Movement back in the villages

Maluseu Doris Tulifau’s international movement Brown Girl Woke (BGW) is running after school performing arts activities across Samoa again, after a successful first year in 2018.

The activities are currently in Solosolo and Safata in Upolu and Iva, Asau and Safotu in Savai’i, in collaboration with the volunteers running Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) activities in those villages.

The activities are run by Maluseu and her team of four dance mentors from Le Tiu Salasala, who work with the children to get active, learn traditional Samoan dances, and learn to choreograph their own.

“This next generation because they are so tech savvy, I see so many kids on their tablets, so we have got to start being creative,” Maluseu said, explaining why performance art is her teaching medium of choice.

“If things online are colourful, and musical, of course you are going to do what is going to catch their eye.”

Dance and performance can be used to teach children about anything, from environmentalism through old songs like Lupe o le Foaga to learning more about their Pacific neighbours with national anthems from other nations.

There are still opportunities for more schools outside of the urban area to host BGW’s activities, and Maluseu is interested in hearing from principals or teachers who want to get involved. She can be reached on the Brown Girl Woke Facebook page.

The mentors, Keiran Ah Sam, Eterei Sailele and Fetu Leilua work with Maluseu during the week to learn how to work with the children, and to prepare the activities. Thanks to funding from abroad (from funds Friday and Third Wave Fund) Maluseu is able to pay them a salary for their work.

As well as dancing and performing plays, Brown Girl Woke activities are about developing the children’s voices. Each child has their own story to tell, Maluseu said, and they need a space to tell it in.

The mentors help the children talk about themselves in a positive way, and facilitate their learning to have healthy relationships with each other.

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“It’s more about the relationships and understanding how to respect a girl,” Maluseu said.

“A lot of our stuff is partners between boys and girls and they have those moments where they are cheeky but we tell them, this is a performance, this is how you respect a girl. 

“If anything, they learn how to respect the body, about consent and how to say no to things, and building relationships with each other as boys and girls.”

Maluseu said she sees how the children, from a young age, are defined by their gender as boys or girls. The children take on stereotypical roles early on.

While she is not out to change that, what Maluseu wants is for equality and an understanding of consent to be at the foundation of any given role, she said. For girls, this is especially important.

“With the kids, especially in the rural areas, there is going to be a point where [the girls are] going to hit that stage where men can do this, the violence, and I want to make them understand that even if we do this patriarchal system, they still have rights and they need to understand them.”

“Knowing how to say no to sex, to things that they don’t want, that they know will cause harm, if we can teach that then that is enough for me. 

In the villages where schools have not provided a space to play and dance in, someone in the community has offered an open fale. For those villages, that family’s house has become a hub for the children who participate, said Maluseu.

“You can’t build these programmes where you come in, and go out,” she said.

The owner of the fale in one village said between BGW sessions, the children are hanging around together in the fale, and she is happy for them to be there.

“She said the kids always go there and she always tells them they’re welcome. Her house is behind but she lets us use her big fale in front,” Maluseu said.

“And then she built relationships with them and now there is a safe space in the village, and that’s what you need.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the volunteers are from the Peace Corp. They are in fact from Girls Leading Our World (GLOW). Samoa Observer apologises for any inconvenience or confusion caused as a result of this regretful error.

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