Dammon Rice, responsible for setting up the initial District Six Ambassador Programme, gives us insight into its success.
The Museum Ambassador Programme contributes to nation-building by empowering communities to access their heritage. It provides young people with skills and experiences that transform their perceptions of themselves, each other and museums.
The District Six Museum Ambassador Programme trains Grade 10 - 11 volunteers from schools in communities in and around Cape Town to teach other young people, using knowledge they themselves have only recently acquired, about the Museum and its collections. The voluntary nature of the programme is very important as it engenders a culture of community service and volunteerism. The only criteria for participating in the programme are enthusiasm and commitment.
Team work and responsibility to the Museum, fellow team members and school groups are stressed. Although a staff member is present for each presentation, the Ambassadors are in charge from the moment a school group arrives at the Museum. Ambassadors work in teams of between four and six. They welcome the school, introduce themselves, organise the group and teach for an hour. Each member of the team is responsible for a part of the presentation.
The presentation covers themes of 'Community Life in District Six', 'Apartheid and Forced Removals' and 'Reconstructing the Past'. Using photographs, games and maps, the Ambassadors draw comparisons between contemporary life and the story of District Six.
The programme provides these participants at school level with work experience, practical skills and knowledge. The result is an increase in leadership skills, self-esteem and confidence, and language, analytical, critical and creative thinking skills are developed.
Every Ambassador I have worked with has discovered something new about themselves. They have learnt that they can look at works of art and understand them, that they enjoy working with young people or as one Ambassador put it, 'that I can do anything that I put myself to do'.community into the future.
“Many are inspired to follow careers in education, in museums, or in the tourist industry”
The Ambassadors' perceptions of museums also change. Some have said: 'they are fun places to be', '... they are not as conservative as I thought', ‘... they are not dull boring places (which is what I used to believe) and that you can learn a lot from them', '... there is a lot more going on in a museum that others don't know', and 'they are not the elitist institutions I thought they were, museums are for everyone.'
Many of the Ambassadors tend to return to the museums on their own, long after their programmes have ended. Many are inspired to follow careers in education, in museums or in the tourist industry. For all participants, museums become accessible environments that they begin to take ownership of. In 1997, a group that I had been working with at the District Six Museum wanted to continue thei r relationship with the Museum and became involved in the District Six Sculpture Festival entirely on their own initiative.
The programme has an impact not only on the participating Ambassadors but also on their peers. Miss Chotia, the Guidance teacher at Cedar High in Mitchells Plain, was impressed by the impact the District Six Museum Ambassadors were having on their fellow classmates. The Ambassadors had taken on a leadership role within the class, transforming a disruptive unpleasant class into one that was becoming a pleasure to teach. She went on to say that it was witnessing this transformation that made teaching worthwhile and she arranged for her entire Grade 8 group to be taken through the Museum by the Ambassadors
The Museum becomes a ‘cool’ place to be.
Primary school students attending Ambassadors' presentations respond extremely well. The Museum becomes a 'cool' place to be. Ambassadors act as role models for the younger generation. Informal chatting between Ambassadors and young students takes place both during and after presentations. This usually includes questions about how to become an Ambassador. Students in lower grades hear about the programme and look forward to being in high school when they too can be involved.
Museum Ambassadors represent the Museum in their communities and schools. This leads to a direct change in the community's perception of the Museum as it becomes an accessible representative community space. Parents are encouraged to participate in their children's experiences. At the end of each programme, their teachers, families and friends join in the Ambassadors' graduation ceremony. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and best friends are taken on a tour of the Museum by the Ambassadors and for most, invariably it would be their first visit to a museum.