Warming Up Winter in Malawi with a Passion for the Arts

Despite it being winter here in Malawi and things being a bit slower with the schools on holiday, ArtGlo has kept the atmosphere buzzing with several creative events for our Make Art / Stop AIDS (MASA) program.

Over the past year and a half, leaders of the MASA program had observed that young students were showing less interest in the participatory arts, especially at institutions that were specifically focused on the arts.  In particular, Annie-Marie Quinn of Jacaranda Foundation told ArtGlo that they were having trouble getting their students to participate in afterschool art activities, especially their young female students.  To help address this challenge, ArtGlo offered to develop a workshop with Jacaranda, using the MASA methodology to better understand the barriers that were preventing young women from pursuing arts education. From the  15th to the 17th of July, MASA staff brought together 30 students to ignite their passion for arts and address issues of gender discrimination in education. Using MASA’s signature participatory arts methods, the workshop explored why students, especially female students, weren’t active in art activities.  Half of the students attending the workshop were male. Holding discussions between both female and male students brought about a shocking revelation — there was a perception held by the students’ friends and family that females who participate in arts such as drama were thought to be prostitutes. 

According to the MASA Program Officer, Sharon Kalima, the group really opened up about the stigmas they were facing, and expressed their honest interest in wanting to do more in the arts. Through the safe space of the workshop they got the chance to make this dream a reality. In less than 48 hours, the  talented youths created and performed their own play, a signature song, and several poems. Mphatso Mwandama, a 15-year-old form 1 student exclaimed how she was inspired to work more on her artistic talent. Mphatso voiced out her opinion of the workshop saying:

“The important thing I learnt is to be confident in whatever I am doing. As I am an artist, I need to focus on my music. [At the workshop] we worked on discrimination, a big problem here in Malawi. We took part in activities challenging gender discrimination and how we can use art to break down these boundaries, spread messages, and express ourselves. What I learnt is really going to help me create my career in the arts.”

The team was sad that the workshop had to end, but  they left feeling excited and wanting to continue to use the arts to combat social challenges in their lives.

The beauty of art is that it  is versatile and can transform lives almost instantly. We see this everyday with our programs, as they bring joy and connection amidst complicated and emotionally-charged discussions. Over the past year, the MASA: Youth have been working with students at UCLA to share ideas about participatory arts as a powerful communication and teaching tool. Using this tool, the students deepened their understanding of women’s empowerment issues across the two countries, identifying similarities and differences and developing a bond based in a cross-cultural awareness of gender equality and inequality. You can read more about this part of the MASA program here. 


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As July ended, the MASA team together with their squad members (college students trained in MASA) and mini-squad members (secondary students trained in MASA) held an art showcase to celebrate the close of this collaboration with UCLA. The showcase, held at African Heritage in Zomba, brought together a vibrant group of attendees who .all curiously watched the squad members’ performances on Sexually Transmitted Grades (STG’s), a practice whereby students feel pressured to perform certain sexual acts in order to receive a better grade. The Zomba government representative Mr. William Mlotha gave a special speech. Police officers, teachers, and student representatives from the schools MASA worked with throughout the year were also in attendance, along with  a large group of Zomba citizens. The event was filled with laughter and shocking and heart-felt testimonies — including those shared from the audience — on how STG’s had affected them when they were students. One Chancellor College student confessed that her close friend gave in to STG’s and shared how it traumatized both of them during their time in school. Throughout the event, it became clear that the topic was a controversial one that warranted further discussion and action from school leadership. The event ended with attendees feeling yet again that participatory arts could be the key to unlocking difficult conversations and sparking the  change we all want to see in Malawi. 

Finishing out the winter months with August, ArtGlo hit the ground running once again with the opening of the Hub, a public space at the ArtGlo offices that allows for creative minds to meet, build, and grow. Follow us on social media @artgloafrica to learn more about upcoming events at the Hub and how you can come see our programs, including MASA, in action! 

ArtGlo is looking forward to addressing more groundbreaking topics in the spring, helping to grow new ideas and transform Malawi, one empowered individual at a time.