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Youth Project: USA-Kenya-Russia
 
 

Youth Project: USA-Kenya-Russia, long running project, began with an exchange of artwork and masks between students in New York, Baltimore, St. Petersburg, and Nairobi, Kenya, and evolved over the years.  In 2003, the staff of Kiboko Projects worked with students at the Moi Forces Academy in Nakuru and St. Nicholas Secondary School in Nairobi, on a project entitled, “My Life and Country”.  The students of St. Nicholas used the project as an opportunity to learn about their community.  Armed with cameras, they went into their communities to record a look at current day Nairobi neighborhoods, ranging from middle class houses to slums.  Examples of some of the book topics include the history of Nairobi, the slums of Nairobi, and The Day of the African Child.

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Moi Forces

The Moi Forces project produced masks and stories from their communities, along with a number of introspective interviews.  The young women (aged 14 to 17) expressed powerful messages about the current situation in Kenya, including women’s issues such as circumcision and forced marriages.  They talked about political issues, corruption, and HIV/AIDS.  Participants also spoke about their hopes and aspirations for the future.  They took video cameras into the neighboring city of Nakuru, and conducted interviews with a number of its residents, from which we learn a great deal about life in Kenya.  The students choreographed and performed a series of performances on video, with dancing, singing and reciting poetry in Kiswahili, and short skits about issues important to them.  The resulting collection of masks, photodiaries, and films were viewed and responded to by students at the Eleanor Roosevelt High School, New York City.  Over the next few years, Kiboko Projects started to work with schools in Kisumu, in Western Kenya.  The exchange between the schools in New York City and Kisumu continued over the next few years.  The students started to communicate with each other using web cams in 2007, at first merely chatting, and then moving on to discuss issues important to them.  These issues included global warming and major health issues of their respective cities.

 
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In July 2009, Kiboko Projects began a new workshop program involving secondary schools in the US, Kenya and Russia. The project was designed to focus on personal, social, cultural and political issues affecting the lives of teenagers in the three countries.  Subjects that were also now included, so as to allow the students to have a better understanding of the context of their counterparts’ work, were the culture and history of all three countries.  In addition to the media and art forms previously used in the workshops, students were required to research the different countries.  From their studies, they were then able to report the information to their classmates and to create maps and posters containing this data.  The students were better able to communicate having this knowledge.  Web conferencing was again included as a means to connect students at their schools between the three countries. As part of these projects, students chose topics to research and then to develop into a dialogue. The three-way conversations were structured as real-time debates about specific topics.  Some of these topics included issues about health, globalization, climate change, economy, career opportunities and education. Using art and media, they learned different ways of sharing their stories about their families and communities. Their writings and photographs were incorporated into a storyline, printed, and then bound into hardcover book. The photo diaries, photographs, films and artwork were shared among themselves and with their counterparts, and were then used to start new projects. Upon completion, the finished projects were organized into exhibitions held at community centers, and galleries in Kenya, Russia, and the US.
 
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As a result of this project, students have a revised perception of their world and of their role in a global society.  Being able to share with counterparts in this personal way allows them to understand how connected they/we are to other societies – how much we share in common and how their problems also affect us.  Sharing through art achieves several things, including learning on a deeper level and learning new skills.  Participating in this project also helps students to learn about themselves, through the act of creating, which forces one to be introspective and to think about what message one wants to convey.  In addition, this was a true interdisciplinary program, and included art, global studies, and creative writing. During the year, the staff of Kiboko Projects, together with the teachers, helped the students learn to create and evaluate masks, take photos and write text that were put together into hardcover bound books, and they produced video about their lives.  The collection of work was then exchanged with similar work that had been produced by their counterparts. The opportunity for students to meet and communicate with each other via webcam  proved to be a deep and meaningful event for the participants.
 
