African arts group to spread HIV message

THE founder of a Portishead-based charity will be welcoming 16 visitors to her Weston-in-Gordano home this weekend as part of a North Somerset educational project.

The Zakhele Group is a performing arts group, made up of 14 young people and two adult mentors.

They come from the Nkomazi region of South Africa, which has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, reports 70 per cent unemployment and has around 12,000 orphans.

The group will stay with former Portishead shop owner Jayne Morris Thurgood for five weeks, during which time they will visit schools across North Somerset.

Jayne helped set up the registered charity, Za Foundation, to support Zakhele after their first visit to UK in 2009.

In South Africa, Zakhele visits secondary schools using powerful drama and songs to share important messages about HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse. The group aims to dispel many of the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS and help to raise awareness of the risks young people face.

From tomorrow (Thurs) to July 6 the Zakhele will visit the 17 North Somerset schools they have formed links with over the past two years.

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In secondary schools, the group will perform and hold workshops raising issues of cultural diversity and sexual health.

At primary level, the focus will be on music, song, dance and African storytelling. There will also be creative workshops and social activities.

The visit will culminate in a collaborative gala performance involving secondary students and Zakhele at The Playhouse theatre in Weston on June 30. Primary school students will have the opportunity to participate in a music festival with Zakhele at the Downs School, Wraxall, on July 5.

During their stay, Zakhele will be performing at several other public events including the Backwell Festival on June 18, at Backwell Junior School from 2pm on the same day and a concert at High Street Methodist Church in Portishead at 7.30pm.

To find out more about Za Foundation and Zakhele visit