The Journey : Using the Arts to inspire self-discovery
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By Clinton Duncan

“UPON the subject of education,” Abraham Lincoln firmly stated, “I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in.” In fact, research suggests that adult support may be the single most important aspect of how children succeed in school and life.

Guyana has been known to produce some of the best and most compassionate educators in the world, but as the old adage says, “It takes a village”, so it definitely sparked my interest when I found out that Theatre Personality, Keon Heywood decided to put his formal teaching days behind and work with kids in a more “artistic way”.
Mr. Heywood is attached to the Tina Insanally Foundation (TIF) as their Choir Director and is busy readying the children to put on their annual Christmas showcase which is being held today. We thought it suitable to have a quick “Q and A” session with him on his work and how he uses the Arts to inspire the children.

TIF was formed in 2010 by Vic’ & Pat’ Insanally (as the children refer to them) in memory of their daughter Tina who passed away suddenly. With a mission to enhance the lives of disadvantaged children and young people across Guyana through exposure to music, TIF provides resources and educational opportunities under the executive direction of Patricia Insanally.

How long have you been working on this project?
“I have been working at TIF since July 2015. I was playing ‘the Scarecrow’ in Collette Jones – Chin’s the wizard of OURZ, TIF was looking for a new Choir Director, and one of the boys from St. John’s Bosco Boy’s Home who sang in TIF’s choir, and was also a part of the Wizard of OURZ suggested to Mrs Insanally that they use the scarecrow. I got called in for an interview and I’ve been there ever since.”
What do you think are skills that you would have had to exercise in working with the Children?

We have two choirs, an all-girls choir from St. Ann’s home, with students from age six to 12 years, then we have a mixed senior choir from ages 12- 16. Working with each group has its own challenges. People learn at different paces and sometimes the task could be quite challenging. It requires you to be creative, to practice patience. Some students need more encouragement than others and so very often you have to go the extra mile, and find different ways to reach each student.

So how would you describe your purpose in the programme?

I see my role as the facilitator of a unique process, where students come and find their voice.

How long have you been in the arts?
My journey in the Arts started with dance in 2004. Then I joined the Theatre Guild in 2010. I’ve [also] been singing ever since Sunday School.

How long have you been teaching?
I started teaching in 2010. I graduated from Cyril Potter College of Education in 2013 but started teaching in 2010. I believe my experience in teaching high school students has helped prepare me for my job at TIF. Working with at-risk students is truly a joy and dream come through.
So, it was such a dream, then, why did you leave teaching to pursue the Arts?
Once you’ve been bitten by the teaching bug, it’s hard to stop teaching. Teaching is something I love and intend to do for the rest of my life. How I teach or where I teach may change, but once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher. I simply teach differently now. I spent six years teaching English and IT at Carmel Secondary, and it was a life changing experience. Some of my students at Carmel came from at-risk communities, and during my time there I used dance and music in my lessons. I discovered that it not only helped them learn better, but something else was happening with the students; they became more confident and their behaviour changed positively. I saw what it did for the students at Carmel so, when I got the call to join the staff at TIF I saw it as a wonderful way to combine my love for the Arts and Education.

Was it a valuable move?
It was a valuable move. Although there are days when I miss the traditional classroom, I don’t regret it. I work at TIF part-time and I have grown not only as a teacher but as an artist and as an entrepreneur. Long before I became a teacher, the Arts helped save me. I’ve always been an artist, though I didn’t’ always know or accept it. Through the Arts, I was able to deal with issues in my life. I was able to find catharsis and I said to myself: I’d love to do this for someone else, I’d love to help other people discover what I’ve discovered.’ I am doing what I love with my life. I am using my skills as an artist to bring healing to others and help make the world a better place.

How did you find the transition?
The transition wasn’t easy. You have to develop a whole new mindset. Because I work at TIF part-time, it means I have free time to develop myself as an artist and control how I earn a living. I was moving from a position where most of your day is already pre-set and you don’t have a whole lot of control over what you have to do, to a place where you determine your own course, where you choose the kind of work you do. You make the decision, that’s a lot of responsibility, and you have to really think about things carefully. Working independently means that you are responsible for the success or failure of your projects. Sometimes I have to refuse work because it may not align with what my focus is at the moment.

What is the main purpose of the concert?
It tells the story of Jesus’s birth and seeks to capture the journey of Mary and Joseph in song. These were two young people with real emotions and they lived in a time which wasn’t very easy; much like our world today. The Nativity Story in song seeks to make the Christmas story relatable and reachable.

How many concerts have been held thus far?
We have had seven concerts thus far. This will be our eighth concert.

Where do the children come from?
They come from the St. Ann’s Home for Girls, St. John’s Bosco Boy’s Orphanage, Bless the Children Home, the Ruimveldt Children’s Aid Centre and other students who are not in the homes.

What is the biggest obstacle to the children’s transformation?
Fear. Some students take a bit longer to open up than others, and most of the time I’ve discovered that they are afraid and they lack the confidence. That’s why it’s important to create a safe environment for children. I always tell my students that’s it’s okay to make mistakes in the classroom because we can use those experiences to learn and grow. The trial and error process is fascinating.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from it?

The biggest lesson for me is learning to trust the process. I’ve seen students move from being shy and lacking confidence to being students bursting with personality. You have to remain positive at all times and believe that what you’re putting into the students will help them, even if change takes a long time.

What are the next steps for you in this area?

I want to explore the relationship between Art and Catharsis more deeply. I am in the process of developing a structured model that could be used by vulnerable groups in our society. People can expect to hear and see more of me using the Arts in this regard.

What would you love for the public to know about the programme that would encourage them to come to the show?

This story is a story that we all know, but here you have children and teenagers with stories of their own, who made a journey of their own, much like Joseph’s and Mary’s journey, along a dusty, rocky road but came to a place foretold by God and brought forth something which was simple, but had a huge impact on the world. This year in our show most of the students would be performing in small groups, duets and solos. This is fairly new for the students. Over the years much of our work involved the entire choir. Although we have a few pieces where the whole choir will be performing, a lot of the songs on the show don’t use large groups. Each student would have had to make their own journey of self-discovery. We hope that those coming to the show would be inspired, either by this story of the birth of the Christ child or the journey the students would have made in their lives.

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