Performing arts help refugee youth transition into Kiwi life
One-year-old Mia Aroha Leing peers curiously from the side of the stage at her new Kiwi family. Wearing red noses and an assortment of hats, wigs and oversized trousers, this giggling group of teens from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Pacific are clowns for the day.
The drama workshop is part of the Mixit project which gets young people from refugee backgrounds mixing with local and migrant youth through performing arts including dance, drama and music.
Like many in the group, the baby’s 19-year-old mother Nan Laing (pictured, centre) is learning English, but her gift for physical comedy needs no translation. Her dramatic flair and comic timing are the source of hilarity and appreciation among her peers. For this young mum, Saturday afternoon Mixit workshops are a break from adult responsibilities to connect with friends her own age. She clearly relishes this freedom as her sister minds the baby.
There’s a strong feeling of family at Mixit. The workshop contains several groups of siblings. Fourteen-year-old Sarah Uchai Mutuga attends with her two brothers, refugees from war in the Congo.
“When I came here, I started out very shy. Mixit made me feel just like home... At Mixit I feel safe because everyone is here to support each other. They respect you. It builds up your confidence. Sometimes, it can make your dreams come true.” Sarah Uchai Mutuga
Theatre director Ben Crowder is one of many of Auckland’s top creative professionals happy to contribute to the Mixit project. He guides the group through the art of clowning with assured expertise, creating a warm, participatory environment where everyone feels supported to express themselves.
No prior experience is needed to participate in Mixit’s free performing arts courses. Youth aged 13 to 21 from diverse backgrounds are transported from all over Auckland to the Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson in the Mixit van or by volunteer drivers.
Mixit uses creativity to give refugee youth life skills which will help them navigate their way into New Zealand life. Participants learn to communicate across their differences as they collaborate on performing arts projects. Friendships and networks are established which will support their transition from school into study, training and life.
Sarah Uchai Mutuga’s goal is to join the Mixit Youth Leadership programme when she turns 17. She looks up to 21-year-old youth leader Kaviesha Abeysinghe, a Sri Lankan who says taking on the responsible role has helped her academically.
“At university, I feel confident giving an answer in the classroom. Just saying it out loud, rather than worrying if they will accept me. I‘ve also started a job as a waitress. I’m able to be welcoming and look people in the eye.” Kaviesha Abeysinghe
Many of Auckland’s young refugees have taken part in the Mixit project at some stage since its formation in 2006. Hundreds of ‘Mixers’ have moved on to positive and exciting futures thanks to the project. Their increased capacity to take on the challenges of life also brings improved health and economic outcomes.
The Mixit Charitable Trust is supported by the Lottery Board, ASB Community Trust, Creative New Zealand and other funding bodies. It has a growing group of private donors who believe in the language of Mixit - using the power of inclusive creative platforms to assist young people to find hope, optimism and resilience in order to courageously move on with their lives.