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Otino Onywalo Ilum: A Timeline

May 2018

The story of Otino Onywalo Ilum began in May 2018. A Symposium in Sarajevo organised by researchers of the Children Born of War Network (CHIBOW) brought together historian Professor Sabine Lee (University of Birmingham) and psychologist and psychotherapist Professor Heide Glaesmer (University of Leipzig), who had been researching with and about children born of war with dancer and choreographer Darrel Toulon (The Alpha Group).

Darrel had developed the idea of a docu-dance theatre, which enables participants to tell their own stories through performance and control how they are represented. He was developing In the Name of the Father, an international docu-dance theatre project that he was exploring and seeking to discuss at Sarajevo. The symposium brought together a wide variety of perspectives, experiences and skills, and prompted interest in a new Ugandan project and fruitful partnership converging performance art and academic research.

June 2018

A month later Dr Eunice Apio at the University of Birmingham met Darrel Toulon to discuss CBOW in Uganda. Eunice is the founder of Facilitation for Peace and Development (FAPAD), an NGO in Northern Uganda. She provided an extensive background on Northern Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war. From here, Darrel decided to create a chapter of In the Name of the Father in Uganda.

January 2019

In early 2019 at a University of Birmingham-funded conference Exploring the Borderlands, which focused on the intersection between performance arts, political theatre, and academic research, children born of war from different backgrounds came together with academics and performance artists to discuss artistic-academic partnerships. Here, they were joined by Dheeraj Akolkar (Vardo Films) who introduced the idea of film for social change, which was to become an important part of the journey for Otino Onywalo Ilum. In the spring, Sabine and Darrel travelled to Uganda to meet stakeholders and partners who would support a Ugandan docu-dance theatre. These included Vincent Oling, Angelina Atyam, Grace Acan, Rt. Hon Ambrose Olaa, Prime Minister of  Acholi and the Acholi Culture Foundation.

June 2019

Following the initial Uganda visit, at a project meeting in Birmingham the partners explored opportunities to develop the project with Darrel and Dheeraj working on the creative parts of docu-dance theatre and film, Eunice liaising with Ugandan stakeholders, and Sabine and Heide leading on the academic support and funding.

September 2019

Leaders of the new project met at the Uganda National Cultural Centre/National Theatre Kampala with Director Francis Ojede and Bishop Wanok. A partnership was initiated which supported the project through the provision of exposure and free performance space. 

Darrel worked alongside Babra Otuku, a social worker and Impact Fellow for research on children born of war in Northern Uganda. Together they selected young individuals to be involved in the project’s Residential Workshop. Potential participants were identified through selection processes organised in Gulu, Lira and Otuke. Meetings at the Bayimba Cultural Foundation with Faisal Kiwewa provided further support for performances.

In the meantime, the team was successful in securing funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a participatory project to develop Otino Onywalo Ilum– a docu-dance theatre and film.

December 2019

The first two weeks of the Residential Workshop took place in December 2019 at St Mary’s College in Aboke, Uganda. The workshop involved daily training in dance and writing, as well as voice coaching, physical theatre and space for reflection. These two weeks focused on using different tools for expression, improvisation and the creative transformation of biographies. Jessica Moretto, Futurelove Sibanda and Darrel helped facilitate this programme of activities. During this period a number of individuals, survivors, elders and local leaders contributed by giving important talks. Inspirational speakers were crucial for providing encouragement, solidarity, and a sense of community care and advocacy. Speakers included Vincent, Angelina, Grace, Ambrose and Richard Nam.

Our group of young project participants engaged in a church service in Aboke singing “Wonderful World”. This was a safe space. They were warmly welcomed and received accolades from the entire congregation. This was an important moment, especially for the participants. It was a significant and moving achievement.

January 2020

In January 2020 the Residential Workshop continued into its third and fourth weeks. Our participants considered the type of advocacy work they would like to practice for children born of war in the future.

The script for the docu-dance performance was finalised and rehearsals for the final presentation were underway. The team was joined by Peace Toneva who offered psychosocial support and counselling when needed. Filming the participants as they rehearsed and performed Dheeraj and his team created The Wound is Where the Light Enters, documenting the group’s journey towards the performance of their docu-dance theatre. A presentation of the completed version of Otino Onywalo Ilum took place on Saturday 18th January in front of an invited audience.

May 2021

Although the Covid pandemic disrupted and delayed plans for follow-up rehearsals and performances, eventually a much-anticipated Re-Boot Workshop was organised for May 2021 and included eight participants from the original group of fifteen. Participants committed themselves to two weeks of regular training and rehearsal in preparation for a series of regional shows. Workshop activities were hosted at the Bishop Asili Community Education Centre. During an opening ceremony, Vincent and Angela gave another speech alongside new speakers, including Rt. Hon PM Eng James Ajal and Rt Hon. Deputy PM Joe Erik Olang.

The first public performance of Otino Onywalo Ilum happened at the Bishop Asili Community Education Centre in front of more than fifty people and stakeholders from Lira City and District. The second show was hosted at the Lango Cultural Foundation in Lira and the third at Otuke Primary School. The fourth performance was live streamed into Uganda National Cultural Centre/National Theatre Kampala as part of a programme of events for the World Day of Culture. Towards the end of May the group travelled to Lunkulu Island in Lake Victoria and stayed a few days before giving a final show on 29th May.

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