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photos Michael Littig


In 2010, I went to Dadaab, Kenya to begin an art’s education program in, then, the world’s largest refugee camp with my dear friend and colleague, Michael Littig. I have long believed in the power of art, of theatre, to heal. The very act of “testifying” or speaking one’s story and having these words be “witnessed” or heard is in and of itself a healing act and I have personally experienced this and observed it many times during the years I was making testimony, or personal story, based theatre. 

Before we began our work in Dadaab, we asked the youth there what they needed or wanted from us? What could we give them? Their answer was clear, “We want our voices to be heard.” So this became our mission during our 5 month work within the refugee camp. During this time we set up all possible outlets for creating bridges for the youth within their own communities and also with the world outside of Dadaab. We created a blog for their poetry, video blogs to share, we created a performance based on their own stories to share within the camp and also with the purpose of bringing their work to World Refugee Day to perform in front of a global audience. 

We wanted to create a sustainable program of engagement within the communities of the camp. Give them tools of creation and theatre building, also writing and crafting, so that they could be empowered to continue their path of personal creativity after we left. One thing that became very clear to us was that within their own cultural communities, their heritage wasn’t being taught or passed to the youth within the camps.


photos Michael Littig

There wasn’t space or desire for this. So, we began to search for elders in their communities that held these precious cultural treasures of song, dance, poetry and storytelling. We negotiated payments for them (through our partner NGO’s) to be able to work with us and also work with children within Save the Children’s “Child Friendly Spaces” (CFS) to have classes of traditional singing and dancing. And I’m happy to say that this carried on after we left. And Michael and I were able to also learn these songs and dances.


photos Michael Littig

One of the most precious experiences for me was being with the Somali Women. Somalians are predominately Muslim and so there is a strong separation between men and women. Sometimes women of all ages would meet to dance and sing. No men were allowed to enter into these protected and, from my feeling, sacred spaces.

But what would happened inside of these spaces was nothing less than magical. The women would come alive with so much embodied power, allowing their bodies to revel in the freedom they experienced during these moments; like some kind of wild animal could be released. Dancing with the beat of the drum that I can still hear now as I write this, 8 years later. A drum beaten with a plastic bowling pin that they picked up from the toys in the Child Friendly Space. There was the rhythm and the very specific structure of the dance that allowed for the dancers’ own interpretation. They would scream out in delight when I joined in and take me by the hand to show me the steps. I was delirious with joy, drunk on the rhythm and the power of their voices. I’ve since looked for examples of traditional Somali Buraanbur on the web but I’ve never found something that was so raw, so powerful, so -dare I say- sexual. Maybe it was the context, being in a refugee camp, there is so much pressure in the environment, so much pressure that often I felt as though I would simply burst. And so in these moments it truly was a necessity to release for those women. Maybe it was because many of the women were of Bantu ethnicity, the nomads of Somalia, strong and rough. But whatever it was it changed me. I remember returning to Poland after this half year and my friend telling me that my voice had changed. Because it had. It contained a little more of the dust, the grit, the belly and the sorrow of that place, of those people. 

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