My name is Beca Lewis Jones and I am the Project Officer for Mzansi Cymru. Let me explain; I never go anywhere without a notebook and pencil case (my notebook is known in the office as The Bible and my pencil case is overflowing), I write 50 emails a day and receive 10, I am addicted to meetings, I am never far from a kettle and the boot of my car is full of props for school workshops. All this is in aid of one of the best projects I have ever worked on; and I’ve worked on quite a few. When the Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize winner 1984) writes a letter of support and sends it to Penygraig in The Rhondda, you know you are on to a winner!
Mzansi Cymru is a project run by children’s charity Valleys Kids and has been running since 2009. The aim is to bring communities from Townships in Cape Town, South Africa (Mzansi) and communities from The South Wales Valleys (Cymru) together in an arts performance which combines theatre, dancing, circus and singing…I’m welling up just thinking about it! We have been rehearsing our parts here for three months and are now off to rehearse in South Africa for two weeks. I must stay focused…I must stay focused…I must stay focused- and not join the beginners class at Zip Zap circus!
Denise Lord, our Project Coordinator (a real Wonderwoman) wanted to create a project which would address racial barriers still alive and sadly kicking in parts of South Wales. During the Industrial Revolution (don’t switch off!) the South Wales Valleys missed out on the influence of black immigrant workers unlike our neighbouring Cardiffians of Bute Town and Tiger Bay. Whilst the colour of the face of Wales (quite literally) changed in Cardiff, it pretty much stayed the same in the Valleys. To this day, a multi-cultural community is quite foreign in some parts. As well as addressing this issue there is also another, that of re-generating a sense of pride and love for ourselves and our hometown. When the mines sustained our communities, it also sustained our identity as providers and hard workers. Since then, we have been hard pushed to find something else which defines us in the same way.
The hope, with Mzansi Cymru, is that by leaving our community, and visiting another (on the other side of the world) we won’t just learn about their culture, but also about ours and what we have to offer to create another inspiring community. This is what Desmond Tutu meant when he referred to the meeting of Welsh Gold with African Diamonds, it’s a two way experience and hopefully the beginning of a long-term (albeit long distance) cultural and artistic relationship. I have never been to South Africa and have worked on this project for less than a year but already feel like I’m going to visit distant relatives…it’s one of those experiences that seasons the soul.
I will tell you about our main project, the play another day. I must go to bed now, but first I must sit on my suitcase to make it close, I must choose my outfit for travel and I must shower before finally going through my checklist for the last time. I will be up at 2:30am and ready to go with my bum-bag, notebook, handy torch and travel iron (in case I bump into Desmond Tutu or Mandela!). South Africa is a plane journey away…let the adventure begin.