For our final 2019 Q&A in the build-up to the Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2020, we spoke to Firdous Hendricks, Programme Co-ordinator of not-for-profit organization Lalela, which will form part of ICTAF 2020’s Cultural Platforms’ section. Here she sheds insights into Lalela and the world of a not-for-profit that provides educational arts for at-risk youth, to spark creative thinking and awaken the entrepreneurial spirit.
1. Please could you explain the important work of Lalela and the story of how it began?
Lalela is an isiZulu word that means “to listen”, and is at the heart of what we do. By listening to children’s individual stories and each community’s needs, we are able to understand the challenges and, in turn, provide creative solutions. Lalela is a Not-for-Profit organization founded in July 2010, at the time of the Soccer World Cup. During this vulnerable period when children were out of school for six weeks, we partnered with the South African National Gallery (SANG) in order to present art classes for youth from disadvantaged communities in the Western Cape.
In January 2011 we formally started operating with our partner schools and organizations to establish the foundation and basis of our future collaborative model. Since then we have formed several similar partnerships nationally, thus expanding the reach of our program in Southern Africa. Through these partnerships we not only bring the arts to more communities, but we also provide art-related jobs opportunities, as we train local facilitators to implement our educational arts programme.
Our role in arts education is to help blaze the trail in whole-brain thinking- ideas, art and music- with a proven path to innovation and new job creation. Our programmes create permanent change with positive outlooks, community role models and the mindset for our learners to design a more certain future for themselves and their communities. Our arts education methodology is not a handout – it’s a paradigm shift to encourage children to dream about a different future and we use the transformative power of art to develop the necessary skills to achieve this.
The students attending Lalela invariably live in informal settlements, areas that are ravaged by crime, poverty, gangsterism, HIV/ AIDS infection and physical abuse with severely limited service and utility provisions, where according to STATS SA (October 2019) the SA youth unemployment level is at 55%, as compared to the general stats applicable to South Africa as a whole of 29%.
Today our primary communities of operation are Imizamo Yethu, Hangberg, Masiphumelele, Happy Valley, Melkbos, Franschoek and Mfuleni in the Western Cape, Rorke’s Drift and Westville Durban in KwaZulu Natal, Maboneng Precinct in Gauteng, Bulawayo in Zimbabwe & Hope North in Uganda. It is in these communities that we develop our model, measure our impact and work directly with our core communities.
2. Can you elaborate on your involvement with Lalela, how you joined the organization, what led you there?
During my Fine Art degree at Michaelis and then subsequently working with a collective of art practitioners in London, I became very aware of the social and transformative impact of the arts – I saw that this was not happening within gallery spaces but rather by engaging directly with communities in processes of creative exploration and expression. For me, this has always been the most important purpose of the arts.
I returned to Cape Town in 2011 and joined Lalela as a community arts facilitator. I was one of the first art educators in what was then a very small team of 4 people working with 90 students. I have watched with pride the organisation grow to reach thousands more learners across the African continent and make a notable long-term impact on the schools, communities and staff we work with.
10 years later, I no longer facilitate workshops but proudly train and manage an incredible team of facilitators who are changing the lives of their learners daily. I also manage and am a part of our curriculum team – where we develop and write art and critical message based curriculum for all of our programmes exploring a range of creative media.
3. Tell us a few things that people don’t know about Lalela that you believe they should?
We reach in excess of 3500 learners each week throughout Southern Africa and our large database of successful alumni includes; Radiographers, Bio-chemists, Optometrists, Police Officers, Chefs, Teachers, Business owners etc.
Possibly most significant and one of our biggest areas of impact is that our learners have been proven to be active citizens in their communities – they are consistently engaged in creating meaningful impact in their school and communities and are invariably the leaders, as well as many our learners being the top academic achievers at our schools.
Because we work from grades 1-12, our students remain with us for years. Many of our current students have now been a part of Lalela for 10 years – this allows us to develop meaningful, long-term relationships and deepen the impact we are able to have on their lives.
4. During your tenure, what have been the stand-out initiatives the Lalela Project has done or been involved in and why have they been so impactful?
Project ZA hosted by City Varsity in 2017 where we brought 35 students from Hout Bay High School, Silikamva High School and Masiphumelele High school together for a special project at City Varsity during the school holidays. Artists Jody Paulsen, Tony Gum, Juan Stockenstroom and special effects makeup artist Lisa Wakelin all gave the students workshops developing their technical and conceptual skills. The students had to work in teams to create avant-garde hats that represent South African identity- a true visual representation of their own authentic experience of being South African. They then learned how to manufacture special effects and styled their models in order to create a final studio photography shoot. The teams also learnt how to write artists statements that put their artwork into context. This was a great lesson in how to work in a creative team and developing ideas from a brief from start to finish. It also sparked a lot of passions in the group of learners as they discovered different roles in the creative industry.
5. Let’s talk about the role of art and creativity in addressing some of the systemic problems in South African society today?
• Art is a meaningful form of therapy and self-expression extremely important in a country that holds so much trauma.
• When working with our youth, art develops critical and creative thinking – necessary survival skills that our low to no-fee schools are not able to provide.
• Creative and critical thinking youth become adults who are engaged problem solvers, innovators and leaders.
• Art communicates across languages. It can confront all of the difficult, complex and sensitive issues we sit with as a nation.