By Fahdia Msaka
“Koko, Nqonqo, Knock knock! Arts for life! A mental health project” is a hybrid arts intervention launched by Wits University’s Drama for Life Arts Centre in collaboration with Rhodes University’s drama department.
The project aims to create meaningful dialogue and connections that will be used to de-stigmatise student mental health problems, using drama, music, art and dance movement as therapy methods.
Project facilitator Nine Magwagla explained that the project’s title, “Koko, Nqonqo, knock knock!” describes the drama team knocking on participants’ hearts to start the process of them opening up so that therapy can begin.
The Koko project uses a new model that combines applied arts and art therapy and aims to reach a vast number of students, with additional Art Therapy and Drama Therapy groups available for support.
Their recent intervention was held on 11 March at Eden Grove. Selloane ‘Lalu’ Mokuku, a lecturer in Applied Drama and Theatre at Rhodes University, told Grocott’s Mail that because she is an applied theatre practitioner and a drama lecturer and because, in her field, collaboration is crucial, a theatre-based intervention came to mind.
She was also in shock when she heard about two student suicides that had occurred at a well-known university, which spurred her to become even more invested in the project.
“I envisioned collaboration with an art therapist,” she said, referring to well-known Makhanda art therapist Merran Roy. “At that time, the National Arts Council (NAC) had also called for proposals and we approached Drama For Life (DFL) about the possibility of collaborating on this project”, Mokuku said. A similar intervention is now being implemented at Wits University.
Magwagla said that their long-term goals include assessing how these interventions will affect student mental health. They also plan on making therapy more accessible and affordable for students from different socio-economic backgrounds.
The next intervention takes place on Saturday, 18 March, at the Union Lecture Theatre at Rhodes University (Steve Biko 3 & 4). Short-term therapy groups will be facilitated by a qualified art therapist (either drama, music, art or dance movement) from April 2023, and the RU Student Wellness and Counselling Centre will be handling referrals to these groups.
The National Arts Council funds the project through the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP). The project has also received support from Drama for life at Wits University, the RU Drama department, Frontline Support, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP), the Institutional Research, Planning and Quality Promotion Division (IRPQP), Itlantsi, Nalwana, and their family and friends.
The Counselling Centre can be contacted by phoning (046) 603 7070 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org