MEMBERS of the Zimbabwe theatre company Grassroots wowed audiences throughout Shetland during their recent 10-day tour of the isles.
The group of five performed in schools and halls, sharing their Zimbabwean culture in drum, dance and song.
The old Zimbabwean proverb “If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing” proved true of their musical performances and workshops for both adults and children.
On this, their first visit to the isles, leader of the group Ephson Mgadya described Shetland as “absolutely amazing, one of the most beautiful places I have seen in the UK”, and said his group had been impressed with the people.
“They are so warm and welcoming. They invite you into their homes and give you lovely meals and a really interesting chat. Everyone knows each other. They live as a community, I haven’t seen this in other places [in the UK].” The group would grab any opportunity to come back to Shetland, he said.
Back home in Zimbabwe the 13-strong Grassroots company, whose members are between the ages of 21 and 34, uses dramatic art in “creative development” work to address issues such as racism and poverty. The company also works to promote the role of the church and the values of love, justice and freedom.
An important aspect of its work is with HIV/Aids orphans, using drama to educate the children (and adults) in the subject, explaining how the condition is contracted.
Ephson said: “It is taboo to talk about HIV/Aids but drama helps to break down cultural barriers and talk about it in an informal way.”
Because of the mortality rate, many children live with their grandparents and many households are headed by children, with many young people suffering low confidence and self-esteem. Drama, drumming and song can change this, said Ephson. But it is hard for children to get motivated – they could go to school and then find the teachers would be on strike.
Words cannot describe the situation in Zimbabwe, he said. “You cannot ask anybody how they survive because they cannot plan for the next day – the price of commodities goes up every single hour.
“There is no structure to help people but they are still innovative and creative. They are very patient. Thousands are dying each week, dying in silence, not even accounted for, not spoken about. The worst thing is how many people are dying from curable things. They can’t get transport to get to the cities [to go to hospital] and even if they get there they can’t get doctors. It is a silent war.” Grassroots, which has been performing in the UK since 1992, will be on the mainland until November. They spend up to six months of the year in the UK, and the money they earn funds their activities in Zimbabwe.
They were brought to Shetland on the suggestion of Aestaewast musician Joy Duncan, who met them at a festival in Scotland last summer. She acted as co-ordinator for the group’s visit, and said: “The people in Shetland of every age just loved the energy they generated and the positivity.
The group enjoyed Shetland so much that they stayed an extra few days, courtesy of Joy, who said: “They just loved it – they ate saat fish and sasser meat, they went swimming in the sea and played football at Boddam Park.”
The visit was organised and funded by the council’s creative links service. Cultural co-ordinator Frances Browne said: “The pupils had a fantastic experience with Grassroots. They learned songs, dances and participated in stories, all from a new culture. The sessions had wonderful energy and verve.”
*While Ephson was checking his e-mails at Joy’s home he received a message informing him that his 21-year-old nephew Jorum Ngadya had sufferd a stroke on the 30th August and medical staff discovered that he has a brain tumor.
There is only one doctor in Zimbabwe that can carry out the life-saving operation on Jorum and the cost of the surgery is £2,700. Jorum, the fourth in a family of seven, has just completed his degree studies in marketing and is due to graduate early next year. His father Elias Ngadya is a retired lecturer from the University of Zimbabwe, who was forced into early retirement in 1999 by the government’s economic structural adjustment programme. He is now a farmer and holds no property besides a house in a rural area. There are no close relatives in Zimbabwe who are financially capable of assisting Jorum.
Jorum is currently in Parerenyatwa Hospital, a government hospital in Harare, awaiting to be admitted to the Avenues private hospital where they have the facilities to operate. They will not begin the procedure until they receive the money, that Jorum and his family simply do not have.
Certainly there are thousands of people worldwide who die needlessly every day due to a lack of resources but on this occasion there is a direct link, and given the very positive feedback that has been received from the hundreds of people that were lucky enough to spend time with Grassroots, now is our opportunity to touch their lives with a positive light, and Joy believes people in Shetland can help to save this young man’s life.
While Joy was volunteering in Zambia this summer she worked alongside foreign medical students who witnessed people dying in front of their eyes due to nothing more than a lack of resources and there was nothing that could be done. On this occasion, she says, however, there is.
If you feel you would like to help Ephson and his family, an account has been opened for Grassroots under the name of Joy Duncan at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Your donations, no matter how small, will be most gratefully received. If you would like more information please contact Joy on 07870 745033.