Award-winning theatre company, Hijinx, is taking a group of learning disabled actors and staff to tour the landlocked country of Lesotho from 10-25 of February, in a ground-breaking performance project called Able to Act.
During an initial scoping visit to Lesotho in 2016, Hijinx found that learning disabilities are widely perceived as a curse, with many disabled children abandoned in orphanages by their parents. Through the Able to Act project, Hijinx aims to present a positive view of people with learning disabilities in a way that has never been done before.
Four specially trained professional actors with Down’s Syndrome from Hijinx’s performance training Academies in Wales will be undertaking the trip - Justin Melluish, Gareth Clark, Laura Tilley and Victoria Walters.
During the trip, they will be partnering with local students from the Machabeng International College to train learning disabled children from the Phelisanong orphanage to rehearse a new piece of creative theatre, which has been initially developed in the Hijinx Academies across Wales.
One of the actors, Victoria Walters said: “This will be my first visit to the African continent and I feel excited about the challenges we face and the positive impact we can make.”
Local participants will be performing the final production, titled ’KE LABALABELA HO BA….’ (I aspire to be) alongside the Hijinx Actors in a series of open-air performances. This will be a totally new experience for the actors from Wales and everyone involved in the production. Its’ ambition is to highlight to the local community that not only can people with learning disabilities achieve far more than they think, but they can also work alongside people without learning disabilities as equal partners, and make a valuable contribution to civic life.
"We want to work with the local rural communities in Lesotho to help them recognise the value of giving aspiration to people with disabilities," adds Jon Dafydd-Kidd, who heads Hijinx's outreach programme, "to this end we are devising a new production that will involve young people from a Machabeng College in Maseru and children from the Phelisanong Orphanage."
The Able to Act project has been made possible through funding from Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa programme through Hub Cymru Africa, the British Council Wales, and in association with Machabeng International College and Dolen Cymru.
Hannah Sheppard, Grants Manager at Hub Cymru Africa said: “People with disability are often the most excluded and discriminated against in any society, and I hope that this project can begin to change the way that people see disability and how learning disabled young people view themselves and their own capabilities. It’s an exciting project for everyone involved and I look forward to seeing the results.”