by Shamkoe Pilé
The 21 teachers recently installed as Mabalozi — Ambassadors of African culture and heritage — have been told to ensure that the children in their care are given the opportunity to develop not only self-pride, but also pride in their African heritage.
Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, Stephen Lashley, made this assertion during his feature address on Africa Day last Saturday at the 3rd annual Mabalozi Conference and Installation Ceremony at the Old Spirit Bond in Bridgetown.
He congratulated the teachers on completing the Mabalozi Training Programme which was provided by the Commission for Pan African Affairs, under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth.
Lashley told the new Mabalozi: “You must not take this work lightly, yours is no easy task… The task of instilling in our charges a greater sense of self-love and self-esteem is a mammoth one; it is a huge task because you are battling against the effects of many years of history as well as a modern international media that seeks to define intangibles such as good and beauty according to the standards of the Western World.”
He argued that many of the principles and standards “bequeathed to Barbadians” were under threat from emerging moralities of the Western World and he queried: “What would be our philosophical position to these emerging trends?”
Pointing out that many of these emerging trends “are very controversial”, he lamented that such negative behaviours were being fed to Barbadians through a “diet of television and soap operas”.
“For many years there has been a subtle attempt to brainwash the rest of the world…,” he added. “Many of the practices that we were taught to be immoral, have been used at ad nauseum on television to teach our young generations these new trends. That is why we need a reawakening of who we are.”
Lashley stressed: “You, the Mabalozi, should always be mindful of the responsibility you have for ensuring the future of this country reflects a higher level of consciousness of our African heritage.”
Reasoning that not enough time was spent highlighting the “richness of the African heritage to our children”, he concluded: “When one considers the legacy of colonialism and slavery, it is clear that you, the Mabalozi, have a critical and life-altering mission to accomplish.”
The minister added he was happy with the growth of the programme and pledged Government’s continued support to the Mabalozi.
“In 2010, there were only four founders, three years later I am very pleased that another 60 have been committed to undertaking this urgent task in some 50 nursery, primary and secondary schools across Barbados. This increase in the interest in the work of the Mabalozi should not only be applauded, but it is an indication of an awakening of the consciousness that we need to have in Barbados,” he said.
The newly installed teachers also lauded the Mabalozi programme.
History teacher at the Ellerslie Secondary School, Sharisse Crick, said she became involved when she was given the responsibility to plan the activities for Black History Month at her school.
Crick explained that the Mabalozi programme focused on key practices, known as the Crucibles of Care, which were built on the principles of self-hood, respect, compassion, self-love and words of encouragement.
“They are things you would never be taught at a teaching college. Self-hood dealt with teaching students how to love themselves and their identity…, physical differences are embraced. Security is another key principle, such as providing a secure environment for the children, especially those who use school as a place to “get away” from the madness of an unstable home environment,” she said.
She noted she had already started to implement some of the Mabalozi teachings at the institution and had seen changes particularly in the first formers.
“At secondary school, it is a bit more difficult to create change because the kids are already enshrined in their behaviour. I find at Ellerslie there is a very serious problem with skin colour, the lighter children are teased because they are too light and the darker children are teased because they are too dark. I plan to focus on self-acceptance and demonstrate black comes in all shades,” Crick disclosed.
Alicia Estwisk, an infant teacher at the St. Bernard’s Primary school, said the workshops helped her to become more aware of things society “takes for granted as tradition, but were truly tools designed to oppress Africans and African descendants”.
She continued: “Corporal punishment was designed to control Black people, and the programme gives teachers the opportunity to discuss with other Mabalozi ways to administer discipline without being cruel and without using corporal punishment.”
The teacher said she intended to teach what she learnt “through incidental teaching … A lot of it is leading by example, also through stories, poems and dramatisations”.
Wayne Ifill, a teacher at the Ann Hill School, revealed he initially thought the Mabalozi programme would focus solely on African history.
“Then I realised it was a programme about building positive self-esteem and confidence in our children … and that is really needed in our society right now,” he added.
The special needs teacher pointed out that the “Crucibles of Care principles” had already started to create some positive behaviour change in himself and his students.
“Showing a caring spirit for the children and using the encouragement tools have helped a lot. My attitude has changed towards the children who have behavioural problems. They are the most challenging, because nothing is really wrong with them besides the fact that they behave really bad or maybe slow learners. But based on the Mabalozi principles that I have implemented, [such as projecting a more understanding spirit], I have seen positive changes in some of my children,” Ifill said.
David Mosely from the Grantley Adams Memorial Secondary School added that he was teaching the concepts of self-awareness, motivation, self-esteem and other Mobalozi principles primarily through the performing arts. He too, has started to see positive effects in his students.