The 2015 edition of the yearly Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) project has been scheduled to hold from July 12 through the 14th. The annual programme was initiated in 2010 and debuted on the 76th birthday anniversary of the Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka as the “quintessential artist and symbol of our humanity”, according to the promoters of the project, ZMirage Multimedia Company and GlobalNewHaven.
Unlike previous editions in which activities held in Lagos, Ogun and Osun State, events for this year’s edition will hold exclusively in Abeokuta, Ogun State, where the Nobel laureate resides. Remarkably too, the organisers plan to concentrate the activities in the neighbourhood of the Ijegba Forest Residence of Soyinka, and at the Ogun State Cultural Centre, Kuto.
The theme for the year is: JUSTICE AND FREEDOM: ESSENTIAL CONDITIONS FOR HUMANITY, and according to the organisers, “these are the two fundamental concerns of the Nobel laureate in his career of promoting better humanity not only in his literary writings but also in his intervention in local and global socio-cultural and political discourses.
”WSICE is the core project of the The Open Door Series promoted by Alhaji Teju-Kareem-led Zmirage and Professor Segun Ojewuyi-led GlobalNewHaven, and it has been staged every year since 2010 when Soyinka was 76. Last year witnessed the grand fifth edition, which marked the 80th birthday anniversary of Prof. Soyinka.
While the 2014 fifth anniversary edition was a grand parade of drama, poetry, music, painting exhibition and variety youth programmes in honour of Soyinka’s 80th birthday, this sixth edition marking his 81st, has redesigned in terms of performance features.
The, 2015 project will focus on STORYTELLING – “as a resourceful art form that is an integral part of the socialisation process of an average African personality”, stated the Executive Producer, Teju Kareem. “Our theme is STORYTELLING & YOUTH DEVELOPMENT, and this is designed to address our observations that in an era when the society continues to drastically lose its moral values, due to vagary of factors including improper and inadequate child upbringing and chaotic educational system, we believe that a full exploration and exploitation of the power of Storytelling in parental upbringing and as well as school activities could help to inculcate moral values in our young ones”.
He continues: “We also reckon that Wole Soyinka is essentially a Storyteller as will be seen in his poetry, drama, songs and even public commentary through which he has grossly affected our lives and those of other peoples around the world in past six decades and more.”Stated Kareem, “to realise the objective of the core International Cultural Exchange dimension of the project, we have identified two international reputable experts who engage storytelling to teach and mentor young ones, and have made tremendous impacts on the socialisation process in their respective stations.
"From the Diaspora is the Caribbean leading storytelling performer, Theodora Ulerie aka Anty Thea (Trinidad and Tobago) and from Nigeria, Mrs. Noma Sodipo, founder and anchor of the popular children TV programme, StoryTime with Auntie Noma (Nigeria). These two tested and core professionals will help us realise the objectives; they will run workshops and mentorship sessions with junior secondary schools drawn from Ogun State, and 81 senior secondary school students from across the country. The 81 from across the country represent the finalists in the annual essay competition, which will focus on the theme of the celebration “Justice & Freedom: Essential Conditions for Humanity”.A core aspect of the yearly project is the Student mentorship programme during which the First Lady of Ogun State, Her Excellency, Mrs Olufunsho Amosun yearly counsel the gathering of hundreds of students drawn from Ogun State and rest of the country on the importance of education and imbibing moral lessons of patriotism and discipline. In the past three editions she has mentored over 10000 students in Nigeria and also in London, where she was a Guest of Honour in 2013. Two editions ago the First lady of Osun, Her Excellency, Alhaja Sherifat Aregbesola and the Deputy Governor, of the State, Otunba Grace Titi-Laoye also mentored over 1000 students drawn from Osun, and the 79 finalists in the year’s essay competition.
Stressing on the objective of the ICE, Kareem stated: “We in ZMirage and GlobalNewHaven -- believing firmly in the educative as well as entertaining functions of theatre and literary arts -- have resolved to consistently commit time, energy and huge financial resources to this project so that the Arts, especially Theatre, can once again take pride of place in Nigeria and the world. The primary focus for us is the cultural exchange value of the project, which enables us reach out to the world, giving and receiving artistic contents that can change and enrich lives.
The Executive Producer revealed that much of the activities will be held in the 850-seater site-specific Amphitheatre installed last year to host the presentation of Soyinka’s epic, Dance of the Forests as directed by Tunde Awosanmi, head of department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan.
The idea of staging much of the events in the forest theatre, noted Kareem, is to stress the educational and touristic virtues of the project. “We want the children to start identifying with the importance of such touristic facilities, and as well to have a feel of the grand model that Soyinka is by paying visit to his residential enclave”.
This year’s WSICE will be produced by Ms Haneefat Ikharo, Theatre Arts graduate of the University of Benin. She took over from the pioneer producer, Lillian Amah, a writer, actress and producer.

