Lalela, a non-profit arts education programme for at-risk youth in Sub-Saharan Africa, knows the power of creativity to uplift, inspire, encourage, motivate and ignite innovation. In the 10 years since launching its life-changing art programmes, Lalela has seen this play out in classrooms and workshops across South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda. Lockdown in South Africa has been no different in terms of allowing learners a much-needed creative outlet to help them process and understand the world around them.
Following the enforcement of a national lockdown as an urgent measure to stem the spread of the Coronavirus in South Africa, we’ve watched with wonder as children of all ages harnessed their creativity in ways we never imagined. During the lockdown, schools were required to close their doors and all learners were sent home just as Lalela’s art facilitators were making their final preparations for the much-anticipated March holiday programme.
Lalela’s holiday programmes – usually held in the March, June and December school holidays within the communities they serve – provide necessary structure along with fun and absorbing creative activities for children during the long days away from their classrooms, when supervision at home might be lacking while parents and guardians are at work. The programmes are extremely popular among children of all ages, often attracting new learners to Lalela.
At the time of the pending lockdown, both the facilitators and the children themselves, felt thoroughly downcast at the prospect of the suspension of the holiday programme. But this is where the power of creative thinking once again came to the fore. Within days, Lalela facilitators had come up with the concept of a virtual holiday programme, tapping into their established WhatsApp groups with those learners and their parents with smartphones.
The foundation of the programme is a series of simple but educational and creative daily challenges. Dubbed the #lalelalockdownchallenge, the aim is to keep as many Lalela learners as possible actively engaged over the next few weeks.
With the first weeks of lockdown behind us, we’ve seen how desperate the situation is for the majority of South Africans living in townships, informal settlements and other impoverished communities. Many of the children Lalela reaches through its programmes live in households with little access to clean running water or flushing toilets, and food insecurity is another very real daily challenge.
In light of the restrictions of such challenging circumstances, Lalela is acutely aware of being able to reach only those learners who might own a smartphone or be in a position to borrow a parent’s or sibling’s phone, not to mention the availability of data. And it is factors such as these which make the works by these young artists all the more incredible for their sheer creative ingenuity and underlying messages of hope.
This is how it works.
Every day, a challenge is posted on the Lalela Lockdown Challenge WhatsApp group and Facebook page – they are purposely kept brief and to the point, ensuring that learners are able to draw from their immediate surroundings and use readily available materials and resources.
The challenges are creative and educational with a focus on helping the learners to stay safe. Each of the challenges starts with an educational example prior to the project brief, whether focusing on physical distancing, handwashing or any of the other government-issued guidelines for the lockdown period.
The entries are submitted by WhatsApp and then posted to the Facebook page for judging. Winning works are chosen according to Likes received as well as facilitator group votes. The winner of each challenge receives a prize of 500 Megabytes of data, sent directly to them – helping to ensure that they are able to stay connected.
Lalela is delighted to share some of the challenges of the first week and the beautiful, hopeful, creatively charged work that the students have produced.
Challenge 1: Invisible Person in my Clothes
This challenge started with an educational prompt about the need for physical distancing, following which, learners were asked to use their clothing and other found objects to create a figure representing someone staying at home during lockdown, with an emphasis on what that person was doing and how they were feeling.
Challenge 2: We’re All in This Together
This challenge tasked learners with the creation of a painting, drawing or mixed-media artwork that would provide inspiration and comfort to others during the difficult lockdown phase – the theme being: ‘Even though we’re isolating alone, we’re all in this together’.
Challenge 3: This is What Hands can Make
This challenge started with an educational prompt on the importance of hand-washing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and then invited learners to tell a story, using hands as the subject, through the medium of smartphone photography.
To help raise funds to further Lalela’s programmes, the luxury brand Lalela Scarf creates beautiful wearable artworks in the form of scarves, pocket squares and bags that are sold in aid of the project. This apparel with purpose reflects the incredibly inspiring creations of Lalela learners. Lalela Scarf’s new range is available online in SA and the USA via www.thelalelascarf.co.za or www.thelalelascarf.org.
Follow Lalela on Instagram to see the best artworks from each challenge, and feel free to like or follow the dedicated #lalelalockdownchallenge Facebook page.