Meet Umzobo Wam

  • 24 August 2016 | By Anje Rautenbach

Umzobo Wam is Xhosa for my drawing, or my story.

Umzobo Wam - the official beneficiary for the Tourism Month photography exhibition - is an initiative in Nelson Mandela Bay which provides children with a means to self expression through art and photography. Our current project focuses on the township of Gqebera (Walmer). Not all children here have access to materials or education that are able to encourage creative self expression. Between Monday and Thursday, we host around 20 – 25 children aged 7 to 11 years in our after school art program.  The program provides a safe space for children to engage in art and educational games, as well as receive help with their homework.

We dropped in with Kat and asked her a few questions.

Tell us more about the importance of self-expression for children.

Umzobo Wam uses art and photography as a non-threatening means to encourage self expression. We believe that children should be encouraged to tell their own stories and to make sense of the world around them as they see it. In this sense, we nurture, not quash, their natural sense of wonder, curiosity and belief that anything is possible. Realising their right to self expression also acts as a safety mechanism. A child knows that they can communicate or ask for help if something is happening to them that they feel is not right.

What are some Umzobo Wam highlights since you started on February 8th 2016 ?

The biggest highlight so far was showcasing the children’s art and photography at the Umzobo Wam Art Exhibition & Creative Jam which was hosted at the very chic Father’s House in June.  The evening brought together the children, their families and the public to celebrate the growth in confidence/self belief and skill of Umzobo Wam students, some of whom, at first were too timid to put pencil to paper. The exhibition was also a testimony that creativity and imagination is available within every child when given a means to express themselves without fear of making mistakes or being rejected by others. 

First art then homework. What kind of art forms do you use at Umzobo Wam?

Easier to ask, what don’t we use! Generally, we are doing a different activity each day, so with almost three terms under our belt, we’re close to sharing 80 different art exercises , including water colour, clay, still life, mosaic, printing, papier mache, wool craft, weaving, photography, sculpting, textiles… It’s quite a curriculum, which could not have been possible without the input of some very talented local artists and photographers. Enormous creativity exists within the Gqebera community and engaging local artists was always Umzobo Wam’s game plan. Since term 2 we have been lucky enough to have had a number of local artists work within the program and have witnessed the power of such figures to inspire, positively influence and grow our Umzobo Wam kids.


#umzobowam #mydrawing #portelizabeth #southafrica #nelsonmandelabay #art

A photo posted by Umzobo Wam (@umzobowam) on

Umzobo Wam will take part in the #ShareTheBay and #ColoursofYouSA exhibition during tourism month. Can you tell us more about the photographers?


One of our youngest, but certainly not our shyest UmzoboWam students! Aphelele is such a dedicated student who regularly approaches me after class to borrow materials so she can continue her art work at home. It’s encouraging to see their enthusiasm for art filtering into their home and schoollife.


Sesona is Umzobo Wam’s equipment warrior! We are always very appreciative to receive donations of art materials and looking after them is a priority! Lucky we have Sesona who shares this huge sense of responsibility, not letting one pencil, marker, glue stick etc. go astray!


After a class on perspective drawing, Abongile took to the camera and snapped her very own perspective of her shoes.

Children see the world differently to adults, have you experienced that at Umzobo Wam?

As tourists and visitors to the townships, our preconceptions, especially concerning children, are often influenced by deficit ideologies. These can limit us to seeing and hearing only the weaknesses and obstacles. In contrast, it really is beautiful to see the children of Gqebera telling you their own stories of township life.  You’ll see that many of the pieces are of the children’s dogs, houses, cars or people they know. They’re telling you a story of their world, what they see, what they do, what’s important to them, their thoughts and feelings and their aspirations. It’s a true and authentic portrayal.

How can people from the Bay assist Umzobo Wam?

  • Artists, photographers, share your creativity, visit us, host a lesson!
  • Recycle your unwanted materials.  Whether it’s paints, pencils, toilet rolls, magazines, we’ll make it a piece of art!  
  • Celebrate and encourage the art and photography of UmzoboWam kids by following and interacting with us on our social media pages.  
  • Donations toward the sustainability of Umzobo Wam are also very welcome.
  • Click here to support the sustainability of the Umzobo Wam after school art program.
  • If you want to support and find out more info about Umzobo Wam, contact Kat:

Where can people find Umzobo Wam online?

Best way to follow our story is through our Facebook page or by joining us on Instagram.
You can also visit our website at:

Remember to visit the photography exhibition at the Athenaeum during September and experience the Bay through the lenses of our talented local photographers and Instagrammers.

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