Red Hill One – the short report


During a wet week in late May 2012 and early June, we invited twenty high school children to a writing and story workshop at Red Hill informal settlement near Simon’s Town in the Western Cape.


In spite of a mix up with bus times (Friday’s bus is earlier than other days), 18 young people arrived at the shipping container workshop venue, some of them triumphantly on a truck powered by desperation and Liz Danks, community liaison person.

Although Saturday morning is a big ask of teenagers deep into a serious exam term (and it was raining) 16 of them came back on the following day and on the next Saturday.


We began with drumming from our Senegalese drumming friends, Basse and Kabbo, continued with luminous storytelling from Spanish storytellers Jose de Prada and Helena Cuesta and were inspired by Sindiwe Magona telling us about homes she had lived in – from mud hut to New York apartment. She told the children to love themselves and care for themselves. She told them how they could fly anywhere in life with books. The next day Mikhail Hendricks, a Grade 12 student who hails from Mitchel’s Plain explained how he had won an international writing competition – and encouraged the participants to the same can-do attitude.

In between we worked with laptops and in notebooks, with digital cameras and pencils, with artwork and mapping. The results are captured as a book and can be viewed on:

In between each activity, we always came back to books and stories with readings from, and discussion of books around the theme of Home.


This age group 15, 16 and 17 years old) is the hardest to read – and the most unwilling to give an emotional inch. The first writing was very stereotyped. Only on the second day did they let go a little and speak more openly about their ideas of home. Part of this could be due to under-skilled teaching, big classes, language difficulties; some of it is an adolescent closing down of communication.

But the photo-shoot we asked them to do yielded outstanding results. We are now the proud possessors of about 2 000 digital images and most of them spot on in terms of focus and composition. This is a probably unique record of a landscape that is very different to most living places.

Artwork was not as inspiring. We looked for materials that would give colour and drama but coming from an educational system where art is not a subject, the participants clung to colouring-in techniques. We need to think of something that offers more freedom – without the inconvenience of paint and brushes in an environment where water has to be brought from a distant tap. One art materials dealer summed it up when she said: ‘There are things I could suggest, but nothing as cheap as good old paint.’


We learned as much as the participants. The general principles we had established for workshops were effective. The children enjoyed themselves and entered into the spirit of books and stories with gusto. We needed more facilitators, more technical backup and – by the end – more energy. It was fun. it was effective. Next time it will be better!

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