Definitely the highlight of my month in Tanzania was working with 17 Luhunga Secondary students on a dramatic presentation of William Kamkwamba’s inspiring true story. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is about courage, inventiveness and the power to overcome crippling adversity.
Florian Mtilega, a third year student at Teachers’ College and a recipient of an African Book Box scholarship, would expressively interpret in Kiswahili in order to ensure the students became fully involved in this new venture into drama.
Together with the students we read in English and Kiswahili from the “big book” that Liz Priestman and I made depicting William’s story. They were mesmerized by this African story about a boy from Malawi whose creative idea and perseverance brought electricity and water to his drought stricken home and village.
I also brought ten copies of this story in picture book form. Using these picture books as a reference, we would bite off chunks of the story, paint mental pictures, divide into groups and construct scenes using their own words and actions. They explored different characters until they found a character or characters they wanted to portray.
Performance Day and Graduation Day were on the same day. Felix Mhoka, Luhunga’s resourceful teachers, had transformed the library into a theatre setting using his own mats from home for the overflow crowd. Rhythmic drumming signaled the beginning of the play with the cast exuberantly introducing themselves.
As the story unfolded each cast member fully embraced their roles – creating dramatic and comedic moments, synchronizing their improv. dialogue in English and Kiswahili, singing and dancing to their composed songs. A joyful difference from those initial shy beginnings four weeks ago!
Each of these shining stars were able to find pieces of themselves embedded in William Kamkwamba’s story.
At the end of the performance we asked the audience to turn around to face the computer area recently updated and mostly equipped by the African Book Box. I had brought a downloaded version of William Kamkwamba’s TED talk shown on a large screen owned by Felix, another addition from his household for the play.
Standing on a stage in front of a large audience and in halting English says, “I tried and I made. I would like to say something to the Africans, to the poor like me who are struggling. Trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens don’t give up!