Before the community farm, before Zambezi Dolls, I began my life as a non profit raising small amounts of money for the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home in Livingstone, Zambia after my first visit there in 1996. In 2005, I began to visit the Home for a few weeks each winter, bringing supplies for art projects for the children served by the home. COVID stopped my visits for three years, but I am finally back again.
The Mama Bakhita children and I have been painting all week. Friday had been set aside for working with clay. Sydney Mwamba, our general manager, who I like to call the hands and feet of the AACDP, brought a huge sack of clay (or mud, as it is called here) from the banks of the local river in his native village, Jack Mwanapapa. Janet and I have kneaded it, added water and worked it over the past few days and today we handed out grapefruit sized balls of the stuff to the six waiting children. I really wondered how they would respond. It took a while to get going. One young man, Steve, started making little logs and lining them up like a road. Gradually the others began their own projects.
Some of the ideas were shared between children. Alec was making small bodies, and Tony followed his lead. And then they separated and went their own ways. I was surprised to see how they began by studying what others were making and then to diverge from each other’s methods. Veronica asked for a stick and I handed her a brush that had a rounded endpoint which she immediately put to use.
The atmosphere on our corner of the terrace was calm and pleasant, with children exhibiting every level of engagement; for some it seemed relaxed and quietly social, and for others it was intensely focused.
Deborah, who has cerebral palsy, worked hard to manipulate the clay in any way possible for her. She pounded, squeezed and flattened. Eventually she began to grasp small pieces and attach them to a larger mass. It became clear to me that once again, art can be a reason to move your limbs in ways that encourage development.
Maybe they felt the connection between the clay from their own soil and themselves. Maybe it was something else, but, whatever it was, we finished feeling happy and productive.