When I was first thinking about what I wanted to bring to the communities of South Africa as a result of my Lumos Project, my mind was immediately drawn to the creative. To me, art is one of the best lenses in which to view the rest of the world. Art is both history book and atlas, teacher and storyteller. With it, we open doors to new and different worlds.
When I arrived at United Through Sport, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to pursue that goal. Obviously, UTS is sport-focused, which has taught me so many things, both about sports themselves and about the value of teaching sports as a way to communicate life skills and values. However, in my teaching role and work with the Junior School of Excellence, I was able to talk to the staff at UTS and plan an Art Day at the JSE of Isaac Booi.
Junior School of Excellence is an after-school program for promising scholars and athletes that have come from township schools. They stay after school several days a week where they receive tutoring, additional teaching, mentoring and life skills development, and sport coaching. With this assistance, many of them are able to attend Form C schools on scholarship, which opens up doors that they might not have ever dreamed possible. Since neither arts education or physical activity are required parts of South African school curriculum, this was an incredible opportunity to impact the lives of these students.
We started out JSE Art Day with a short talk about what art is, why it’s important, and what makes good art. I had witnessed these kids creating art already—singing and dancing in the hallways, filling my backpack with letters, even putting on some very amusing theatrical performances. One thing that we share in common is that art is a way of life for both of us. We talked about the fact that art is a way to express ourselves and to experience the lives of others, and how that creating art is one of the things that makes us uniquely human. We also talked about the fact that good art doesn’t have to be done a certain way—in fact, the best art shows a little piece of ourselves in it.
We decided to work with physical art for our Art Day, namely watercolors and colored pencils. Each of the kids was to paint a piece answering the question “What is home for you?” and prepare a short presentation for the class afterwards. With some music playing in the background, they all got to work. It was amazing seeing how much care and effort was placed into creating masterpieces—and not surprising when some of the paint ended up on faces rather than paper. At the end, I was blown away by how some of the kids had used the creative platform to talk about things important to them—some talked about rape and child abuse, others wrote poems on their pieces about equality, still others talked about nature and its consistency regardless of who we are and where we come from.
Seeing the confidence in these students develop and giving them a voice to talk about things that mattered to them was more than I could have ever asked for. I expected just a day of fun and some good conversation, but getting to share in those moments with them and celebrating who they are as individuals and creators was a priceless gift. These pieces are going to be displayed in the first-ever JSE Art Gallery, and I am hoping that we’ll be able to continue learning more about art and exploring their creative talent.
I am so thankful that I got to be a small part of something that I hope will continue to be a part of the education of these students, first at the JSE, and hopefully at other township schools in South Africa. I am learning so much from these students and am more and more thankful for the opportunities I have in such an incredible place.