Becoming Part of the Community in Arusha

Marcus Guy and a student at Meru View School in Arusha, Tanzania.


Place: Arusha, Tanzania
Project: Arusha Arts Initiative: Juilliard students teach music, dance, and drama and engage in cultural exchange with children from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds 
Dates: May 27-July 2
Juilliard Participants: Actors Marcus Guy and Noah Witke; dancers Molly Griffin, David Norsworthy, Jenna Pollack, and Katherine Williams; violinist Yumi Man; violist Hannah Ross; and pianist Devon Joiner.  


This was my second trip to Arusha, Tanzania, a dusty little town at the foot of Mt. Meru that’s caught between tribal African culture and the technological revolution. I was on a Juilliard summer grant-funded program, and I worried that it might be less exciting than last year’s. But from the moment we arrived, what resonated most strongly was how much Arusha had managed to stay the same since last year. The people at the local market remembered me like it was just last week that I had visited. Time is experienced differently in Tanzania: Hakuna matata rafiki— “no worries my friend!”

The Arusha Arts Initiative, a collective of 10 Juilliard-trained teaching artists, has been investing creative time in the area since 2009, striving to unite traditional interpretations of music, dance, and drama with a Juilliard education—a true cultural exchange. We worked in four locations: Dymphna Special Needs School, the Umoja Youth Center, Meru View Day School, and the International School of Moshi. The students I interacted with at all four places challenged me to clarify my thoughts and ideas and be extremely articulate as they only understand the most direct and simple English.

The theme of this year’s project was growth. We were aiming to become a part of the community and make the arts an integral part of life in Arusha. Beyond our arts-empowerment workshops, we implemented this by reconnecting with two of our former students, Kelvin and Innocent. They had had such successful experiences at the Umoja Center and are achieving so much at college that we invited them back to the workshop to act as our translators. We were able to reimburse their efforts and commitment with a daily stipend. This expense was minimal for the team, but provided stability for them in ways I can’t begin to comprehend.

One of our new projects was a series of arts adventures at Meru View. These consisted of songs, dances, and theater games all played in a field on the mountainside. Many of the students spoke absolutely no English and our Swahili is kidogo kidogo (“a little!”), but matching gestures with the English and Swahili proved very successful as each week the students had retained a little more English.

Leaving these students behind was particularly difficult. They taught me a lot about “volun-tourism”—a growing trend for tourists who want to change the world—and made our four standalone workshops with no follow-up sessions in the coming year seem slightly irresponsible. I was truly conflicted saying goodbye and could only hope that our efforts to get the teachers involved would be enough to sustain the knowledge we had shared.

At the Umoja Youth Empowerment Center, our longest-standing partnership, I had one student, Aisha, who inspired me endlessly as I watched her thirst for knowledge compete furiously with her ingrained reluctance. I made it my goal to encourage her by celebrating her work, a foreign experience for her, since the Tanzanian education system thrives on humiliating students.

The Arusha Arts Initiative has been an integral part of my education at Juilliard so far, teaching me that outreach is not simply doing good for a community, but an opportunity to network, learn professional methods of communication, and understand that being a performing artist is not only about performing, but also about enabling others to share in this experience.

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