Written by Okwiri Oduor
At the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi, children from the Netherlands School Society joined their counterparts from the Spring Valley Educational Centre in a session convened by Dutch Illustrator Marit Tornqvist.
Marit has worked on the books of popular Swedish author Astride Lingdren, illustrating titles such as Goran’s Great Escape, In the Land of Twilight, A Calf for Christmas, and many others.
The children met Marit at the National Museums of Kenya’s Discovery Room; an apt venue, for there was plenty of fun and fact to discover during the session.
The children received a surprise visit from Mr. Joost Reintjes, the Dutch ambassador to Kenya. Being the diplomat that he is, Mr. Joost introduced the children to each other’s cultures, explaining Holland to the Kenyan children and Kenya to the Dutch children.
Mr. Kennedy Musumba from Kenya’s Ministry of Water, himself a performer of sorts, had the children in plenty of stitches with his tales about water. The children sang together, and then amidst hoots of laughter, opined that bilharzia was caused by snails and that one should not “help themselves” in the bush because one is likely to find a hyena there.
Marit Tornqvist then engaged the children through a captivating weaving together of art forms into one finely-textured, richly-filled basket. The children were literally spellbound as Marit’s animations sprung to life.
It was the story of a sad little girl who sat on a long pole in the middle of the sea, and who refused to get comforted by birds or balloons or curious, curious people. She sat on her pole through the summer and winter, sat on it and watched ships capsize during thunderstorms. The little girl was inconsolable.
Marit’s narration, the brilliant animations, and the audio effects all teleported the children to the middle of the sea. They were right there with the sad little girl. They too were sad for a few moments, their gazes trapped by the lapping of water in the sea’s mouth, the dancing of birds in the frills of the lacy sky, and the drifting away of curious people in their curious, fruit-laden boats.
When they arrived from their trip to the sea, the children were given paper and craft material, and asked to draw their own landscapes, with water as the central theme.
About the session, Mr. Joost Reintjes said, “It is a remarkable way to bring cultures together. Children get together and learn the issues of water, and they play. It is important not to look at learning from a narrow teaching perspective, but to infuse it with culture and art.”
Betsy, the Director of the Netherlands School Society in Nairobi, echoed the Ambassador’s sentiments, adding that in this kind of holistic learning, children were unlikely to forget their lessons.
The children had their own opinions about the session too. Bernard Kamau from the Spring Valley Educational Centre described how much fun the learning had been, adding that the lesson he would invariably take home with him was simple: water is life. His friend Mark Chege agreed and added that from the session, he had learnt not to be selfish.