Powerful, intense, emotional, inspiring…these four words can probably be used to describe every ISTA Festival yet they are particularly fitting for the Connect Festival that took place in Atlanta at the start of March.
Hosted by Atlanta International School, the festival brought together students from the USA, Canada and Jamaica who, as their starting point, were given the title ‘The Price of Freedom.’
They were also joined by five remarkable young students from youthSpark – an organisation in Atlanta who are an innovator in transforming the lives of young people at risk of exploitation and abuse, and a thought-leader in reducing child exploitation and sex trafficking rates in Georgia and across the USA.
In this video students give their thoughts on the impact the festival had on them
The festival began on March 14th – or #myfreedomday – as it’s now known. #MyFreedomDay was started by the students at Atlanta International School as way to fight back against the horrors of modern slavery (there are more than 40 million people in the world living in slavery) and, by giving us greater understanding and awareness of it, help empower us to act in order to put an end to it.
Together with CNN, their message has spread across the globe, supported by everyone from Harrison Ford through to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. It was this that helped inspire the theme for this festival.
Working with artists who had travelled to Atlanta from Japan, Spain, South Africa and the United Kingdom, the students, in two short days, created four original pieces of theatre which they performed at National Centre for Civil & Human Rights in downtown Atlanta – a city synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for freedom.
ISTA’s Global Patron, Jonothan Neelands, was a special guest at the festival and says it’s when we act together that we have the biggest impact on the world – something he hopes the young people attending all ISTA festivals will learn.
“Theatre brings people together and helps people understand what we can achieve together is greater than what anyone of us can achieve individually,” he says.
“It breaks down boundaries. We work together through theatre so when we bring international school students together with local students and local youth theatres – as we do at a Connect Festival – then, very quickly, they can establish a rapport, a relationship and an alternative way of speaking about the world.”
He adds: “I believe in hope. We have to live with hope. If we don’t, we’re in despair, and when you’re in despair, you do nothing. You only do something if you have hope.”
And it was hope for the future and the power of embracing each other with love not hate, that took centre stage. The world we live in is a place where tragedy is never too far away, where fear all too often holds sway and the stuff of nightmares too frequently becomes a reality.
But this same world is also full of people like the students who came together in Atlanta. People who aren’t afraid to stand up and let their voices be heard, who want to challenge injustice, to give a voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless.
And what better place for them to do this than in a centre dedicated to ensuring we never forget the lessons the Civil Rights Movement gave us and how, when we stand together, we can take small steps forward to make sure ‘a change is gonna come.’
Students rehearse the Sam Cooke song ‘A Change is Gonna Come’
As one student said on the last day of the festival: “The festival inspired me to go back home and share my experiences with my community, to let them know we can make a difference and that our voice matters.”