*For more information about our 2009 Fundraising Drive, please visit our Donations page.*
The following post is courtesy of Joe Koontz, a Gaborone Teen Club Volunteer:
Gaborone Teen Club Gets Its Groove On!
If there’s one thing children throughout Botswana have in common it’s a love for music and dancing. On 25th April 2009, the adolescent members of Gaborone Teen Club were all smiles and nervous laugher as they approached the Gaborone Sun Hotel and Casino for a day of Afro-Caribbean music and dancing with Momo, one of Botswana’s most famous musicians.
I first met Momo when he introduced himself to me at one of our monthly Teen Club events. He was friendly, polite and soft-spoken, leaving me to believe he was just one of the many adult volunteers who come each month to take part in supporting the HIV-positive adolescents. One day a fellow volunteer asked me, “Do you know who that is?” “Yeah,” I said, “his name is Momo.” To which the volunteer replied, “but do you know who he is? Momo is famous, his music is listened to all around the world!”
I must admit I was a bit surprised. Here I had been volunteering with a renowned musical artist and all the while I was completely unaware of his fame. Yet my ignorance of Momo’s celebrity speaks volumes about who Momo is. When I asked him why he comes to the monthly Gaborone Teen Club events he said, “because people who are successful should give back to the community who supported them and made them successful. I want to encourage other role models like DJ’s and TV presenters to take part in their community whether it’s supporting cancer, HIV or other issues.”
On this beautiful Saturday morning Momo would be doing far more than volunteering his time, he would be volunteering his talent to an anxious crowd of young teens eager to see one of their heroes in action. As we entered the lush garden in the rear of the hotel we were met by a beautiful landscape of fresh cut grass, a fish pond and, at center stage, Momo with his accompanying musicians. The children waited with bated breath as Momo introduced the theme of the day: Afro-Caribbean music and dancing influenced by his childhood spent in the Comoro islands.
Momo found a brave teen and started teaching her some dance steps used with Afro-Caribbean music. During his instruction, he explained the history and the culture of the music and how it has evolved over time. As the music continued, one teen after another slowly left their seat with partner in tow to practice the new moves. There was lots of laughter as some were stepping on toes with others trying to find the rhythm. Yet, after the first song, it was as if most of children had been doing the moves their entire life.
One adult volunteer, Mr. Tswelelopele Masutha, popularly known as Uncle Masutha, commented, “I enjoy seeing the children dancing, laughing, and being playful.” He stated that it is important for Batswana to recognize these children deserve the same rights and opportunities to express their talents and fulfill their dreams. “They should not be deprived opportunities, stigmatized or discriminated against because they were born with a disease. They didn’t make that choice.”
As the morning passed there was more enjoyment as Momo played requests: songs like “Ule,” “Walala wa Sala,” and even the Bob Marley hit “No Woman No Cry.” During one of the songs one of the teens eagerly told me “I want to teach these moves to my friends!”
First-time adult volunteer Jonathan Boland, a Peace Corps Volunteer based in Maun, said, “I have heard about Teen Club, but am surprised by the level of participation and engagement. We spend a lot of time discussing life skills and HIV but it’s rare to come together and build relationships with youth by just having fun together.”
As the activity came to a close teens were noticeably sad. “We are so thankful to Momo for all the time he spends with us each month,” one remarked. “It was nice to learn about Caribbean culture and heritage.”
I found a chance to ask Momo what he thought about the day. “It was great” he replied. “Especially seeing the kids let themselves out, to lose themselves in music, feelings and expression.” He went on by saying, “there is a great need for these types of clubs to assist not only orphans and vulnerable children, but normal kids too. They are the future – they will shape the fabric of our society. We always talk about how we are lacking morals and losing our cultural identity and traditions, but we don’t provide youth with positive opportunities on which to focus their energies”. This feeling was echoed by Mr. Masutlha: “We need to assist children to become tomorrow’s leaders and professionals by helping them transition into adulthood today.” Botswana-Baylor COE Adolescent Support Officer and Teen Club Coordinator Ed Pettitt added, “We need to have faith in the youth and trust them with responsibilities. The sustainability of Teen Club itself is dependent on the teen members.”
Above all, one could say that the day was a huge success. It was a day that the teens and adults involved will not soon forget – not because of the celebrity factor or the beautiful venue at the Gaborone Sun – but because of what we accomplished. All we had to do was respond to the music, join hands and take that first uncertain step together.