Dubai: As Dubai’s “Drama Queen”, Naima Thompson knows what it takes to make an impact. Ask the 40-year-old performing arts teacher how she came to earn such a sobriquet, and pat comes the reply: “I am a tough cookie who would crumble in a heartbeat for my students.”
That it is no exaggeration is evident when you speak to her students.
“She deeply cares about us and uses the dramatic arts to push us as far as we can go,” says one of them, as she prepares for a showcase of the Thompson’s Thespians Young Actors workshop at the Junction on May 15.
But there’s more to Thompson than her prowess as a local drama teacher. In what is a unique initiative, she uses much of her craft to empower the disadvantaged around the world, in particular children from impoverished families, orphans and victims of war.
Thompson said, “I use elements of Augusto Boal and his theatre of the oppressed to reach out to these children. The spectator becomes the actor who is able to go through an emotional transition which can then be applied to one’s own life. The actor is able to make a correction.”
Thompson, who runs her outreach programmes through Necessary Arts, an NGO registered with the International Humanitarian City, began her mission way back in 1994 when she was working in New York. She would gather less fortunate children from the rundown Harlem area in the evenings to teach them drama. Originally from Trinidad, she then took Necessary Arts to her home country and spent the next seven years reaching out to children there.
A visit to Kenya three years ago was the turning point in Thompson’s journey as she identified 500 kids who desperately needed help. In what became a pattern of sorts since, she and other teacher volunteers from Dubai began to visit these kids during holidays three times a year. Necessary Arts has now extended its work to Turkey to help children of war and Tanzania where it works with African Reflections Foundation to teach children in remote villages.
“Drama is very effective in healing children of war. They become more open and express themselves freely through the performing arts which breaks psychological barriers and helps them overcome their trauma.”
She said a typical outreach programme entails holding a drama workshop in the identified camp or slum over four-five days, at the end of which the participating kids make a presentation based on monologues, short plays, poetry, singing etc. The local community also gets to see them performing.
Back in Dubai, anyone learning drama from Thompson or watching one of her student showcases gets to support such outreach programmes by default.
“Our fees for the Teachers for Humanity workshops and Thompson Thespian Actors workshops in Dubai go directly into our education fund to support secondary school age students that we work with in Kenya, ensuring them a seat in a classroom every year,” said Thompson, adding that the programmes cover Sudanese refugee children, girls rescued from early childhood marriages and orphans in the Pipeline Slum area in Nairobi.
She said admission to the May 15 showcase is free, but contributions for the education fund are welcome.
WHAT: The Thompson’s Thespians Showcase
WHEN: May 15, 7pm
WHERE: The Junction, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz
MORE DETAILS: www.necessaryarts.org