When the Saron Home Education Centre (SHECentre) 2019 graduating set chose Kutara Community in Masaka, Nassarawa State, as its venue to deliver its 200 hours compulsory, practical community service, the idea was a simple charity event – to drop off clothes and books to the community’s school.
The idea, however, has snowballed into a children’s musical project, Malaika, to raise N2.5m to build classrooms and provide access to other education paraphernalia for over 180 children that share one classroom in the Kutara community.
Head of the Homeschoolers’ Centre, affiliated with the US Homeschool Christian Association, Rosemary Udo-Imeh, says the initial plan changed when the students witnessed the zero access to education by the children of the community, resolving not only to create awareness of their situation but also fundraise their education.
That’s when they came up with the Malaika Project, a children’s musical theatre, written, performed and marketed by the homeschooler students. To ensure a professional production, the centre teamed up with Abuja-based theatre group, 2 Masks & A Griot (2MG).
2MG held a playwriting workshop guiding the students in the story development, writing, scripting and production process.
“We worked with the secondary students asking what they would like to address in their play. They came up with social inequality and education, because they see many cases pf inequality amongst children in our society. We worked with their story ideas, incorporating two of the students in the writing process to script a few scenes in the musical,” says Malaika and 2MG’s writer, Rolli Ukwu.
For Rolli, involving the students in all stages of play production process was the best part of the collaboration. “The costumes were made by student, Heaven Etuk and her mother. Some children worked in stage management, and technical crew, while ABBA Music School Choir assisted with the music.”
While it was all fun and thrilling for Ukwu, director Tobi David found the production both fun and challenging. David comes from a directorial background of a psychological play, 448 Psychosis, Chinese Traditional Theatre and a co-directorial role of the 2019 3rd African Drums Festival, Ogun State, with NLNG Literary Prize for Literature Winner, academician and author, Soji Cole, all at the polemic extremes of Malaika.
His biggest challenge was managing the movement of the over 60-member cast onstage devoid of any awkwardness or rowdiness.
The second challenge was telling a story this simple yet deep with the young (teenage) cast; in addition to selecting the talents to cast. For two days, David unobtrusively observed activities at the writing workshop noting the students’ strengths before casting.
“The trick was looking out for their innate qualities, then assigning roles based on those qualities – the loud ones, the head of cliques, the quiet ones, etc.—to make the transition into their characters easier.”
He also directs the placement of the songs within the play, providing themes for the musical’s eight original songs for the lyrics & music composer, OY Soluade, as well as the ABBA Music School choir prologue and epilogue performances.
The experience, he says, was orientational. “I relearnt what it means to be a child, how to operate in a not necessarily lower level but different perspective. We had our low moments but it was great. The children and I had fun.”
Malaika tells the story of scholarship student, Bobola, who suppresses her poor background, takes on a new name, Malaika, in order to fit-in with her wealthy classmates at Destiny High School. The production, which required weekends and mid-week rehearsals from students, alongside their usual homeschooling schedule for a two-month period addressed the theme of inequality in education amongst Nigerian children.
Proceeds from the ticket sales of the play on both days go to the Kutara community. “The children have raised about N400, 000. We’ll add that to the money raised from ticket sales after both productions to determine funds at hand,” says Rolli.
“We aim to raise N500, 000 ourselves. The rest will come from voluntary donations from people. We are looking for build classrooms and facilities for 180 children that will comfortably seat 20 children per classroom. We call all builders, furniture and book donations, to support us,” urges Udo-Imeh.
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