The breakdown of the year’s programme is as follows:

10th – 12th July, 2015 (Friday to Sunday)
1. Aunty Thea Story telling Workshop A 3-day workshop for Junior Secondary Schools

12th July, 2015. (Sunday)
1. Arrival of 81 students and key officials
2. Accreditation of students
3. Arrival of Judges

13th July, 2015 (Monday)
1. Live essay writing at the Cultural Centre (8am – 10am)
2. Story telling Workshop for the 81 Finalists with Auntie Thea and Auntie Noma
3. 81 Students Party at the Lodge (Evening/Night)

14th July, 2015 (Tuesday)
1. Visit to the Governor of Ogun State
2. Announcement of Winner and Presentation of trophy
3. Youth Mentorship (81 Finalists) with Prof. Wole Soyinka at Ijegba
4. Do Your Own Thing (includes students talent show, spelling bee, poetry etc. and the Mentoring session by the First Lady, Her Excellency, Mrs. Olufunsho Amosun) at Ijegba / Cultural centre
5. International Cultural Exchange: Storytelling & Youth Development – Conversation between Home & the Diaspora -- Theodora Ulerie (Aunty Thea) and Noma Sodipo (Aunty Noma) –at the Amphitheatre, Ijegba Forest; chaired by ; Jimi Solanke
6. Performances by Ogun State Cultural Troupe & Poetry (by Guest Artistes) at the Ijegba Forest Theatre.
7. Drama: Wole Soyinka’s KONGI’s HARVEST by Crown Troupe of Africa @ the Ijegba Forest Theatre

15th July, 2015 (Wednesday)
Departure of 81 students, guests and officials.NB: See Profiles of the Story Tellers attached.

Profiles of GUEST ARTISTES for WSICE 2015
ANTY THEATheodora Ulerie aka Auntie Thea is an advocate for the empowerment of children and young adults. She is a Cultural Practitioner and an Arts Education Specialist/Facilitator. She is the founder of Culture House, an arts education resource centre, where she facilitates community workshops for women and children – a job she was destined to have.
As a teenager, Ulerie attended Tunapuna Government Secondary. She topped St Mary’s Secretarial College before finding work at Barclays Bank and the telephone company. After that, she formed her own job placement service. Ulerie even fell in love, got married at 19, and gave birth to two of her four children”.
Her love for theatre began while in primary school in Tunapuna where she was selected to play the fairy responsible for waking up all the flowers in a Freddy Kissoon operetta. She says she immediately fell in love with the stage.
"To me, I was the star. When it was time to leave the stage Thea wouldn't move. All the signs they were making and I not moving at all. That helped to boost my self esteem," says Ulerie, who lost her mother at age seven and used occasions to perform as a means to escape this loss.Putting Theodora’s acting plans on hold, her parents whisked her off to St Rose’s Intermediate School.
Auntie Thea’s ability to stir the memory, imagination and inspire creativity in little children began during her childhood in Tunapuna.“My parents (Emelda and Cecille Gittens) were appalled when they asked me what I wanted to be and I said an actress. I’ve been a storyteller all my life. I’ve always loved performing. I was a child who always loved being on stage. I always loved poetry and reading,” she added.Although she participated in drama festivals all through secondary school, Ulerie entered secretarial college after graduation because there were no avenues to study the arts at home. "At ten years old if you asked me what I wanted to be I would tell you I wanted to be an actress.
At 16 years old, if you asked me what I wanted to be I would tell you I wanted to be an actress. However, if you want to be an actress you have to be a mad person especially in those days. So I didn't become an actress; I became a secretary and I didn't like what I was doing at all. My point is that we have angels among us who have wonderful talent and because of our lack of respect for the arts we do not nurture the talent of these children and they fall through the cracks – artistically and creatively – and we do not realise our potential," she says. Ulerie spent years working as a corporate secretary eventually opening a temp agency in the early 80s but continued to be unsatisfied by these positions.
“Then the recession struck in 1983. I lost a lot of business. I became non-existent. I knew I had to do something”. In 1984, after being forced out of business by the recession, Ulerie dreamed of opening a motivational centre. She rented a house and drafted a proposal for which was unable to find government or corporate funding. Her intuition, Ulerie says, was telling her to return to her childhood for contentment. In 1985, she met the playwright Shango Baku and proposed to manage his theatre group and projects. Unbeknownst to Ulerie, Baku had written her a part in one of his plays and the role changed her life forever. "Before I knew it, I was immersed in the theatre. He had the greatest impact in my life and taught me everything I knew about the theatre and helped me to give meaning and direction to my dreams."
Ulerie became the National Schools and British Tour coordinator for Baku's play One Bad Tassa while remaining a member of the cast and even organising a three-day seminar for more than 100 teachers on arts in education. While Baku and others remained abroad after the tour and formed Culture Exchange in Theatre Education, Ulerie returned home to continue the project and founded Culture House in 1988.
“I formalised the Baku method of Learning Through The Arts (Ltd). It was a methodology that utilised the arts/culture for active learning. Then the Pan American Health Organisation commissioned the Who’s In Charge? project and I got involved. The focus was on young adults. The focus was youth and sexuality,” she said.Then, a dark cloud settled over her bright horizon.
An encounter with domestic violence resulted in a broken arm and emotional pain and hurt. Struggling to regain her dignity, poetry proved to be the perfect therapy.“I began focusing on my own writings. I wrote on women and the violence in the family. I addressed women’s groups. I felt it was important to share the strategies and how they can overcome it too, with the sorority of sisters. I think we must go beyond survival,” said Ulerie.Still, she credits poetry for its cathartic properties. It was out of this healing fountain that the beloved character “Aunty Theo” arose.
She is not the typical old grandmother telling stories of soucouyant and La Diablesse, but a vibrant woman who blends in the local environment in her stories.Ulerie can be heard dipping into her story box on 102 FM and I95.5 radio frequencies. She can also be seen at interactive workshop sessions at venues like the Lidj Yasu Omawale Village, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.She’s even developed a Personal Positive Value System, which “encourages the children to develop self-esteem and character. “I tell them do a little something that’s nice. Day-by-day in a special way, you would get better and better.”
A proud grandmother of three, Ulerie leaves the children with golden words of wisdom. I share my motto: “Do your best and leave the rest to God”.Ulerie was awarded the Commonwealth Women Agents Award in 2011 and was one of 24 awardees to represent Trinidad & Tobago at CHOGM 2011 in Australia.

