Learning disabled theatre’s success with pioneering project in Africa highlighted on World Down Syndrome Day


This week there were global celebrations for World Down Syndrome Day. World Down Syndrome Day (21st March) is a global awareness day which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012. This year the theme is #WhatIBringToMyCommunity. It aims to show how people with Down’s syndrome can and do make meaningful contributions throughout their lives. It attempts to explain how negative attitudes and a lack of knowledge about their potential as individuals prevent people with Down Syndrome from having opportunities to make contributions. It also attempts to empower people with Down syndrome (and those supporting them) to advocate for their rights and opportunities to make meaningful contributions.

For those of you who may not be aware of what Down’s syndrome is – it is a congenital disorder arising from a chromosome defect, causing intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities including short stature and a broad facial profile. It arises from a defect involving chromosome 21, usually an extra copy. There are around 60,000 people with the condition in the UK.

I do not have much of a personal connection to Down’s syndrome. However when I was aged 11 at secondary school, I do remember two 16 year old boys, Gary & Robert, with the disability and I would chat with them at break times and they were both great fun to spend time with and talk to. I strongly agree that people with Down’s syndrome (and any disability for that matter) can all contribute throughout their lives.

As part of my role as a contributing writer for Disability Horizons, I have been given the opportunity to write up a story about four actors with Down’s syndrome who took part in a pioneering project in Africa. I thought it was an interesting and inspirational story that I wanted to share it on my blog.

Hijinx Able to Act project

An award winning theatre group from Wales has launched a pioneering project for people with learning disabilities in Lesotho, Africa.

Hijinx, a charity theatre group that train people with learning disabilities to become professional actors, took four actors with Down’s syndrome to Lesotho to take part in a ground breaking project called “Able to Act”. Justin Melluish, Gareth Clark, Laura Tilley and Victoria Walters embarked the trip back in February 2018.

After an initial visit to Lesotho in 2016, Hijinx discovered learning disabilities are widely perceived as a curse with many disabled children abandoned in orphanages by their parents. The “Able to Act” project presented positive views of learning disabilities that had never been done before. The projects ambition was to highlight to the local communities 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 society.

During the trip, they partnered with four local students from the Machabeng International College, which was partly set up by Prince Harry, to train children with learning disabilities from the Phelisanong orphanage to rehearse a new piece of creative theatre, which was originally developed by the Hijinx theatre.

Hijinx actor, Victoria Walters said she felt; “very proud and honoured to be part of the trip and the team and work with Amy and Jon – it was inspiring  and I loved everything apart from the travel! But I would like to go back in the future. It taught me how differently disabilities are treated in another country – but how inspiring the children are there – they were always smiling and positive and just want to feel part of everything. I also loved working with the students from Machabeng International College and Kate, they are really lovely people – it made me think about how we are treated at home and how we can all learn from the children of the orphanage who want only to be loved, to learn and have an opportunity which they all deserve. We should try and help them more, they are beautiful people.”

Local participants performed the final production, titled ’KE LABALABELA HO BA….’ (I aspire to be) alongside the Hijinx actors in a series of open-air performances with audiences of over 2000 people. They performed in 5 locations including the Mamohato Children’s Centre, also partly set up by Prince Harry. This performance was watched by staff from their disability department and the rest of the organisation who were undergoing disability awareness focus training.

One of the local theatre students, who acted in the performance piece said: “I’ve learnt to be more compassionate and accepting of people with disabilities, there is such a need for this project to continue in Lesotho and also start in other countries too.”

Mamello Mokholokoe, who runs Phelisanong Orphanage, said: “All my life I have never watched an activity that has touched my life this way”.

Other Hijinx actors Gareth Clark described the experience as a “wonderful time” and Laura Tiley said: ” We had a great time in Lesotho, Africa. We helped the children who have no parents and need looking after by singing and signing nursery rhymes.”

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, and in association with Machabeng International College and Dolen Cymru.

In addition to Lesotho, Hijinx will tour their productions and share their inclusive working methods beyond national borders to Europe, Asia and America.

To view videos of the teams project in Lesotho, go to Hijinx YouTube Channel.

50 Mums. 50 Kids. 1 Extra Chromosome

And finally, I would like to share a video of a heart-warming Carpool Karaoke created by Mothers of children with Down’s syndrome. The video has gone viral and been viewed over 2 million times:

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Published by Rock For Disability

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One thought on “Learning disabled theatre’s success with pioneering project in Africa highlighted on World Down Syndrome Day

  1. Wow. That video is terrific! I lead Music together classes for young children and their caregivers (moms, dads, nannies, grandparents, etc.) three mornings each week. I have been honored to have one child with Down’s Syndrome in class with her mother for the past 3 years. She started as an infant, and is now one of the leaders of the class. Her increasing musical competence, her passionate dancing, her open heart, her enthusiasm, her ideas, her sense of humor, her deep love of hugs (and generous bestowal of same on many members of class…) have all enriched and blessed and delighted everyone in our class. Thank you for this blog post!