder World“ the next day. As we arrived at the school on Wednesday morning, Phillip was showing us around the school and led us among other things to the hut of a barkcloth maker. Barkcloth is a material that is produced out of rind with a traditional method. In addition to that we were even allowed to take some of the sugar cane which is grown by the school. After our children were transformed into “Wonder Players” through costumes and face painting the children of the school welcomed us with wonderful songs and dances. The energy, shown by the students while doing their performance also was taken over by our children, who then presented one of their nicest performances. After the show the “Wonder Players” were again asked to play a football game, but this time against the teachers of the school. Before we said goodbye Oscar of course had to take the obligatory good bye picture.
The last evening of the tour we spent together at Phillip’s mother’s house, watching the “Puss-in-Boots”. At the next morning there was even some time to print some t-shirts, with the material Remy had brought with her. After that we set off to the last performance in the village of the WeaverBirds Arts Camp by the artist Collin Sekajugo. Before the show we were offered a little tour through the camp with its wonderful location on top of a hill and its view over the surrounding moor where artworks of different artists are exhibited. When Mr. John drove us back to Kampala after the performance the mood was of course a bit melancholic. But in the same time we were looking forward to welcome again our families and friends that had stayed home. One day after the return of our successful tour we met again as the entire group for the last time having cake and tea. One day later Lukas had to fly back to Germany.
What will be remembered the most: Mangoes of course, the fun at the pool, the football games, the night in the forest, the new gained friends, the performance in Masaka.
This week we – Ife, Lukas, Patrick, Isa, Oscar, Remy, Mr. John, Mary, Bruno, Brian, Joyce, Felix, Moses, Joan, Abdu, Angel, Yahaya – spent together as a family. We laughed, argued, played, sang and experienced a lot together. The project “Walk in Wonder World” is over but no one can take away from us the experiences and the memories.