By: Gemma Bonfiglioli, Human Services Alum
During my freshman year at Northeastern University (2013), I signed up for a human services Dialogue of Civilizations (DOC) in Lusaka, Zambia with Professor Lori Gardinier. This was my first trip to Zambia and my first exposure to the human services program. This trip and curriculum shaped the course of my life and inspired my vision in so many profound ways!
During the DOC, I was partnered with a small shelter for boys called Fountain of Hope, alongside some of my Northeastern peers. Our task was to build a sustainable capacity building project at the organization, while learning about its organizational model and conducting a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities and threat) analysis. After a few days spending time with the boys at the shelter, I was blown away by their diverse, rich and explosive creative spirit! I listened to the kids sing, dance and freestyle, and we ended up creating an amateur music video with original content from the kids. This was the beginning of an idea which eventually blossomed into Nkhani Zanga – My Story.
A few years later, after returning to Zambia multiple times for co-op, research, and a TA position, I decided to connect the resources and contacts I had, in order to provide a platform for vulnerable children, youth and upcoming artists to express themselves creatively and to tell their story. This platform unofficially began early November 2017 and eventually developed into a registered Zambian NGO called Nkhani Zanga – My Story, which I co-founded alongside my Zambian partner ‘Red Linso’, a well-known Zambian artist and children’s rights activist, in June 2018.
Nkhani Zanga partners with organizations around Lusaka, Zambia that cater to the needs of vulnerable children and/or work towards fostering creative expression. Projects at each center last for approximately three months and include a variety of activities including but not limited to dance, music, poetry, yoga, and visual arts. Nkhani Zanga partners with local Zambian artists (musicians, painters, producers, dancers, etc.) to offer them the opportunity to promote their own work, share their skills and help facilitate workshops to inspire the children’s creative visions.
Our first official partner was with Vision of Hope, a shelter for vulnerable girls, which offers education, family reintegration support, counseling, access to healthcare, skills training, and most importantly love! Vision of Hope was one of the other organizations I connected with on the Human Services Dialogue. Alongside my creative team of artists and facilitators, we produced a nine-song album, two music videos and some paintings with the girls. We had several live concerts and open mic events and a final closing ceremony event where many Zambian artists came to perform and where the girls were given an opportunity to perform their original pieces which were recorded live by the media. We showcased two of their music videos which they directed and were filmed at different locations around Lusaka including in the streets where some had once lived.
Our second partner was with Don Bosco, an international Catholic based organization, which has several youth centers in Zambia. We partnered with their drop-in center that served mostly boys in a marginalized compound in Lusaka. We’ve recorded a nine-song album with the boys and some girls from the community and are in the process of producing several music videos with original dance choreography that the boys have come up with.
Another one of our partner organizations called Up Zambia, an NGO which provides incarcerated youth and children with access to legal services and support. Our creative crew enters the prison systems to provide the youth with a platform to express themselves. If our partnership is successful, we hope to work with a group of the youth which have recently been released from prison, to help them re-transition into society and voice their stories.
A newly created partnership is with Home Lounge, a creative hub for upcoming artists in Pretoria, South Africa. Home Lounge organizes a stage called ‘The Fringe’ at the Smoking Dragon Festival every year and in December 2018 invited two of our Zambian artists to perform as a part of our shared mission to promote upcoming artists. During this trip to South Africa, we recorded two music videos for each of our artists and a mini documentary series illustrating Nkhani Zanga’s partnership with Home Lounge focusing on uplifting upcoming artists and discussing the relevance of art and creative visions in communities.
Our newest partnership is with an organization called Inner Circle based in a township in Lusaka. Inner Circle is a place where youth and young artists come to camp at, record music, have access to mentorship, skills training and support. It is organizations like this, located in marginalized communities that are so important for the community to have access to because it is there that they are needed the most. Having a safe and creative space to express and connect with other like-minded individuals is truly empowering, healing and helps create bridges in the community and heal traumatized spirits.
Lastly, we have begun supporting the education of a few select youth and children that have shown natural talent, dedication and commitment to our program. Over time, we will give them the opportunity to grow their talent further through education, skills training, performances, creative productions and networking.
Vision for the Future
In the future, we hope to increase our scope and scale up, with potential aims:
- To offer more opportunities for talented youth, such as full-ride scholarships through secondary school and skills training and development in related art fields in order to grow talent and water creative seeds.
- To start and develop pop up creative hubs in marginalized communities and in rural areas around Africa including refugee camps, villages and townships, to provide community members with an accessible way to share their stories, have their voices heard, ignite their creative spirits and discover talent.
- To partner with local media agents and present a mini-doc series portraying the lives and stories of some of our beneficiaries and showcasing their talent.
- To promote upcoming artists by producing their work, and giving them increased exposure to perform and express themselves through partnerships with more festivals around Africa.
I believe that everyone deserves the basic right of expressing, and healing through feeling. Art is a part of our hearts and is unique to each individual and should be valued and respected in all societies appropriately. Expression and creation is about the process not the product. We must value the unique expression of all individuals and encourage safe, creative spaces where people have the opportunity to release what is inside.
During my journey creating this platform, I have met so many talented, creative, beautiful and inspiring people. I discovered so many creative hubs blooming in unexpected places and encountered so many resilient souls dedicated to spreading love, truth and compassion through their creative expressions irrespective to the hardships they may have faced.
I am humbled by this experience and excited for the path forward and for the process of creating more art from the heart! Through art we can heal, bridge communities from across the world and rediscover the union that exists between all of us.
Keep updated on what we do:
Music Videos and Backyard Sessions: