Above: Creative Borders Artistic Director and Juilliard Dance graduate Amanda Bouza with students in Gaborone, Botswana.
Creative Borders is a three-time Juilliard Global Enrichment Grant awarded service project with a mission to promote arts education and help underserved communities stimulate their thoughts, emotions, and voices through art. This summer, our team at Creative Borders completed their third consecutive year of facilitating a cross-disciplinary outreach program in Gaborone, Botswana.
As artistic director of Creative Borders, I oversee and facilitate the program, and work as the leader of our NYC team meetings, travel coordinator, and even stage manager of our annual program performance. As I reflect on the incredible experience I lived this summer in Botswana, I will do my best to put into words the artistic, spiritual, and educational journey Creative Borders underwent.
This June, our program was hosted once again by the Maru-a-Pula School, the top secondary school in the country, and Maitisong Theater, the first professional theater in the city. These partnerships have given the Creative Borders’ team insight into local culture, customs, and traditions, and has aided Creative Borders to offer dance and drama workshops to teens, adolescents, and adults of the Gaborone community – all completely free of charge.
Three months prior to our departure, in the midst of creating enriching, colorful lesson plans that highlighted improvisation games and movement exercises, our team of teaching artists came to agree on an idea that was to be the driving force of this years program: “Your Voice Matters.” It was our goal to amplify our participant’s ideas, self-truths, and dreams, and to provide a platform where our students could express themselves fully. Whether it was expression through dance, drama, music, or writing, we aimed to encourage individuality and self-identity.
Our students in Botswana face a community where being an artist is deemed a childhood hobby, not a passion or a career. It was imperative that we break this social construct, and encourage our participants to believe anything is possible. To be an artist is to be a creative thinker, someone willing to stretch the limits of society’s comfort zone. Nonetheless, many of our high school senior-level students are on purely academic tracks, with hopes to be doctors and engineers. Our job was not to convince them to be artists, but to expose them to devices for expression through artistic means, and to promote art as a valuable, transferable tool that can enhance their individual characteristics in a multitude of ways. It is an emotional, expressive release that can, at the very least, aid with stress/anxiety, relieve self-pressure to succeed, and allow them the opportunity to meet new people.
This year’s program concluded in a two-night performance at the Maitisong Theater with over 170 participants – our largest company yet! With only fifteen hours of class and rehearsal, we created an evening of thought-provoking, unique, and inspiring work all driven from the voices and stories of our students. Our cast ranged from primary school children to adults and included pieces about equality, women’s rights, and finding one’s courage, culminating in a drama performance led by Darryl Daughtry Jr. entitled “Art Manifesto,” where students spoke out about the importance of the arts and their impact on students’ daily lives. With two sold-out performances, our participants concluded each night with enormous smiles and bright eyes. As a teacher, it was so moving to see them proud of their work and effort. Our students knew they made a difference and that their stories were heard – maybe for the first time, but definitely not the last!
While this final performance was a huge highlight for our project, it was not our sole purpose for being in Botswana. We wanted to ensure that we included the Gaborone community as a whole. This ultimate objective was made possible through partnerships with the Ambrose Academy and the Botswana Teen Club.
Every morning, we would visit the Ambrose Academy to teach creative movement classes to children ages 3-11 living with various physical and mental disabilities. At the conclusion of our time with the Ambrose children, they fully memorized our songs, dances, and stories. In just two weeks, the kids excelled at ballet basics, rhythmic games and could perfectly recite our “Good-Bye Song.” An extraordinary feeling came over me when one of our students knew exactly how to execute an “échappé,” a beginner ballet jump. I asked the class who could demonstrate the step, and a young boy’s hand immediately shot up in the air. With an enormous smile on his face and gleaming bright eyes, he demonstrated the step beautifully. At that moment, the teaching artists and I shared a glance, one of happiness and fulfillment. Later on our bus ride back home, we spoke about this particular moment from class and were moved by the incredible progress our students had made in such a short period of time. The students at Ambrose Academy brought enthusiasm, brightness, and creativity to our lessons, and are living proof that students with disability are much more intellectually capable than the world thinks.
On Saturdays, we worked with the Botswana Teen Club, an organization dedicated to providing positive role models and opportunities for teens and adults living with HIV/AIDS. In just two sessions, the teens grew willing and eager to create newspaper puppets with Bianca Norwood, to learn cross body improvisation techniques with Sean Lammer, and to be the directors of their own scenes with Darryl Daughtry Jr. Their transformation was outstanding. At the start of our first session they were all so hesitant to move, expand, or even sit on the floor. By the end of our first two-hour workshop, they were singing, dancing, and expressing their individuality. Resistant to conclude our sessions, the teens were craving more, asking for warm-ups, drama exercises, and dance stretches they could practice on their own!
In fact, I recently received a message from one of the teens who mentioned he still did our exercises every morning and wanted to be the first to know about our return. As teaching artists, we believe so intensely in the power of our particular crafts and the importance of art education around the world – however, it’s moments like these, when a student reaches out weeks later still invested and interested, that make the work that much more meaningful. Art exposure gives teens involved in organizations like Botswana Teen Club the opportunity to grow and exceed the limitations that society has placed on them. My hope is that through continuous exploration, this student and others will not only discover new avenues of expression, but feel empowered to share their story with others.
Creative Borders: Botswana Project 2018 was an eye opening experience. Teachers, parents, and local community members came together to recount this as the strongest year yet, with hopes that we return next year. In just three short weeks we saw our students thrive, grow, and shine with passion, laughter, self-reflection, and strength. Our adult dancers began organizing classes so that they may continue moving beyond the Creative Borders Project. The success of the program would not have been possible without our incredible team of teaching artists, and I cannot express my gratitude and admiration for their willingness and dedication to the project. I also thank our Executive Director, Austin Reynolds, for his continuous work and enlightening vision.
I am so grateful to have made this dream a reality. With the help of The Juilliard School, our families, friends, and donors, Creative Borders has been able to push boundaries and spread artistic encouragement around the globe. Botswana will always hold a special place in our hearts as it was the home of our pilot program three years ago. We are elated with the success of our project and are so looking forward to our next endeavor!
Be sure to visit us at www.creativeborders.org for updates on Creative Borders 2019!