Power of Arts Education

Ever since the age of eight, arts education has become a part of my weekly and daily routines. Now attending an arts school, it is very fair to say that my involvement with the arts has significantly shaped who I am not only as a performer, but as a person. Yet, I find it more and more common for arts education (and education in general) to be taken for granted. 

Where would I be without the arts teachers that have dedicated so much time and effort into helping me pursue what I love? Where would I be without all of the friendships I have made working in theatre? Where would I be if I hadn’t been given so many wonderful environments to express myself through art? These questions are extremely difficult for me to answer, and frankly, I hadn’t even begun to ask them until I took a trip with Theatre on a Mission to an orphanage in Bondo, Kenya, where for the first time I was exposed to an area where taking a dance class or a voice lesson was not just “second nature”. In fact, it was pretty much unheard of. 

As we began to infiltrate the theatre-related games and activities into the daily schedule at the orphanage, I began to have my doubts whether or not we would ever really be able to get the kids to harness their creativity and imaginations with us (and the language barriers definitely were not assisting with that obstacle either). Yet, within a short period of time something seemed to click. Through these seemingly silly games and activities, a mutual understanding and trust was established between us all, and I no longer saw any fear, confusion, or hesitation behind the eyes of the kids at the orphanage. Instead, I began to really see their incredible senses of humor and vivacious personalities come to life, and all of those limitations of our different languages and cultures seemed to vanish when we were all finally opened up to an environment of willingness to express ourselves and just laugh. 

Over the course of a few rehearsals, every single one of them was able to successfully participate in the play that Theatre on a Mission wrote for them, performing as monkeys, elephants, fish, and lions for several different local schools and a bunch of their peers. They were total rock stars! Unfortunately the time came for our team to have to return to the U.S, but what those kids were able to accomplish within a few short weeks still lingers in my mind. If they were able to accomplish all that, imagine what they would further blossom to be if they had been given the opportunity for a substantial arts education from a young age!

And with that in mind, I really have begun to see the true significance of art and the duty we all have to share it. Regardless of what someone will choose to pursue, an arts education will benefit them. Arts education provides a person with communication, social, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills that they can apply to any career path or life situation they encounter, regardless of what language they speak or what culture they live in. Arts education breaks barriers and brings people together, and I was lucky enough to witness that first hand in Kenya. Arts education and the power it has is priceless, and I will forever be thankful to Theatre on a Mission for teaching me that. 

Written by Sydney Leiser

Coming home

You come home, and everything you’ve brought back is covered in African dirt.You really can’t escape it.It’s just like being back in Kenya, except there’s a big chunk of your heart missing, a piece that you left there with the children of the orphanage. You’ve brought everything from African dirt to a handful of mosquito bites back, but you left a part of you behind. And every day I wish I was back with the children.

I am so thankful I was able to be a part of Theatre on a Mission, a group of high school and college students, whose mission it is to share the joy of theatre with children in developing countries.

Having the chance to live and work at the orphanage of the Foundation Stone Ministries, in Bondo, Kenya, was life-changing. And yes, people say things were “life-changing” quite a bit, but you really won’t know until you’ve met these children. The moment you arrive at the orphanage they grab your heart, and for me they haven’t let go, and I don’t think they ever will.

When we pulled up for the first time this summer, Chelsey Cain, UNF student and founder of Theatre on a Mission, and Danielle Glen, both returning for their second year, had tears in their eyes, before even seeing the children. The children were so welcoming and happy to see us it brought out sheer emotion from each of us.

Our main focus of the trip was working with the children of the orphanage on a one act play that we performed with the children for the community and also took to neighboring schools. We had so much fun with the children and we all came out of it as stronger individuals, with much more positive outlooks. Everyone thinks we go over and just help the kids. But the truth is that the kids help us just as much, if not more.

Theatre on a Mission also took donated trunks of books, school supplies, games and athletic equipment to the Foundation Stone Ministries orphanage and had enough to share with the neighboring schools. We donated funds to help a church, in the Kiandegwa village in Embu, deepen a water well. This water well serves about five hundred families with clean drinking water every day. We also donated funds to help patients receive dialysis at Kijiji Medical Center, and we had the unique opportunity to sing for and visit with some of the patients; hopefully helping lift their spirits. Finally, Theatre on a Mission was able to donate money towards a down payment for a parcel of land on which the Foundation Stone Ministries plans to build a school.

At the end of the trip we traveled south and went on a safari. We saw the beautiful land of Kenya and animals of the Masai Mara Reserve including hippopotami, elephants, lions and the migrating wildebeest.

We couldn’t have done it without the support of the Jacksonville community. We held many fundraisers throughout the year including TOM ROCKS, at Theatre Jacksonville, and we were thrilled to participate in and win the crowd favorite arts category award at One Spark. Thank you for your support and help as we continue to plan for future trips…to Coast Rica in the summer of 2015, then back to Kenya in 2016. If you would like to contribute to Theatre On A Mission you can do so by emailing Theatreonamission@gmail.com or calling 904-449-6019. You can also check us out on our Facebook page.

Article written by Jackie Jones