The sky over Kibera: the Divine Comedy in the slum of Nairobi

Date 19.09.2018

On 3rd, 5th and 6th October in Kibera, an immense slum in the heart of Nairobi inhabited by almost one million people, something unthinkable will happen: 150 students of the schools Little Prince, Cardinal Otunga, Ushirika and Urafiki will stage an adaptation of the Dante's Divine Comedy under the guidance of Marco Martinelli, assisted by Laura Redaelli. Hell, Purgatory and Paradise will make a path that will conclude with a Parade in the heart of Kibera.

The project of making the theatre a central experience in the educational paths of these schools of the slum, dates back to a few years ago: many teachers had pointed out how the theater was a factor of great attractiveness for the students. Thanks to the theatre, the rate of absence from school dropped dramatically and the theatre was also a tool to address other subjects of the school programme. Since then, thanks to the commitment of AVSI, the NGO that has been present in Kibera for a long time with projects in different fields, in particular, that of education, training and job placement, the investment in the theatre has gradually grown. An equipped room has been set up in the Little Prince School.

In 2015, “Pinocchio”, staged with the children of that school, had the recognition of the Best International Show of the year by the Carlo Collodi Foundation. "Theatre is a way of educating. With the theatrical experience, the teenagers change, become the protagonists, and their way of interacting in the classroom is different”, explains Anthony Maina, principal of the Little Prince school.

The experience of this school has been contagious and in a short time other institutes have become involved in the project. In many cases being able to take advantage of the equipped spaces of Little Prince, spaces that have been named after Emanuele Banterle, a protagonist of the Milanese theatrical world. Banterle was always attentive to promoting the social and widespread value of making theater; he is the founder of “Teatro de Gli Incamminati” Italian theatre company that has been promoting the fundraising campaign to equip the space of the Little Prince school.

This attention to the theatre is a fact that corresponds perfectly to what we mean as development cooperation: accompanying people to recognize their value, to take seriously their own desires and dreams, to express themselves, even with the theatre that has its extraordinary strength. Hence, when a person starts and grows, he/she can no longer be defined by the conditions, even the poorest ones, and manages to get him/herself and his/her community in motion again. In the slum, there is not only the need for bread and work but also a desire for beauty, a knowledge that opens up the gaze and creativity, a condition that is fundamental to any development project.

Giampaolo Silvestri Secretary General of AVSI

In 2017, AVSI and Riccardo Bonacina (in the name of the Banterle Theatre Friends) asked Marco Martinelli for involvement in the project to stimulate further growth and maturity. Martinelli has a sound experience with the students of borderline schools throughout Italy displayed in the collective show “Eresia della felicità”. He enthusiastically joined the invitation and with prolonged attendance in Kibera prepared the path that will climax in early October with an adaptation of Dante's Divine Comedy entitled "The sky over Kibera".

“The work on the Divine Comedy has confirmed to us how the narrative archetype is universal", explained Martinelli. "We talked about a man who gets lost in a dark forest, made of fear, despair, lack of meaning in life. How that man, when he hopes to get out of it, finds himself devoured by wild beasts and has the strength to understand that he will not save himself. This is the cry of Dante: have mercy on me. His invocation to the Creation, to the world, to the Other, has effect: someone arrives and holds out a hand, helps him to come out into the light. Therefore, we simply told this story, without the need to face the Dante verses. We have worked on improvisation, actively involving everyone including teenagers.”

Marco Martinelli

Together with Ermanna Montanari, he is the founder and the soul of the Teatro delle Albe of Ravenna (Italy), one of the most important Italian theatrical institutions. Always attentive to pedagogy through the theatre, Martinelli, Montanari and the whole company, have developed the "Non-scuola" project for young people and teenagers. Started with the students of the Ravenna schools in 1991, involving about 400 young people every year, the “Non-scuola” has been invited everywhere: in Scampia (Naples), in Chicago, in Dakar and Milan as well as in France, Brazil, Belgium and in several Italian cities. The experience of the “Non-scuola” in Naples was told in an amusing and touching book entitled “Aristofane a Scampia”.

Emanuele Banterle

Italian director and theatrical entrepreneur, he had founded together with Giovanni Testori and Franco Branciaroli “Il Teatro de Gli Incamminati” - the most important private company in Italy. With Testori and Branciaroli he courageously proposed at the end of the 80’s a border theatre always involved with real life. It is a path that culminated to “In Exitu”, a play dedicated to the passion of a drug addict, which touched the public. Emanuele Banterle died prematurely in 2011: The Little Prince theatre is dedicated to him because the theatrical experience at Kibera is an ideal continuation of his commitment.