My experience at the Partos innovation festival
By Stella Cheboi, Emerging Leaders Foundation-Africa (ELF-Africa)
We can all co-exist, we can create room for everyone, and make the world a beautiful place.
My name is Stella Cheboi Wakoli, I work with Emerging Leaders Foundation-Africa (ELF-Africa) as the Programme Officer in charge of the Leadership Development & Mentorship Department. ELF-Africa exists to empower, support, and accompany young women and men to achieve meaningful, dignified, and impactful participation in governance, economy, and public affairs at all levels of society. In light of the principle of “Nothing about us, Without Us” (NOW US!), Voice in Kenya recognises inspiring inclusive initiatives from Kenya that promote diversity and inclusion and trigger the self-empowerment of rightsholder groups and communities through the Now Us! Awards, and Qualified ELF-Africa to be Now Us! Awards Organisers in Kenya. Voice created a platform dubbed the Global Now Us! Bootcamp where different country organisers and Now Us! Awards winners from various countries could meet, link & learn and share knowledge and experiences, this is how I got an opportunity to travel to Netherlands, as an organizer in Kenya under ELF-Africa.
The Now Us Awards! Bootcamp organised by Voice and facilitated by Butterfly Works was a platform for participants from around the globe to link and learn with each other, share good practices on what has worked for them over the years that other teams can emulate. The butterfly Works space was huge, with creative art pieces hanging on the wall, creating an inviting ambience for innovation and creative thinking to come alive as we co-created a story to be shared at the Partos Innovation Festival.
How beautiful can diversity be? In the bootcamp, facilitators created a safe space for everyone to feel included in the conversations, creation, fun and expressions. Participants spoke different languages, had unique skills and abilities, with different concentration spans, yet in each session, not even language was a barrier. Translators were present in the moment to make communication seamless. Facilitators ensured there was audio-visual materials, paints of different colours to suit different personalities.
Here, I share some of my experiences and lessons picked from the bootcamp.
CREATIVE ARTS EXPERIENCE
Amsterdam is a city that has heavily invested in creative arts in all its forms, be it drawing, painting, sculpting, designing, moulding among other modes of creation, and this is evident by the graffiti all over the city walls from the airport. Invest in something, no matter how basic it is, gives it light to shine, and this is evident from art that attract foreigners who pay lots of cash to experience the power of stories through art, thus boosting the country’s revenue. Courtesy of Voice and Butterfly Works, we were able to take an inspirational walk to three exceptional places briefly described below: – Straat Museum, Beautiful Distress and the Tree House.
STRAAT Museum – Has over one hundred paintings, each telling a different story from the other, and each piece is as unique as the painting itself. Through this inspirational walk, I came to the realisation that besides storytelling and conversations, there are many other stellar ways of expressions that can capture attention and imaginations of target audience.
A tour of the STRAAT Museum in Amsterdam
The Tree House – This is a space in Amsterdam where the government has set aside to house artists and creatives; painters, photographers, videographers, sculptors, drawers, designers amongst others get a space where they not only pay rent monthly, but belong to the community for one year, where there is constant check in on progress, challenges faced, and support needed. This inspired me so much, and I would love to see my country Kenya, create such spaces and caring communities for creative artists.
The Beautiful Distress Organisation – No one prepares upcoming artists for the world of fame and the pressure that come with it. We have numerous examples around the world where creatives (Singers, painters, spoken word artists, content creators and even TV personalities) are stuck in a world of fame where most people around them are there, only for the benefit they derive from associating with them and their position, rather than people who sincerely love them and have their best interests at heart. The pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle leads them into depression, alcoholism and even drug abuse. Beautiful distress in Amsterdam is an organization that is created to rehabilitate artists, take them through a healing process and fund them to start creating again. Emerging Leaders Foundation-Africa strives to empower and equip upcoming artists with soft skills, especially self-awareness and wellness for leaders, to prepare them to handle the change and fame that they will experience when their careers blossoms.
An inclusivity tree with white paper leaves where visitors can add suggestion on how artists can make the world more inclusive
THE ARTS SESSION
I always wanted to paint, from a distance, it seems so much fun and way easy. The bootcamp gave me an opportunity to explore it, and I could never trade the painting experience for anything else. I fell in love with the brush and colourful paints. I want to colour my world and keep the brush bristles rolling. Stencil painting was a magical creation which gave an array of designs, just like our personalities and diversities. When brought together, gives a beautifully created piece. I look forward to exploring painting with students in rural schools through my initiative Narrafiti Locale, as well as introducing storytelling through painting in the leadership development programme at Emerging Leaders Foundation-Africa.