On her work: "I love what I'm doing. I love working with the children. My work gives me a lot of joy. Thank God for my work and for the gift. My name means "god's gift" so I guess realising that inner gift is something that I have made my lifelong quest. I was searching and I never knew what I was searching for. As a little girl I would search for gold but what I found out as an adult is that the gold was in my heart."

On Working with Children: “When I came back to Trinidad that is when I started to do experimental work with children; that is when ‘Auntie Thea’ was born. I worked with young adults. I created Sojourner Culture and the work continued on a massive scale servicing a wide area of societal needs. Through Culture House we were able to bring people together – people with special needs, women, children, families, all different types – and the work went into a new realm. The work became a national service.
"The aim is to promote tolerance and understanding as the cornerstone of nation building and peace… Education must be a stimulant. It must not be something administered through blackboard and chalk, it must stimulate children's minds to something that is positive and that can bring about peace. We need a considered approach to education for the new generation of international youth. We must prepare our children for world citizenship. Our view must be a worldview. Broadening horizons and expanding awareness is important."

(Adapted from interviews published separately on legacy.guardian.co.tt; and www.trinidadexpress.com)

Originally trained as an optometrist, Mrs Noma Sodipo (Auntie Noma) has worked with kids for over two decades. She has run storytelling events at various programmes with the British Council, Ikoyi Club 1938, the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), Lagos Book & Art Festival (LABAF), at venues in the UK as well as showing her experiences in film festivals, conferences, national newspapers, and various other media in topics ranging from Children's television in Nigeria to caring for Preschool child's eyes.
She represents Nigeria in Connected-Women.com, through a blog post set up to highlight contributions of 30 women from 30 different countries across the world.She extends her position for work with children to a wide variety of services within her organization, The Lighthouse Educational Services, which comprises a fully equipped studio for children's TV programming, nursery education, musical productions, children's publication, educational DVDs, documentaries, travel, vision and educational research for children.
She attended a course at The London Film Academy in 2004 and has been interned with the BBC, whilst sharing experiences with the producers, directors and executive producers of the children's programmes Tikkabilla, CBeebies and Blue Peter. She holds a post-graduate diploma in education.Though she hails from Edo State in the then mid-Western Nigeria, Noma Sodipo was born in Ibadan in the Southwest, and is married to Professor Bankole Sodipo from Abeokuta in Ogun State (also Southwest); they are blessed with three children. Her hobbies include playing the piano, running and swimming.
She is married to Bankole and they have three very innovative children in May 2012, Auntie Noma was given the Global Women's Inventors and Innovators Network (GWIIN) award in Ghana for her children's TV programme "Story Time With Auntie Noma". She has been a fellow of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health for over 16 years and was a member of The Association for Research in vision and ophthalmology and the British Contact Lens Association fellow over 18 years.

