Zimbabwe: Michael Mabwe Brings People Together Though Art

The arts, says Michael Mabwe of Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights, can bring people together and teach tolerance.

The arts, says Michael Mabwe, "create those spaces for people to engage in a mutual way."

That's what he uses to foster dialogue and democratic ideals for the people of his Zimbabwe homeland. Mabwe works full time for Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights, which uses the performing arts as a platform for promoting human rights. He is in the United States as one of a select group of participants in the "Gold Star" program of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) run by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

During his three-week stay, Mabwe will visit four states and meet like-minded professionals to share strategies for promoting tolerance through the arts. During his first IVLP visit to the United States in 2008, Mabwe says, he made contacts and learned skills that helped him to turn a small organization into a mass movement. During this trip, he hopes to learn how to use the arts to mobilize people to participate in the upcoming constitutional referendum and elections.

"It is important that young people, who constitute 67 percent of the population, are involved in these two key processes," Mabwe says. "We want to continue to use the arts to mobilize them so that they actively participate in a peaceful and tolerant manner. So I'm hoping to learn from other [American] institutions that have used arts and culture in their democratization agenda."

His experience with IVLP programs, he says, has given him "the confidence and capacity to influence different sections of our society and assist in formulating opinions."

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