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Self-expression and Giraffes
August 6, 2011   Rwanda
When I give workshops to children I concentrate on the flow of the activities, on the children’s engagement, and on the level of energy. It is practically impossible to follow one child’s participation in the group, to study his or her interaction with the other children, or to appreciate his or her development over time.

Training session with the youth leaders

After two intense training sessions I gave to the amazing youth leaders, and after they had had the chance to observe me for two days working with the kids, I decided to let them run full fifty-minutes workshops by themselves, so they can gain experience and confidence, and I can rest and observe. That was Thursday.

During the music workshops given by the youth leaders
During the music workshops given by the youth leaders

When describing the goals of music workshops the term self-expression always appears. But what does it really mean in practice? I decided to focus on one child, a 12-year-old girl. In a musical improvisation game that lasts for about 5 minutes, where all children move to music in a circle, she gets one opportunity to express herself in front of all the children who in return follow her moves. Ten seconds out of 5 minutes are her own. Ten seconds in which she is the center of attention, she controls the energy and leads her friends and the youth leaders. This power which manifests itself in such a positive way during the music workshop is unique. It’s empowering; it’s constructive. It strengthens her self-confidence and identity. She is herself and no one else, and everyone acknowledges that. I watch the girl as her turn is approaching, a clear look of anticipation shows on her face, she is excited, maybe a bit nervous, is she thinking about her moves in advance or will she improvise on the spot? When her turn comes she wiggles her hips and waves her arms in circles, all children follow and we both smile heartily. It’s over, another child in the circle will now experience the same. The music stops. All thirty children clap their hands enthusiastically, they cheer and laugh, and are ready for the next activity. I watch the girl again, she looks at her friends and that smile doesn’t leave her. Only ten seconds, but what an experience!

One of the youth leaders leading an activity

The week is over. Friday we took the kids to Akagera, the Rwandan National Park, where we watched giraffes, zebras, bush-bucks and impalas graze and play in the immense savanna terrain, where cellphones fail to roam. We stopped the buses next to a family of giraffes, turned off the engines and stepped out. A tornado of high-pitched giggling and calls of wonder swept the valley, and the giraffes who are used to the song of birds and the occasional hyenas’ laughter, but mostly silence, looked at our tiny human forms in perplexity; how much noise can such a small creature make?

“Shhh…” the youth leaders beckoned, “the giraffes will get frightened and run away.” The children fell silent and edged slowly toward the giraffes. These were moments of awe, where the only sound one could hear was of cameras switching hands, the woosh of wind, and the crunching of grass. The little girl was there as well among her friends, watching the giraffes leave in silence, their long legs brushing the grass. She doesn’t know it yet, but next week she will be learning new songs, improvising sounds and rhythms and do songwriting with her friends. I think I will ask them to write a song about the animals they have seen, and about this particular one, the most graceful, the tallest of all, the one that almost never makes any sound, but observes the world from above, listens carefully, and just enjoys the music.

Topics: Rwanda