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Performing for change: using theatre to help vulnerable kids in Zambia

08 January 2019


In 2018, Octopus Giving teamed up with The International Exchange (TIE) to place two Octopus pioneers with charities and social enterprises in the developing world. In 2019, three more colleagues are preparing to volunteer with overseas organisations. We spoke to Claire Cunningham, Investment Administrator for Octopus Ventures, about her upcoming project in Zambia.

Skydiving. Running a marathon. Learning a language. Three challenging ways to broaden your horizons – and more than enough for most of us. But Claire Cunningham is taking things one step further, thanks to Octopus Giving and TIE.

TIE is a fantastic initiative that places professionals from the developed world on life-changing, month-long placements with charities and social enterprises in the developing world.

This is the second year where Octopus Giving has selected volunteers for TIE to send overseas to work with their chosen charitable organisations.

At the end of February, Claire will be putting her job with Octopus Ventures on hold and travel to Lusaka, Zambia to volunteer with The Barefeet Theatre, a non-governmental organisation that uses interactive theatre to empower and inspire vulnerable homeless children.

A close-knit community

“Many homeless kids in Zambia have lost their parents, so The Barefeet Theatre helps them cope with their grief. Some of the performers were street kids themselves, so it’s really lovely that they’ve come back to join the group,” Claire explained.

“It was really difficult to choose one charity to work with. I wanted to help all of them!
But I knew this project was a good fit.”

Using all her project management and organisational skills, Claire will spend an intensive month planning the 2019 Barefeet Arts Festival, a vital fundraising event that promotes the charity at a national level.

“I’ll set the structure for the festival, and develop a comprehensive plan so everyone is ready when the festival is held in October. It’s a big strategy puzzle, but helping to build it will be amazing.”

Barefeet-Theatre in Zambia

Preparation and anticipation

By her own admission, Claire is a stickler for details, planning and process. But preparing for her trip has meant ignoring her instincts.

“Apart from having a general understanding of Zambia, and the issues it faces, we’re advised against doing too much research into our project and objective,” she said.

“We’ve been told to go in with a blank sheet of paper, because the most important thing is to listen and speak to as many stakeholders as possible. Ultimately, they’ll know better than us.”

“It goes against everything I know. It’s a real challenge. At the same time, I’m looking forward to learning how to be more flexible and spontaneous with processes too,” she said.

For Claire, volunteering for the TIE programme is a natural progression after several years’ involvement with Octopus Giving. “I’ve been an Octopus Giving Coordinator for several years, firstly with Greatwood Charity and now with Downright Excellent. Charity work is something I’ve always been super passionate about.”

“I’m so excited to get there and meet everyone. I’ve heard a lot about the amazing relationships that people have built in previous TIE projects. They’ll be so valuable.”

Last-minute nerves

Of course, there are a few nerves among all the excitement.

“I’ve never been to Africa before, so I’m not sure what to expect. I think I’ll find the divide between rich and poor in Lusaka quite difficult to confront. That’s why I’m really focusing on my leadership training, so that I can make as big an impact as possible.”

And Claire’s advice to anyone thinking of applying to TIE this year?

“Ultimately, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s a real privilege and an honour to be able to go on behalf of Octopus. Don’t overthink it. Just do it. You’d be absolutely crazy to not apply for it!”

You can make a contribution to Claire’s Zambia trip by visiting her fundraising webpage.