Posing with my art piece
Co-creation is a process that is underrated by many industry players. Personally, I had never experienced such a powerful co-creation and see it blossom to something beautiful. The idea of telling the Now Us! Awards winners’ stories through slam poetry, with each participants curating their own verses seemed far-fetched and near impossible. There is power in reflection, taking a walk, drinking water, staring at the moving boats; because such activities relaxed the mind, paving way for creativity. Within an hour, each participant had a couple of lines scribbled on paper, and the Slam poetry committee started their reviews, arranging verses until a delightful flow of words came to play. Co-creation was all about leveraging on each person’s strength to contribute to the story: Calligraphy, slam poetry expertise, stage presence, videography and painting among others. An inspiring story was produced from joining forces, collaboration and using our unique points to fix a puzzle, and at the end of it all, poetry, performed in different languages, was evidence that togetherness and inclusion of all persons births a beautiful, wholesome and unique creation.
Art expressed in Beautiful Distress
In the spirit of celebrating each other’s diversities, we had the honour of meeting an amazing group of young people from different nationalities who came together to create a platform to engage each other through dancing, drumming, and singing and storytelling. Two hours of positive energy exchange, with participants taking turns to play traditional musical instruments, dancing, singing and filming was elating, and surreal. I learnt how to play the drum. I enjoyed and was carried by the flow, no better way to spend an evening, than with beautiful souls who eat together, cheer each other on, listen and embrace each other’s pain while getting to know one another in every meetup. We all need such a community, a people and place we look forward to meeting each week for positive energy and vibes.
Young people of different nationalities creating good, beautiful noise while sharing positive vibes, laughter
One of the most powerful sessions during the Now Us! Awards Global Bootcamp was the networking and sharing of knowledge with the guests invited to witness our final rehearsal ahead of the Partos Innovation Festival Performance. We did interact with teams from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Netherlands, Voice, Oxfam and other Civil Society Organizations and Artists. Sharing what we do back in Kenya and learning about their work opened doors for collaborations between organizations in the near future. It was humbling to have the entire team that attended our final rehearsal show up to cheer us on during our final performance at the Partos Innovation Festival.
The introduction of the team to the Partos Innovation Festival stage was captivating, a one-minute reflection that started with “close your eyes for a minute, and imagine you are in a world where you are excluded without access to opportunities because society feels you don’t belong………” By the time the audience opened their eyes, they had their undivided attention on us. The slam poetry performed in French, English and Swahili, displayed powerful emotions of gender violence, marginalization, discrimination; and graduated to positive performance of hope, inclusion and collaboration. The facial expressions, tonal variations and dance and background music, expressed the unsaid and the audience felt the pain of exclusion, powerlessness and marginalization transitioning to the breaking of stereotypes, communities coming together to collaborate, and everybody’s voice being heard.
The audience was moved to tears (happy tears) and gave a standing ovation to the performance, with a beautiful ending where the winners danced and invited the audience to join in, to a song dubbed “Me, You n’ I” which states that everyone is beautiful! The performance was a conversation starter on how we can keep breaking existing stereotypes, and lively and powerful conversations continued over drinks and bites as guests left at own pleasure. Mission accomplished!
Invited guests from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Voice, Oxfam and other Civil Society organizations for networking and final rehearsal
I AM BEAUTIFUL, I AM ENOUGH
As I boarded my flight back to Kenya, my heart was full. The bootcamp had been what I envisioned and more. We, co-created, bonded, networked, learnt, explored, played and most of all, exercised gratitude. Speaking positivity into someone’s life makes all the difference. The affirmation I received from other participants about having infectious positive energy great stage presence, among others, was a confirmation that I am beautiful and I am enough. I love watching other participants’ faces light up, smiling cheek to cheek every time they received an affirmation and positive compliment. Long live Voice, for creating such a safe space, you have not only touched and transformed the lives of the few participants that travelled to the Netherlands but all the lives whom the skills and knowledge acquired will be passed on to them.
MY TAKEAWAY from the Bootcamp experience – The more different and diverse we are, the more beautiful we become when we co-exist, and co-create and find a way to have each of us involved by contributing to the process through leveraging on each person’s strengths.
Watch the video