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The Moxies

The next phase of the Youth Project in Kenya, called Youth to Youth: Global Connections, was developed in 2010. Participants from the Kariadudu, Korogocho, and Kariobangi  areas of Nairobi responded to projects created by youth in Russia and the US. with masks, video, dance, and other creative arts that shared their personal stories and taught the others about their lives as youth in the slums of Nairobi. These youth banded together to form the Moxies,  helping them lead productive lives in difficult conditions.   The Moxies, which includes talented dancers, acrobats, singers, musicians, beaders, and other artists, perform throughout Nairobi, enabling them to earn a small living.  They practice and rehearse every day in space within the slums, with a strong sense of dedication.  In fact, the meaning of Moxies is: Strength, Courage, and Determination.  The members of Moxies have all been affected by issues of poverty and obstacles in their lives, such as the post-election violence of 2007, and are striving to overcome them.  Some are currently in school, others had their school plans interrupted and are working to continue, and all are working to succeed.

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Gym 1, Velikiy Novgorod, Russia

Gym 1, in Velikiy Novgorod used similar concepts and curriculum as Gym 209, St. Petersburg.   Using cameras and video the student-teenagers focused on environmental issues, corruption, waste and other abuses that affected them as a community and personally.   The workshops began at the exhibition site where students interacted with their counterparts’ diaries, film documentaries and artwork. The students incorporated exhibition into the storyline of their books and videos.  Web conferencing and Q&A became part of the daily process between students in the US and Africa.

         
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Gym 209, St. Petersburg, Russia
In 2009, Kiboko Projects started a workshop program at Gym 209, St. Petersburg, focused on personal, social and cultural issues affecting youth in Russia.  Students were required to research an issue important to them.  Workshops provide mentoring using several concepts such as: mask making, creative writing and making of hand-made books. Photography, video and web conferencing connected them with their counterparts in Africa and the US.  The students took photographs and videos around the city of St. Petersburg which became part of their personal books.  The project was presented formally through films and exhibits in both the US and Russia.

 

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Herzen State Pedagogical University

In 2010, Kiboko Projects began another workshop  in the ongoing discussion between youth and young adults of the USA, Kenya, and Russia. Students at Herzen State Pedagogical University, one of the most distinguished universities in St. Petersburg, Russia,  participated  in this project that was developed to help them communicate in the English language as they shared their lives and stories with their counterparts.   This program is distinctive by the use of various methods such as: maskmaking, storytelling, visual art, movement and dance, and interactive communication through web conferencing between counterparts in Africa and the US.

As part of the mask making process, a dance therapist worked with the group and implemented a series of movement and dance workshops which acted to transform the participants into a deeper level of consciousness and to experience the emotions in their bodies. The results of this work were integrated into the design of the masks and used for telling stories. Group discussions and interactions between participants through feedback and movement and dance expanded on these processes. In addition, personal interviews were conducted to capture more of the intimate detail and the experiences the participants learned from the workshops.

 
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Riara Springs Primary School

Kiboko Projects began working with Wilson Boit Kipketer, renowned Kenyan athlete, at Riara Springs Academy, Nairobi in 2004.  Wilson and the students made masks, viewed books made by US and Russian students, and talked on camera about their families and community.  Wilson talked to the students about his experiences as a medal winning champion and gave advice on how to succeed.  The combination of making masks and books and working with such a powerful influence as Wilson Kipketer had a very strong effect on the children.  Tegla Laroupe, famed marathoner, also participated in the Kiboko Projects.

 
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Athi River Youth Group

In 2010, Kiboko Projects collaborated with New Hope Community Project, Kenya to help develop a community youth project involving about 25 teenagers.  The project involved the integration of mask making, theater, storytelling and dance.  Kiboko Project’s staff met with the Messengers in the Athi River community to further develop   a cultural project for the purposes of educating youth in the local community and schools.  

The concept of the project was to integrate mask making, dance and storytelling into a traveling program.  The Messengers presented a series of performances in schools where they effectively communicated their ideas to youth audiences.  The skits and themes included powerful messages to teenagers who face some of these issues, which include extreme poverty and health, sexual violence and gender discrimination.  The idea of the performances were to present ideas and to develop a dialogue in order to educate youth about social, political and economic issues.

