Following invitations to participate in the Children’s Arts Festival (CAF), part of South Africa’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and to speak at the World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC) in Durban, the British Arts Council offered Creeping Toad a continuing professional development grant to go on this adventure…
South Africa always excites me, well, just about anywhere in Africa excites me! I love the sense of space and the smell of dust and the ground after rain. South Africa’s plants are endlessly amazing from the famous Fijnbos to the less publicised but just as amazing Aloes and Euphorbias towering in the hills and looking like woodlands still waiting for dinosaurs. And there are buzzards and eagles overhead, monkeys in the bush and my friends have aardvark burrows on their farm…
This trip was a challenge and a delight and source of great inspiration… I’ve given myself another 200 words to stop me rambling on indefinitely… so here goes.
Workshops on CAF: lovely groups, taking activities I am used to working with and making me review how I communicate ideas. Language wasn’t a problem and neither was enthusiasm, but we needed to work around how people work with “teachers”, relaxing formal relationships and encouraging freedom to let personal ideas spill out as puppets and drawings and stories.
And WEEC: 5 days of workshops, talks, and long discussions in mixtures of languages. Lots of listening to do here, to sit and absorb and saturate (then retreat and sit in the sun and let it all start germinating ideas). What did I go to? Sessions on religion and education, developing community relationships, working with traditional knowledge and more. My own sessions were well received (presentation on the importance of excitement and inspiration and a workshop on playing with the same).
But what did I take away: not so much sets of activities to use but a deeper inspiration, a recognition that as an artist and writer I need to do more of my own work: to write more stories, to explore ideas through essays and articles and to perform: to tell my own stories and poetry, traditional tales; to call back the wild puppets of my memory and dreams: to let the old witches and laughing trolls out again.
Oh, and there was “ethics”… coming out of a workshop and ongoing discussions in WEEC, the roles of ethics in environmental education. No, not about telling people what to think or how to pursue an ethical lifestyle but about developing their own ethical stance. We worked with concepts and activities designed to encourage critical thinking, reflection, probing agendas, fearlessly entering situations where there aren’t easy outcomes and pat answers but where appropriate responses grow out of understanding and change as situations develop. Oh this was good and definitely inspiring. In the months since the conference, this strand of activity has developed and now I am beginning to look for opportunities to use these ideas with young people – and with professionals: teachers, artists, environmental educators. They are also creeping into workshops I do on “inspiration” with their way of challenging boundaries and encouraging free thinking and perceptive conversation.
South Africa: exciting as always and changing, as Africa always is for me. Africa opens heart and mind to new growth, washing ideas clean with the swelling waves of the Indian Ocean and the clarity of rockpools and red hermit crabs under bright sun.
Lawrence and Heila Lotz-Sisitka
Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (EEASA)
WEEC (look out for WEEC 2009 in Canada), www.eeasa.org.za
CAF, www.nafest.co.za (look under Fringe)
British Arts Council, www.artscouncil.org.uk