Mariusca Moukengue
Changing Lives, Part 1
Who are the men and women who carry out the projects supported by AFD Group and work for sustainable development? We’ve been finding out, in a new series we’re calling “Changing Lives”. In the first installment, we meet Mariusca Moukengue, a slam poet and UNICEF “Champion” for her commitment to children.

Slam is “an art that seeks to please the soul and heart, giving everyone the possibility to feel alive, listened to, and that they exist,” says Congolese slam poet and actress Mariusca Moukengue. “It has the power to use poetry to get messages across.” Mariusca created SlamUnity, where she organizes slam workshops in troubled environments for youth, so that they have a place for artistic expression. 

Mariusca performs and works with students and young people, particularly as part of the National Institute of Social Work (INTS), which is financed in part by AFD’s Metis Fund, which promotes a better integration of arts and culture in development projects. 

For four months, Mariusca Moukengue trained a class of 15 people in how to slam, as part of a process that allows performers to channel their energy, anger or other emotions, and use it as fuel for self-expression. The objective was to use slam, “as therapy, but also as a means of creating awareness,” says Moukengue.

Further reading: Can Art Be a Vehicle for Development?

“I begin with sessions where I listen to them, to get to understand their world and see how deep their challenges are,” she says. “We then start what I call slamo-therapy, meaning healing through words.” They go on to do writing exercises, and they recite what they’ve prepared. Then, she leads a session in on-stage performance. “Because the objective is also for them to express themselves in front of an audience.”

For example, some of them (re)discover the meaning and impact of their own occupation or a future profession and share it on stage. “By going public, we try to show people that occupations seen as low-status in the Congo are really noble and important,” says Mariusca.

Two members of the class took part in a competition and even got into the final. Many of them now have their own Facebook page as slam poets. 
This is a source of pride for Moukengue, who is much more than an artist. Named “UNICEF Champion” for her commitment to children [article in French], she is also director of the Slamove International Festival in the Congo. 

Actually a lawyer by training, Moukengue runs public speaking workshops and handles communication for the NGO Tosala (“acting” in Lingala), which works on women’s rights in the Congo. 

By creating her own association, Slamouraï, she has moved into Cultural and Creative Industries, and aims to set up a slam school. While she considers SlamUnity a success, she refuses to speak for the participants. She prefers to give them a voice in a documentary made by AFD about this adventure (you can watch it above).