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Zimbabwe: Changing Young Lives Through Theatre

Boyce Chaka is a 27 year-old poet and stage actor in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. Since last year, he has been investing his time towards teaching high school kids about Shakespearean works and poetry as part of what he says is an attempt to “keep them off the streets.”

Boyce Chaka

With few amenities to go around for extra curricular activities, tutoring young high school children acting and poetry has become one of the activities Chaka says will fill what would otherwise have been idle hours.

 

This is his own way of bringing school children into the “wonderful world of Shakespeare” and also encourage them to read at a time when there are concerns in Zimbabwe that there is no culture of reading among young people.

Chaka says:

These are stories they can easily relate to outside pulp fiction. There is always something to be learned in Shakespeare and if I can encourage these youngsters to master these texts at an early age, they could take it up to wherever they want. For example, many say they want to be lawyers, and in Zimbabwe to be accepted at the university to study law you must at least have aced English literature. So this is one the reasons why I am doing this. I teach at a number of schools in the city [Bulawayo] and the response has been great. It is not just about knowing the plays by Shakespeare, but I am also giving acting classes.

Chaka tells me he wants to connect the “township street theatre” with Shakespearean stage plays and see how children from different backgrounds can learn from each of these genres. It is from this passion that he set his ambitions on creating this rich cultural mosaic in Bulawayo, which is already celebrated as Zimbabwe’s cultural hub.

 Saturday morning market outside Bulawayo city hall

Merchant of Venice? Saturday morning market by Bulawayo city hall. By Sokwanele on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)

His is an initiative based on a desire to contribute towards creating not just a reading culture among young school-going boys and girls, but effectively to open their eyes to other career opportunities. Zimbabwean youths are the largest demographic group in Zimbabwe, and opportunities for school leavers remain few.

Chaka says he wants to open these young people to other career possibilities after they leave school. “I believe if taken seriously, they can become professional stage actors as theatre is gaining popularity across the country,” Chaka says.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." - Romeo and Juliet. The national flower of Zimbabwe, Gloriosa Superba, in Bulawayo by The Botser on Flickr (CC BY-SA).

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." – Romeo and Juliet. The national flower of Zimbabwe, Gloriosa Superba, in Bulawayo by The Botser on Flickr (CC BY-SA).

Chaka has also been invited to teach literature to university students and says it feels great knowing that what he is doing is being taken seriously. “I will be teaching literature and stage acting to some university students as part of a course they are doing and this is one thing that I have wanted to do for a long time,” he says.

As the world population grows to hit the 7 billion mark, and bleak stories are beamed by international news agencies, citizens of the world such as Chaka have found other means to make this a better place and contribute towards making a difference in their own small but very significant ways.

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