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Unique cultural heritage initiatives fostering inclusive growth

When we talk about culture, most of the times our minds shift to traditions and activities of the past. However, there are other elements of culture such as objects, music, food, artifacts, and environment among others that we often ignore. Twaweza Communications in partnership with The British council in Kenya held a two-day symposium on 28th-29th February which explored various aspects of culture that foster inclusive growth. Nairobi National Museum was a beehive of activities as communities from different parts of the world came together to share their experiences and contemporary issues that affect culture.

What is culture and how is it important?

George Abungu, the former director-general of the National Museum of Kenya observed that culture grows and doesn’t depend on the things of the past. It narrows down to the activities and objects we interact with daily that affect our social, political, environmental and economic life.

George Abungu speaking about the importance of culture.  Photo by Mike Khatelii 

“Monuments inspire us to think of their deepest purpose in the society. Wildlife animals mean something to us, and that’s why you don’t see the Maasai killing them anyhow. If we don’t appreciate one another we begin conflicts.”

Abungu also talked about the importance of culture and cultural places which include job creation, international cooperation, national identity, conflict resolution and tourism benefits among others.

Cultural heritage for Inclusive Growth

“Now more than ever, we need to be looking at our cultures and history to see what shared solutions we can bring to solve the challenges.” Said Jill Coates. She emphasized the importance of culture in building trust and understanding worldwide.

“You can’t build trust if you don’t understand other people’s cultures. We understand by sharing our stories, history and experiences.” She added.

One of the most important and memorable aspects of the symposium was a visit and discussion of some of the cultural heritage initiatives in Kenya.

McMillan Memorial Library

The library, which is located in Nairobi CBD was founded in 1931 and is one the oldest libraries in Kenya. Over the years it became an abandoned knowledge castle filled with worn out foreign books and materials. It was until 2018 when Book Bunk Trust partnered with Nairobi county government to help restore it that the library regained life.  Book Bunk is an initiative by Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wachuka who saw the need to rebuild the library to continue promoting the reading culture in Kenya.

Inside McMillan Memorial Library. Photo by Kimani Njogu

The library has since been expanded to Makadara and Kaloleni where Book Bunk engages with the community members to find out what they want. The library space isn’t all about reading. They also provide space for artistic work such as film screening and other talents that promote culture.

The biggest challenge Book Bunk is currently facing is filling the library with books by African authors. They are however fundraising and consistently working with volunteers to ensure Nairobians enjoy their time in the library.

Dreamkona (Dream Corner)

Elkanah Ong’esa with his elephant sculpture at Dream Kona. Photo by Mwihaki Muraguri

Located in Uhuru Gardens, Dreamkona is a public space that promotes talents through storytelling, music, dances, acting and many more.

Those who visited the place were amazed by elephant sculptures and creativity of various levels from different artists. The space was created by the National Museum in partnership with TICAH to help promote artistic talents. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s any public space in Nairobi to showcase your creativity then Dreamkona is one the few places you can visit.

Wajukuu Arts 

In the outskirts of Mukuru slums in Nairobi, a few youths saw an opportunity to make a change and improve the lives of their fellows in this neighborhood.

Ngugu Waweru, one of the founders of Wajukuu arts work with other artists to provide a source of income to Mukuru youths by training them in artistic work. The kids have also not been left out and are included in a club which allows them express themselves through artistic drawings, sports and other activities.

Wajukuu arts initiatives has so far reduced crime rates in the slums and saw great improvement in cultural growth through the trainings.

Permanent Presidential Music Commission 

PPMC is a government agency that guide, regulate and coordinate all types of music and dances in Kenya. During its inception, the agency was solely formed to entertain the president. However with time it grew bigger and currently supports music and different artistic talents in Kenya.

The Maasai practicing for a performance at PPMC. Photo by Vivian Odongo

Dr. Abbey Chokera, the deputy director of the agency said they have programs such as National Talent Development Program where they visit schools and train talented youths. They later provide music and dance equipment that enable them enhance their talents.

The agency also provide music consultancy to other government agencies such as the KICD, Ministry of Education and KNEC among others.

PPMC has the mandate to document and preserve cultural music heritage of over 25,000 hours footage. They enhance storage of music dating from 1994 that have become obsolete.

For any Kenyan interested in learning or pursuing music, Chokera said you have a home at PPMC. The agency is always looking out to work with young artists and has produced talented Kenyans who have crossed borders as a result of their support.

Other keynote cultural initiatives by Kenyans include Awjama Culture Center based in Eastleigh, Paukwa, Sauti Zetu, Harriet’s Botanicals, GoDown Arts Centre, and Peperuka.

What next?

The two-day event ended with a debate and group discussion about the challenges facing culture and possible solutions. Some of the notable challenges include the gap between the young people and adults in understanding culture, corruption and neglect of cultural sites, slow adaptation of technology.

With every group discussing about the solutions they deem fit, it was clear that there’s a need to put policies that promote good governance in cultural heritage sites, activities and programs. It is also important to invest in the youths, teaching them from a younger age about culture. And since we’re living a digital era, we need to digitize cultural artifacts, showcase, and promote our culture online to inspire others.

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