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The Challenge Network

Home > London > Fun for Children | Kids | Personal Development | Teenagers
by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published September 8th 2013
What will you achieve?
The Challenge Network is an organisation for young people from all walks of life. They run community programmes that aim to mix diverse groups together so that they can share and respect each other's different cultural backgrounds. No matter what your age, income or ethnicity, they want to build a community of trust.

challenge network, dancing

But that is just one aspect of The Challenge; it is also interested in building young people's futures by introducing them to new experiences so that they can learn new skills that will help them pursue fulfilling careers. These activities range from simple home economics such as cooking to exciting challenges such as abseiling. There is also a summer programme for teenagers who have just finished their GCSEs. It is similar to The Duke of Edinburgh Award, with team challenges in the countryside that test your leadership skills, and ability to work in groups. This is followed by a personal challenge, where you experience the real world, living on your in a university flat.

challenge network, djembe, drums

My local community centre recently hosted one of these events. At the weekend, two groups of teenagers from The Challenge Network, arrive in a minibus to learn about African culture and the country's different forms of art. The teacher introduced himself as Sonny, but said his Ghanian name was Kwaku because he was born on a Wednesday. In Ghana, it is tradition for babies to be named based on which day of the week they were born, so he asked everyone their day, and told them what their Ghanian name would be.

Sonny/Kwaku then began the first workshop, which was an hour long session learning to play a djembe, which is a West African drum. The djembe is carved out of a rare wood and made with sheepskin; there is a hole at the bottom of the drum, where the sound comes out.

djembe, challenge network, drums
How to play 'medium'.

Kwaku explained the three main sounds that can be made with a djembe: slap, medium, and base. The 'slap' is played on the rim of the drum with fingers separated, while 'medium' is the same, but with fingers closed. Finally, the 'bass', which creates the deepest sound, is created by beating the centre of the drum with the palm of your hand.

djembe, challenge network, drums

He divided the group into three, so that they each had a designated sound to play. The Challenge Network team leader said it was 'a good lesson in teamwork' because they had to listen to what each other was playing. Despite this being new to all of them, in no time at all, the group were producing rhythmic beats. Although they got into the drumming without any hesitation, Kwaku started singing, silence was his reply. He coaxed a few nervous voices to join in, and eventually everyone was chanting to the rhythm of the drums.

challenge network, dancing

If singing was an issue, you can imagine how tough it was to get people dancing. The first group gained confidence slowly, but by the end of it, there were so many people getting up, there was a danger of there not being enough drummers left.

The second group that took part in the drumming workshop had no inhibitions whatsoever. They rose to each challenge with great gusto, and in some cases got a little carried away (Kwaku wondered if his drums would withstand one boy's enthusiasm at one point).

The group then moved on to Adinkra printing. Arinka are symbols created by the Akan people, and each symbol represents a different concept or idea.

adrinka printing, adrinka symbols

Kwaku organised the group around three tables, and gave everyone swatches of cloth, sponges of paint, and several stamps. Things went a bit wrong to begin with because he didn't properly explain the pattern he wanted them to follow, so everyone ended up stamping things randomly. He then pinned up an example of what they were meant to do, and things started running more smoothly.

adrinka printing, challenge network

A large stamp is meant to be printed in the centre of the cloth, and the teens got to decide which symbol to use. Some chose a symbol they liked the look of, while others read the poster explaining what each symbol meant. The most popular choices were a heart shaped Adinkra, meaning respect for one's heritage and elders, while another denoted omniscience.

If you're interested in joining The Challenge Network, you can sign up for an experience you'll never forget.
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