Last year 25 secondary students and I completed a six and a half week novel study at Luhunga Secondary School. We read “The Heaven Shop” by Deborah Ellis. At the same time Anne drove on to Mwefu (mmm way foo) primary school each day.
During a winter storm the entire school collapsed when the corrugated tin roof blew off and the sun dried brick walls melted away in the deluge. This community, devastated by HIV/Aids and ensuing pombe (bamboo beer) consumption found itself in an almost hopeless situation. Despite negative predictions, the poverty-stricken village rallied for its children and raised an astounding 1,000,000 ($1,000) shillings to rebuild. And …thanks to so many of you we were able to contribute a significant amount as well and a beautiful multi purpose classroom/library is almost finished. The rest of the school is being rebuilt with kiln-dried bricks all fired in local front yards. There are no floors, windows or doors yet but children and teachers valiantly sit within the construction site to attend school everyday.
It is at this site Anne and I decided to begin our efforts this year and to bring the gift of “CHASAKI”! Chasaki, or Charles Samson Kiswage, is a gifted Tanzanian artist. Our goal was/is to bring awareness and pride in a unique Tanzanian style of folk art painting known as the school of Tingatinga.
The road to Mwefu narrows into a red ribbon trail. Little children clustered on dirt mounds call to Mama Anna in recognition as we zig zag almost past their front doors.
Last year the European Union brought electricity to the area. It costs $500 to purchase a hook up to your house. Almost no one can afford this enormous fee. The village of Mwefu remains virtually isolated in stone age poverty. No one has learned of the world outside the immediate village. No television, no photographs, and certainly no paintings, just rolling hills dotted with red brick huts, maize, tea plants and children. There are so many bare foot, rag clad children, seemingly the precious crop of abject poverty.
Edwardo Saidi Tingatinga produced his first painting in 1968. He began by decorating the outside walls of houses. He migrated to Dar es Salaam and began his outdoor courtyard school. Ceiling boards and bicycle paint were used to create a bright background.. Then playful big-eyed animals covered in dots, stripes and patterns appeared. Sadly just four years later Edwardo Tingatinga was mistaken for a thief and shot by the police . His style of art unique to Tanzania has lived on.
Jenny found Chasaki on Facebook in the town of Njombe. For a fee he has agreed to come to Mufindi for one month to help the white mamas. Anne and I think the spirit of Edwardo Tingatinga intervened on our behalf. He told us that he has “crossed borders” and his paintings had evolved but he could help with the understanding of Tingatinga art for children.
First we had to meet with the teachers. Several reached for their dictionaries to find the meaning of this strange word. We read them a big homemade laminated book telling the story and Chasaki elaborated in Swahili. The next day children and teachers joined us to hold a paint brush for the very first time. The fine cement floor in the new building made a grand easel. Chasaki reminded everyone there was paper for all and the figures should be “kubwa”– BIG.
Paper of any kind is so scarce that children could barely allow themselves more than inch or two. Chasaki gently cajoled and encouraged. Over the week both water color and bicycle paint oil paintings were produced. We brought dollar store movable eyeballs with us too. These were glued on to the innocent delight of all.. Anne asked Chasaki to paint a Tingatinga in one corner of the room. Forty children watched in mesmerized silence while a tall giraffe and a resting zebra “grew” up the wall.
Whispers of wonder and then resounding applause erupted. It was a good first week!