AfroReggae: "Cape Verde’s youth believes in transformation" 22 August 2014
Acrobat and clown. Perhaps 325-year-old Sandro Moreira had never thought about this profession as a viable choice. But since AfroReggae disembarked in Cape Verde with its drums and stilts some 11 months back, the circus experience opened up to Moreira, a resident of Praia’s Tira-Chapéu district – the same neighborhood that is home to another 22 young people who share a common dream: setting up an artistic cooperative with the aim of providing entertainment for parties. Between rehearsals and meetings, the nascent circus professionals have made their public debut, taking skits they themselves created to the districts of São Martinho and Bela Vista. People liked what they saw, and according to Moreira, the group has received “several invitations” to perform again. “We’re still getting structured,” however, the young man adds. The next step is for them to grow in entrepreneurial terms as well, for example, setting prices and methodologies for the division of the profits obtained from the performances.
The director of the Brazil-Cape Verde Cultural Center (CCB-CV), Marilene Lopes, is an enthusiast of the interventions and heritage the Brazilian cultural group AfroReggae has left behind in the youth communities of Praia’s peripheral neighborhoods. “If these kids perfect their technical skills and strengthen their leadership skills, they can guarantee an activity that is not only a way to occupy their idle time, but also a source of income, by doing wonderful things. Imagine these jugglers in the Santiago countryside? Some groups have even sought out the CCB-CV to get support for these ideas,” she reveals.
Elevating the spirits of youth
Known around the world for their work building up young people’s self-esteem in degraded or violent areas, AfroReggae has traveled to various different parts of the world, including China, India and Colombia. In Cape Verde, they became the first NGO in the world to adopt the poverty measurement index in order to outline their support and intervention measures in what could be considered as something akin to personalized assistance.
In the opinion of UNESCO volunteer Alazais François, the AfroReggase-led project is innovative not only because it promotes artistic activities, but also because it monitors the social and family risks of the young people involved. “In addition, this proximity to youth also helps it identify talents,” she concludes.
Born in the Vigário Geral favela, or shantytown, in Rio de Janeiro, following a massacre that killed dozens of innocent victims in 1993, AfroReggae came to try to raise the spirits of youth and children in the wake of the traumatic incident. Bruna Camargos, AfroReggae’s projects coordinator, recalls that the group’s artistic intervention activities allowed the community to “jump from the police reports directly into the cultural sections of Brazilian newspapers.” History seems to be repeating itself in Cape Verde. A number of neighborhoods previously labeled as redoubts for delinquents, thugs and gangs are now beginning to be seen as breeding grounds for young talents.
A resident of the Praia neighborhood of Safende, 18-year-old student and graffiti artist João Marcos Tavares becomes enthusiastic when he talks about what he has learned with AfroReggae. In May, a group of young people headed by the members of AfroReggae took to the streets with cans of spray paint and geometric designs to promote “Color the city day.” An urban intervention aimed at revitalizing some of the neighborhood’s greyer locations. This ended up awakening new concepts within the local population. “Before, people would say that graffiti was an activity practiced by vandals. We want to show people that graffiti is art too,” says Tavares, who wants to continue the work, “even though the paint is expensive.”
Art is just the beginning
In an interview with A Semana Online, AfroReggae choreographer and pedagogical coordinator Johayne Hidelsonfo makes a point of stressing the fact that “art in this project is just the beginning, the doorway for these kids into AfroReggae. We use art to talk about school, respect for the family, sexuality, personal hygiene. Out mission is not necessarily to train artists. What’s more, our work is developed according to the needs of these children and teenagers we’re attending to,” says the group leader.
For Nélida Rodrigues, a specialist in human capital at the United Nations System office in Praia, the main challenge now is to achieve the sustainability of the project, with more financing and sponsors, so that the gains made so far are not lost. “For us, it’s more than clear that it’s worth it to invest in these teenagers and kids in Cape Verde. The response is immediate. They accept the challenges. With human investment, capacity building and the right kind of attention, it’s possible to transform these young people’s lives. The problem is that as we expand the assistance, more problems emerge. Our frustration is precisely that we’re not able to guarantee everything they need: food and schooling, for example.”
The return of AfroReggae
In September, AfroReggae will come to Cape Verde one last time to fulfill the fourth round of workshops, which are also aimed at training trainers who will ensure that the work carried out so far will continue.
Cape Verde’s Director General of Youth, Armanda Prado, confesses that no resources have yet been set aside for the maintenance of the project, which is scheduled to draw to a close in September of this year. “We have to look for new partners to continue with the program, even if under a different structure, with other ministries, involving education, health and internal administration. This is because youth is a cross-cutting theme, and we know there is total involvement on the part of these young people, especially on the part of the trainers, who are committed not just to carrying these activities out, but also to managing the project itself,” she explains.
“It’s worth the effort to invest in these youth”
For Nélida Rodrigues, a specialist in human capital at the United Nations System office in Praia, the main challenge now is to achieve the sustainability of the project, with more financing and sponsors, so that the gains made so far are not lost. “For us, it’s more than clear that it’s worth it to invest in these teenagers and kids in Cape Verde. The response is immediate. They accept the challenges. Our frustration is that we haven’t yet been able to ensure the continuation of this project, so that the interventions become truly sustainable.”
The leader of AfroReggae, Johayne Hidelfonso, who has vast experience working in the peripheral areas of cities throughout the world, says that “Cape Verdean youth are very similar to those in India. They have an incredible purity. They believe in transformation. In our first 20 days of work here, we already had the young people we were going to choose to be multipliers in the their community in mind. But to our surprise, there were 60 who wanted to take on the responsibility,” he explained.
IN order to encourage AfroReggae’s young pupils, the Brazilian Embassy in Cape Verde and the Brazil-Cape Verde Cultural Center allowed the young graffiti artists to embellish the gates and walls of the diplomatic mission with local themes. Brazil’s ambassador to Cape Verde, João Inácio Padilha, says that he is “gathering interesting experiences in Cape Verde. This is why we want this to expand to the rest of the country and, in the future, become a pilot project for Africa as well,” he suggests. “AfroReggae’s social technology is recognized throughout the world, so we’re going to try to raise the awareness of the private sector, including outside of the country, to seek out new forms of financing,” affirms Padilha.
Sponsorship is anxiously awaited by young people such as Kundá, a community leader from Praia’s Achada Grande Frente neighborhood of Praia who works for the Simenti Project. Supported by his friends Jorge, Piquito and Patrick, Kundá restored and occupied an abandoned building in the neighborhood that had been used as an informal dump and a gathering place for local users to consume drugs. One of the group’s propositions was to promote classes in the recycling of shipping palettes to make tables and chairs, as well as in jewelry-making. On the walls of the center are portraits and sayings of Amílcar Cabral, Cape Verde’s national hero, to give ideological weight to the ideology being pursued by these young people.