 
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The Machakos and Makueni Project 1998-99
 

The works displayed in this exhibition were selected from 200 drawings and paintings created in workshops at primary and secondary schools in the Makueni and Machakos Districts of Kenya. This exhibition includes American students' work from the East and West Village of New York. The project was organized by artist and photographer Mark Scheflen, the Director of the Visual Arts Program at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, New York City. Students from Manhattan made paintings for an exhibition at St. Mark's Church which later was curated for travel to Kenya. Dr. David Gitari, the Archbishop of Kenya, and Bishop Kanuku of the Machakos District invited Scheflen to present the American kid's exhibition and to teach a series of art workshops at 15 schools in the Makueni and Machakos Districts. The plan was simple -after an introduction, lecture and presentation of the paintings made by American students, Kenyan students were invited to reciprocate with their own compositions. Scheflen supplied paper, pens, crayons and water paints and told the children they could paint or draw whatever they wanted as long as the work was completed in five weeks for a traveling exhibition to the United States.

Kenyan students were provided with simple, locally purchased art materials, consisting of paper, colored pencils, crayons, watercolors and brushes. Due to cost constraints, the students were limited to primary colors but were free to mix mediums and colors and to improvise their own tools in any way they chose. And improvise they did, some fashioning paint brushes out of fiber, clay and other "found" materials.

The artwork, with their images of wild and domestic animals, local architecture and geography, lifestyles and fashion, traditional rituals and mythological scenes, are deeply rooted in the physical cultural and psychosocial landscapes they inhabit. The paintings are not meant to be representative of the artwork of children throughout Africa, but of their particular environs. The topographical features that distinguish their region--its proximity to two national parks and to Kilimanjaro---are prominent in their work. Although many of the drawings are 'western' in style, they indicate an ongoing connection to tradition life, and demonstrate the ability to closely observe and draw inspiration from every aspect of the natural and cultural environment.

From a purely artistic point of view, this collection is singular for the unusual high quality of work. While not totally isolated from modern life, the children do not have ready access to the quality and variety of resources available to urban children--trips to museums, art galleries and large well-stocked public libraries and bookstores; availability of films and videos on any subject; and easy access to computers and the Internet. Yet there is no lack of wit, inspiration, imagination and subtlety in these young artists' work.

This exhibition has been shown at the United Nations in commemoration of the "Day of the Africa Child", the Staten Island Children's Museum, The Central Children's Room of the Donnell Library, New York City, Hudson Valley Children's Museum in Nyack, N.Y. The exhibition will continue to travel to the North Museum of History and Science, Old Forge Art Center upstate New York where students living in the local community near the exhibition sites will be able to reciprocate with their own drawings and paintings. Additionally, photography workshops will be offered to students so they can make photographs to exchange with the Kenyan students in Fall of 1999.  

The collection traveled internationally through the US, Veliky Novgorod and St. Petersburg, Russia, Kenya and South Africa for a series of exhibitions in community centers, galleries and schools.  Workshops were held so youth could respond with their own art, face masks, photography and storytelling using writing, audio and video.  This was the beginning several new projects, presentations and exhibitions.

 
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The Machakos and Makueni Project, Kenya 1998-99
 
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South Africa

In 2001, Kiboko Projects implemented a cultural exchange program with Klerksdorp-Capetown, South Africa using mask making, writing, photography and video to capture 15 teenager’s life stories.  Many of the participants suffer the trauma of post-apartheid, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS which was ravaging the country.  In organized workshops the teens created paintings and drawings, face masks, photographs, and made personal videos reflecting on their personal lives and community. They performed folk dances and wrote poems.  They created a collection of art and videos which was exhibited in the US, Kenya and Russia. The South Africans became the catalyst for several new projects that were started in the US, Kenya and Russia.

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