Welcome to another edition of Trailblazer! As I always say, it’s about the extraordinary people who live amongst us; Gambian brothers and sisters who’ve had the courage to step out of the crowd and create their own paths in life. They are either the first in their fields of work or one of a distinct few. In each edition we will bring you an interview with one of these trailblazers. The aim is to INSPIRE individual thinking, original thinking, and creative thinking; because that’s the stuff genius is made of.
Today, we bring a true woman of substance, a radio journalist by trade who resisted the urge for a quiet retirement and in doing so, founded one of the modern treasures of our nation – the beautiful dome-shaped edifice that is the Ebunjan Theatre -a performing arts centre that is changing the lives of many, particularly the youths, in no small way. Let’s hear the story of this extraordinary woman named Mrs. Janet Badjan-Young.
Please tell us about yourself.
· Born in Gambia
· Started school at age 3 because I was seen as ‘troublesome’ and needed to be kept engaged.
· Played part of angel at school at age three and at nine years was played lead roles in plays like Rumpelstiltskin. I was considered a natural at acting from an early age.
· I attended Methodist Girls High School, attained the Cambridge certificate then gained a scholarship to study Drama- theatrical skills and teaching theatre from the then-colonial government.
· I studied in Kent, UK and on my return home, I taught at the Crab Island School for a year. From there I did a stint in radio in Sierra Leone and then left for the USA where I pursued my MSc. in broadcasting at Brandeis College.
· I later settled in Kenya where my husband, a Sierra Leonean, had gotten a job in the UN system. We went on to live there for twenty years.
· I have two children who are very good kids and my husband, a very nice man passed away a few years ago.
· In Kenya, I continued acting and formed a dynamic group there. I really made an impact on the Kenyan theatre scene where I influenced a shift from classic western plays which were then the norm, to doing African plays. We began to do experimental work and were able to create great plays telling African stories. The first play I wrote was to do with International Year of the Child inspired by home children known as “parking meter boys” in Kenya. My team and I interviewed the boys to get a feel of their lives and wrote a play out of it to bring awareness to their plight. I found the Kenyans I worked with to be extremely dedicated and I am proud to see that many of the actors who went through me are today’s top players in the field there.
· I also worked as UN Habitat’s information officer for Kenya and other African countries then later as information director in Trinidad. There, I used the local music and artists to promote the work of the UN particularly through their carnivals and this was well received and I was recognized for it. I once got a cartoonist and a calypsonian to create works of art with UN environmental messages. I also did similar work in Nigeria.
· Eventually I retired and came home with my family.
· I wanted a quiet retirement but as fate would have it, it has been quite the opposite. I worked with Gambia High School students on a theatre project and seeing how well they did I could not stop, so I started organizing children and adults and we started doing classics and plays in school books.
· In1997, in The Gambia – I decided to write a play named ‘The Ultimate Inheritance’ which was about HIV/AIDS in a local setting. Then I went on to write other plays including ‘Hand of Fate?’ which has gone on to be adapted into a movie of the same name. I have also written children’s plays from our folktales slightly modifying the stories to make them more child-friendly.
· Then whilst doing all these shows, finding venue at affordable prices became a challenge so I applied for the land and eventually got the land where I have built the Ebunjan Theatre through fundraising and the philanthropy of many.
· Five-point summary of steps you took to reach this station in your life’s work:
· Taking opportunities as they come
· Working hard at them
· I don’t leave stones untouched in my work
· I am always striving for excellence
· I am always looking for new opportunities to learn things, and things that need to get done. These values have put me on a pedestal to exceed expectations in my work.
What was the most significant turning point in your journey from ordinary to trailblazer?
The fact that we did not have a Performing Arts Theatre in the Gambia was the propelling factor. It was a gap that need to be filled. If I had waited a little longer I would have just settled into my quiet retirement and I would not have done it. The fact that kind people like the late Dr. Lenrie Peters and many more were there to support helped to make my dream come true.
What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
Seeing the transformations in the children and helping change the trajectory of their lives from unemployed dependents to job-ready and outstanding citizens.
Congratulations, you were recently honored by The University of The Gambia along with the Late Lady Augusta Jawara with the Gambia Literature Day Award where the theme was Literature for Sustainable Development, Pioneering Women Playwrights. What is the significance of this award to you?
Thank you, people do not do things to receive awards but because they enjoy what they do. I am very grateful, humbled and honored to be recognized. I think the University put plays in the right perspective – as a genre of literature and in recognizing playwrights they gave plays academic status in The Gambia. This I believe will enlighten the general public of their importance in education. And as the theme chosen for the literature day clearly states – plays can make remarkable contribution to sustainable development.
What is the most important life-lesson you would teach a mentee?
Go into anything determined to excel, do not be overconfident; observe and learn but always have at the
Back of your mind that you must do well. Attitude towards work is very important. You may take a low position but be determined and work your way up.
As a result of this attitude, I never really applied for a job; my quality of work created new opportunities for me.
Who is your role model?
The teachers that taught me, like Dr. Florence Mahoney, Mrs. Marion Lloyd Evans, Mrs. Lewis Njie- the way she spoke so impressed me! , the principle who encouraged me the late Mrs. Nora Senior and others.
My home environment also molded me greatly; the pride of my family- my uncle, my grandma in particular.
What are your hobbies?
I used to sew, now my hobby is what I do! (Laughs)
Footprints – what legacy would you want to leave behind?
The children – the training they received from me will be passed on to their kids and that’s a greater legacy than the theatre building. I like to see Gambian children rise up! We teach them life lessons to help them excel. The characters they play help mold their lives by teaching them about human behavior, listening skills, – when you listen you get a lot out of life , ability to notice things, sensitivity to others and their environment, teamwork, poise, movement and much more.
What current projects are you working on?
It is the International Year of Light, so I am doing a play on the importance of light and light-based technology. It is a very technical field but we are putting it in a play form and I hope you all will come to see it. In addition, I just completed two plays and I am preparing to launch them.]]>