Through faith and drama

2008-01-09 00:00

“We need to unify the world to work together and the best way to do that is through the creative arts,” says Kiara Worth. The 24-year-old has been working with the Mpophomeni youth in interactive theatre as part of her honours degree in agricultural rural resource management and theatre for development from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg which she completed last year summa cum laude.

“I believe that the world can change. It’s not just an airy-fairy idea. Icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are examples of how much individuals can bring about change.” The solution to problems, she says, lies in spirituality. “People need to recognise their spiritual beliefs so that they are able to make more informed decisions.”

Worth has spent most Sundays since February 2007 doing creative workshops in Mpophomeni. “There have been many challenges. One week 50 young people would arrive and the next only two. In the beginning I took it personally but later I realised that their priorities are different from mine. Sometimes they have to work or have family commitments or problems and a youth meeting is not their priority.”

Worth presents the group with a problem and encourages the members to offer possible solutions. She believes that a good meeting includes lots of communication, self-expression and laughter, and she has found that the Mpophomeni youth have become keener to participate and more confident to stand up and voice their opinions.

Her American parents moved to Bophuthatswana in 1979 to teach their religion — Worth was brought up in the Bahá’i faith — but she grew up in South Africa, living mainly in Mafikeng, Johannesburg, and Nelspruit, and several other small towns along the way before ending up in Howick.

The Bahá’i principles include the oneness of mankind, the belief that people are spiritual beings, and are fundamentally equal regardless of their current status and that all people originate from the same source. Through these principles, which Worth teaches, she implements social upliftment and encourages people to think critically about problem solving in their environment. In her work in Mpophomeni, Worth has enabled the community to discuss a range of issues — from racism, culturalism, theft and spiritual qualities to personal empowerment — using the creative arts.

Her youth group is preparing to take part in a Spirit of Africa performance, in which they deal with ways to combat problems in the community including materialism and disinterest, as part of the annual Cedara Bahá’i Summer School.

It was during her Grade 11 year in Nelspruit that Worth received an opportunity to make the world a better place. “I was part of a debating team that was invited to take part in the South Africa Model United Nations debate. The topics we had to debate included the control of the international drug trade and dealing with internally displaced persons. It involved a lot of work and research.”

Worth’s team was placed third in the country and she was selected to join the team to represent South Africa in an international debate in Austria. The team won the debate and Worth won the award for best speaker. This experience inspired her to read politics as one of her majors at university, together with drama and rural development.

“I am passionate about performance and about helping people to empower themselves,” says Worth.

Her studies in social facilitation confirmed her belief that theatre is a good way to communicate ideas to people who speak different languages and have a different world view. “Development is really difficult. There are huge barriers … I don’t live in the township and I am unfamiliar with the day-to-day challenges there. But using images, art and drama to convey ideas without language is a skill which can be used universally.”

After completing high school in the United States, Worth, then 19 years old, travelled throughout the U.S. and Canada and went on a pilgrimage in Israel. “I arrived in Howick with some dollars and after a stint of waitressing I decided to explore other African countries. I bought a backpack and a bus ticket and travelled on my own through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.”

She was enchanted by Malawi and lived in a tree house on the lake for three months. “There was no electricity or running water. If I wanted a hot shower I had to heat water over a fire and stand under a bucket.” She contracted malaria and was looked after by a South African who then helped her find work.

Worth later moved to Tanzania, but was mugged in Dar es Salaam and all her savings were stolen. She returned to Malawi where another South African, who had a 19-year-old daughter of his own and was concerned about her welfare, bought her an air ticket to South Africa and gave her money to travel back to Howick.

Worth has also started doing an internship at Zitholele Consulting, an agricultural sustainability organisation. She has begun a masters degree in rural resource management and plans to continue her work for the consultancy and to help people in obscure places to become self-sufficient.

She is also a keen performer and has been in numerous plays at the Hexagon Theatre and the Grahamstown Arts Festival. “While I want to, and believe that I can, assist in alleviating the world’s problems, I would also love to become a world-acclaimed performer!”

About the Bahá’i faith

In the Bahá’i faith it is believed that women should be educated first as they are the primary educators. The religion has only existed since 1844 and followers are persecuted in countries like Iran and Egypt. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’i faith, translates into “Glory of God” and both the prophet and his predecessor were executed. Current believers work at making the world a better place by living their lives in accordance with the faith’s principles and giving back to the community through various means, by addressing current problems in their communities.

Their calendar starts on March 21, the equinox, and followers fast for a month before this to cleanse their bodies and minds, and start the new year focusing on spirituality.

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