StoryTime with Auntie Noma is one of Africa's leading wholly indigenously-produced children's edutainment programmes, providing educational and entertaining content, targeted at kids but enjoyed by the family as a whole. The weekly half-hour programme, which encourages co-viewing, is an exciting combination of features, storytelling, songs, arts and crafts, did you know slots and periodic competitions. Every part has a story to tell. The television programme very innovatively fills the gap created by the lack of quality African programmes for children, especially preschoolers.
StoryTime with Auntie Noma went on air in 2005 and has been broadcast in over 30 countries in Africa and Europe through DSTV- MNet's cable channel (Africa Magic), Magic Channel (daily), BEN TV Europe, Channels TV Nigeria, Africa Independent Television (AIT), Gateway Television (Ogun State), Desmims Independent Television (DITV), Kaduna State, EBS, Edo state, and TVC.
Not only is "StoryTime with Auntie Noma" educational and entertaining, it is unique in that its very vast content is recorded on location and in the studio. Most of the music featured is composed or re-arranged and recorded by Auntie Noma.A theme, randomly chosen for each week, through four characters -- Talent Tom, Nose-it-all-Nelly, Busy Ben and Nature's Nancy helps the kids explore topics ranging from Talking Drums and Dragon Fruits to Doughnuts and Animals on Safari in Kenya.The many opportunities to learn about Africans’ varied cultures, portraying their positive aspects in very attractive ways, as well as learn about ways of life outside Africa, means that this programme is stimulating to both Africans and non-Africans alike.
What’s unique about the Programme? Story-Time with Auntie Noma, aside being a fun-filled family programme, reinforces the fact that children learn in a variety of ways. Taking learning outside the four walls of a classroom, it creates a vibrant and refreshing approach to life from a child’s perspective. Rather than being a dull straightforward educational programme, it is entertaining, exciting whist being very educational.The many opportunities to learn about our varied cultures, portraying the positive aspects in very attractive ways, as well as learn about ways of life outside Nigeria has made "Story-Time with Auntie Noma" stimulating to both Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike.
The weekly half-hour programme is shot on location and in the studio. In addition to the location segment, "Story-Time with Auntie Noma" also features storytelling; rhymes and songs; arts and crafts. A theme is chosen for each week, and the above three features are woven around the theme ranging from Waterfalls to Twins in Africa, Dragon Fruit to Slave trade; Counting; Colours and Computers to Taking Turns, Talents and Transportation.
Our locations include; animals on safari in Kenya and Yankari Games Reserve, Nigeria; Kayaking on the Indian Ocean; Cricket at the Oval, London; the Delft Pottery works of Holland; Sightseeing in France, South Africa, Zambia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Dubai and even Norway. The crew have also captured locals at work – basket weaving, making garri, etc. Story-Time with Auntie Noma is aired on Channels TV, Africa Magic, Gateway TV, Desmims TV (Kaduna), EBS (Edo), TVC and BEN TV (Europe).

Feedback from the programme:
“We get lots of feedback from Nigeria and abroad. For instance, a Nigerian woman whose grand-children live in France was delighted to hear them greet her e ka aro! Although their father is French, they picked up the words from the Good Morning song video during the programme, which they were able to view through Sky network in France. For people in the diaspora, that cultural touch is what really glues them to the programme. I also got an e-mail the other day from a mother who just watched the programme with her kids in the UK. For many abroad it brings back nostalgic feelings too. Many of the kids here in Nigeria call in to be part of the programme; so it looks like we really should get some sort of a club going!

On her growing up:
“I was happy as a child; quite naughty too, as my immediate older sister well remembers when I would fling all her clothes which she had just neatly piled up in her wardrobe unto the floor. That was the quickest way of getting to her whenever we quarreled! My grandma also had a name for me… and I had a cane for her!!!”

On her love for children: “Yes, I love children. They are fun to be with. Maybe I am a child at heart really, and so tend to relate quite well with them. They tend to take me like one of them too.


Chris Kehinde Nwandu is the Editor In Chief of CKNNEWS || He is a Law graduate and an Alumnus of Lagos State University, Lead City University Ibadan and Nigerian Institute Of Journalism || With over 2 decades practice in Journalism, PR and Advertising, he is a member of several Professional bodies within and outside Nigeria || Member: Institute Of Chartered Arbitrators ( UK ) || Member : Institute of Chartered Mediators And Conciliation || Member : Nigerian Institute Of Public Relations || Member : Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria || Fellow : Institute of Personality Development And Customer Relationship Management || Member and Chairman Board Of Trustees: Guild Of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria

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