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Everybody learns from and with each other

Dar es Salaam/Tanzania – Constance/Germany


The German-Tanzanian exchange project ‘We are All Equal but Different’ is where theatre meets dance, North meets South and small town meets big city. The highly acclaimed performance at the end is a highlight but what remains is friendships and very special learning experiences.

by Amanda Steinborn

Arrival in Dar es Salaam: the first personal meeting between the two youth groups is about to happen. The young people from the Young Theatre in Constance are hit by the humidity and heat, unfamiliar smells and traffic chaos that they do not understand straightaway. Welcome to the megacity! ‘We looked up a lot of information in advance and had already talked to each other. Then we arrive and everything is completely different and you suddenly feel so unprepared,’ says Amy, one of the participants.

The group is greeted and engaged in conversations by strangers all the time but communication is not easy. Fortunately, the young Tanzanians from the MuDa dance school are there to look after them. When they are not training, they set off together to discover the city by bike. Halima from Dar es Salaam remembers with a smile that she was worried before the first meeting, ‘They are going to be real theatre professionals and I am just a dancer.’

However, she quickly realised that nobody is perfect and everybody is going to learn something from each other here. Conversing in English, which none of the participants spoke as their first language, turns out to be a little difficult. But then the young people use their hands and feet to communicate. Communication does not always run smoothly but is often fun and always lively. Initial insecurities are overcome when the young people start dancing together.

The cornerstone of collaboration

One year earlier: Tanja Jäckel, a dance and drama teacher at the Young Theatre in Constance and Rachel Kessi, the managing director of MuDa Africa, a school for contemporary dance in Dar es Salaam, met each other within the scope of a networking event organised by the BKJ and the Tanzania Youth Coalition (TYC). It quickly became clear that they wanted to embark on an exciting joint project that involved bringing “their” youth groups and dance and drama together. During a visit to Tanzania, Tanja Jäckel was given the chance to run a workshop for students at the dance centre. This was a perfect opportunity for getting to know each other and each other’s work. The cornerstone of the collaboration was laid. Together they decided to make SDG 4 ‘Quality Education’ the focus of their youth exchange.

MuDa Africa is the first school for contemporary dance in Tanzania and offers young people three years of free training. Alongside dance and yoga, the programmes also include IT, social media and English. The aim of the training is to enable students to work on their own profile and give them the chance to find work as professional dancers. Some students such as Sisti and Halima managed to get jobs as teachers at the school after graduating. This not only allows them to earn a living but also turns them into role models for younger students. Unfortunately, quality education programmes like MuDa Africa are still few and far between in Tanzania.

Another form of education

During the joint project, the participants did not just study the theory of SDG 4 but also found out about the actual educational conditions in the partner country. What are their education methods? How does the education system in the other country work? And above all, what does education mean to us and how does it affect us? The participants learnt that education enables people to improve their political, social, cultural and financial situation and that every human being has a right to education.

While participating in the project, the young people also received a form of education that is not available in classrooms or lecture theatres but can only be obtained through meeting other people. It made them realise that learning occurs in an individual and culturally diverse manner. All of their experiences flowed into their joint dance theatre performance. The project was a big responsibility for the organisers and involved a lot of work, not least during preparation and follow-up. ‘This shouldn’t be underestimated,’ says Tanja Jäckel.

‘The participants are made to deal with uncertainty and consequently need plenty of support. The intense period during the project binds the team together but also gives rise to conflicts that require a lot of communication and exchanges between the team partners.’

Tanja Jäckel, drama teacher

‘The most important job is to make sure that the young people identify with the project and become aware that they are responsible for its success,’ she adds.

Rachel Kessi believes that organising international exchange projects is always worthwhile despite the enormous effort they require because both the young people and the organisers will learn a lot from them. The shared experiences are still fresh in the minds of the participants: the trip to the Swiss mountains where Sisti wondered how people could live way up there and Halima was desperate to climb the peak even though she was feeling tired. Then there was the trip to an arts academy in the Tanzanian countryside where the diversity of cultural education surprised the young people from Germany almost as much as did the dance flash mob on the beach or the journey back on a public bus with passengers singing throughout the journey.

‘Nothing opens your eyes as much as immersing yourself in the daily lives of other people and being accepted by them,’ says Leon. His image of Tanzania changed completely during his stay there. Sisti also says that his stay in Germany had opened his eyes to what he could achieve and change in his own environment. He used to think that there was no poverty in Germany but then he saw that there were people sleeping on the pavement.

The placements with host families certainly helped make the exchange more than just an artistic endeavour by offering a look behind the scenes. Aleye is particularly impressed by the different levels of importance people in the two countries attach to privacy. Amy says with certainty, ‘I cannot explain how much the project has changed my view of my environment, other people, dance and my future.’

‘Meeting people on the other side of the world is the craziest thing you can do.’

Amy, participant

After the final performance in Constance, when the audience gave a standing ovation, the young people felt a huge sense of relief and realised that they had achieved much more than “just” a shared performance. The aim of the project from the outset was not merely to present results but also to establish a connection between the participants and to learn from and with each other. The participants have stayed in touch after the end of their shared dance theatre performance and are chatting to each other about their lives during the Coronavirus pandemic. There are already preliminary plans to develop a new project on the impact of the pandemic. Tanja Jäckel says, ‘We’ve created a process that is not tied to a single place but one that should move on to the next stage.’

Video of the final performance in October 2019 in Constance:

This text is taken from the BKJ's practical guide “Global Partnerships”:


BKJ: Everybody learns from and with each other
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