Saturday, August 20, 2011

East Africa Day 92 (Sat Aug 13): TEDxKibera – Empowerment Through Art

This AM, thanks to an invitation from Suraj, Elien, Jan (my Belgian friends) and I took the 46 bus to the Yaya Centre, and then the 8 Matatu to Karanja, Kibera. From there it was a short, easy walk through Kibera to Mchanganyiko Hall, where TEDxKibera was being held today.

We were early, and had no problem finding unoccupied plastic chairs in the front of the room. (The very same plastic chairs that I’ve seen all over Uganda and Kenya!) But when I turned around later in the day, the room was full – mostly with African Kenyans.

I recognized a few people – Acumen Fund East Africa Fellow Ramadhan, and Shining Hope for Communities’ new Development Director, Kim. It was great to get to catch up with them, before the event started. Ramadhan had had a concert the previous night, which I hadn’t been able to attend. He said that Suraj had been there, and that it went well. Kim told me about meeting some of the families who benefit from Shining Hope for Communities’ programs, on the afternoon after I’d first met her – on Thursday. She said that one of the second graders at the girls school taught her father to read and write. Love it! :)

This was my very first TED event, so I have little to compare it to, but it was great! The tech set up was very well done, the building was perfect, and the MC did a great job introducing all of the speakers and the pre-recorded TED videos that we watched between speakers.

Suraj, who was the other organizer, handled the laptop and power point presentation slides for the speakers.

As usual, I took notes. Here’s an outline of the event:

1.) We watched a pre-recorded TED video of Emmanuel Jal, recorded in July ’09 – Oxford, England. He said “music can change the way you live your life and you don’t even know it.” I think I get that – see big photo on the top of my blog:)

2.) We heard from Acumen Fund East Africa Fellow Bonafice, about his photography. He said that he likes to take photos because a photo captures a moment in time, and then it can be reflected up on later. He also talked about politics – he said that Kenya’s leaders have lied. They promised the youth that their time would come, but it never came. Bonafice said that their time is today. The government has failed youth. The youth are now the government. The youth should take over and work on their own problems. (This is similar to what I heard at the Equity Congres.) Bonafice reminded everyone that anyone can run for a government position as an Independent!

3.) A young, female African Kenyan poet spoke about her current work. She began her talk with a poem. Unfortunately I was only able to capture part of it, before my camera gave up on me, but it's still worth posting ...

She was studying abroad, and then in 2006 was awarded a scholarship to work with a mentor. She decided to use this opportunity to write a poem about “home”. But then she realized that she didn’t really know where she comes from - Kenya, her country – her lineage, her mother tongue. She returned to Kenya and set out on a path that has been taking her all around the country to learn her place, and share stories through her poetry about “home”. She said that “the work of the poet is to mediate between the dead and the unborn.” She ended by saying that “poetry allows us to see each other’s souls … so go do some art!”

4.) We watched a pre-recorded TED talk by Sarah Kay from March ’11 –Long Beach, CA. Sarah writes poems to figure things out. She encouraged listeners to be bold and to believe in themselves. Sarah said that her mother said that when she was born, she looked around the hospital room as if to say “I’ve seen all of this before.” But even so, she said that her knees still buckled when she performed as a fourteen year old at the Bowery Poetry Club, in front of adults who encouraged her (and her parents who drove her to and from the Club). Check out the organization she founded as a high school student, and then re-invented as a high school student, Project Voice.

5.) Acumen Fund East Africa Fellow Ramadhan, whose project, which empowers youth through music, is called “We are Watching You”. He said that “nothing is more important than a young person who believes in himself, that he can make a difference.” He talked a little bit about the Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows Program and invited a friend on stage, to perform a song. I met his friend after the event ended, and he had just launched a new band at Ramadhan's event the previous night. Ramadhan is on the left, his friend on the right ...

6.) We then heard from a Kibera artist who teaches Kibera kids art, and also creates art himself. He showed us photos of the kids doing art, and some of his own paintings. He said that the neighborhood kids used to refer to themselves as “gangsters” because they were the ones who had nice clothes. Now, the kids call themselves artists. He said that what art has done for him, he will do for art.

7.) Sara Mitaru spoke (and sang) about her focus for the year, using a Nigerian friend’s song. The chorus is “we (the youth) are the future, we are part of this”. I was excited to hear her presentation because I’d really enjoyed her performances at the Acumen Fund Launch event in Nairobi, last month. So when she began to speak, I started to film … and then unfortunately ran out of space on my memory card. But I captured most of it …

8.) We next watched a film about the street artist JR, who received the 2011 TED Prize. I remember checking out his work when he was in the running for the prize.

His work reminds me of Vik Muniz, an artist that I’d gotten to see a documentary about, earlier this year when I was still living in San Francisco. I believe the screening of Waste Land was part of a Human Rights Film Festival at the University of San Francisco. I encourage everyone to see Waste Land ... bring tissues.

9.) We watched another TED video – Richard St. John, recorded in February ’05 at a TED conference.

10.) The final speaker was Kennedy of Shining Hope for Communities. He grew up in Kibera but currently attends Wesleyan. He said that he wanted an education so that he could share his message, his experiences as a Kiberan, with the world. He said that the rest of the world, who has the stats but not the Kibera experience – understand him because of his education. He said his role models are MLK, Jr, Bill Clinton (who he got to meet on his first trip to the USA for the World Social Forum), and Ghandi. When Kennedy was younger he used to tell his friends that action was more important than money, and so they used to act to improve his community. He said that no one can make things better for you, from the outside. It’s on you to make it better – you have the power. Just like he used to tell his friends – “let’s do what we can be.”

The speakers finished at about 2pm. Then everyone cleared out of the hall, and gathered in the courtyard for drinks, snacks, and conversation. I got to meet some Kiberans doing interesting things in the nonprofit space. I also got to talk with Suraj, Elien, Jan, Kimerly and Jessica Posner some more, which was a lot of fun!

photo: Elien and I.

photo: Jan, deep in conversation.

Elien, Jan and I stopped at the Yaya Centre on our way back to eat at Java House, and to buy groceries for the night’s dinner which Jan insisted on cooking! Once we were in the CBD on our way back to my apartment, we stopped off so that the Belgians could do some gift shopping before heading to the airport in the AM. Unfortunately by the time we got back to my apartment, none of us were feeling particularly well. It was an early night!

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