The Barefeet Theatre. Zambian street children regain their right to play

Play, creativity and empowerment. This is how Lusaka’s Barefeet Theatre gives street children a chance at a better life.

The Barefeet Theatre group organises outreach events and workshops to help vulnerable children participate in creative activities through art, dance, music and storytelling. They are designed to help youths express themselves, gain valuable information and ultimately prevent them from living on the streets. This is how children’s lives are changed in the Zambian capital of Lusaka.

The Barefeet Theatre

The troupe was founded by a group of young Zambian artists and the Irish theatre director Adam McGuigan in 2006. Many of the founding members of the organisation grew up on the streets and in orphanages themselves. They felt they wanted to bring something positive to the lives of their younger peers and started to use theatre, dance and arts to teach them to change their lives and get off the streets and into school.


“Most of the children we pick from the streets have been exposed to cruel living conditions, many start begging and stealing while others resort to using drugs such as sniffing petrol,” Programmes Director Taonga Tembo says. “The problem is that once you get sucked into street life, it is quite difficult to disengage yourself,” he continues.


The right to play

The famous troupe is of the view that most children living on the streets are deprived of their human right to engage in play and participate freely in cultural life and the arts. The performers, a highly-spirited group of barefoot artists, are often clad in eye-catching costumes and are well known for their smiling faces painted with bright colours. Looking forward, Taonga Tembo says the theatre’s vision is to turn its festival into a global centre where youth can come to perform and collaborate with Zambian artists.


“I personally believe that Barefeet is about innovation and collaboration,” Tembo says, “art is about walking together to create a movement that can help shift the world one step at a time”. That’s why the Barefeet Theatre regularly pops up unannounced in low-income areas, attracting at-risk youth with its dancing, singing and drumming. This approach perfectly captures African communities’ sense of initiative in wanting to create long-term solutions to some of the most pressing social issues. Another project to celebrate through the social media campaign #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, which showcases inspiring stories coming out of the continent that don’t conventionally make the headlines.

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