In the village of Kyakataama, a 30km distance from Fort Portal , the epicenter of a cultural renaissance blooms.
Toonda Cultural Center, "Toonda" is the Swahili word for “create", is a multidimensional community institution and a touchstone of what it means to foster art, culture and local pride. Founded by German expats, Rayka Gerberding-Kobiella and the late Jonas Gerberding in 2018, Toonda Cultural Center encompasses one hectare amid beautiful rolling hills. The surrounding treetops are like green clouds when viewed through the wisps of mist from the crater lake below.
Just recently on February 12th, Toonda awarded their Jonas Art Award to two artists of the 30 young artists who were invited to participate in a workshop with famed gallerist and artist Godfrey Rudungu from Ndugu Art Gallery in Entebbe. The art workshop participants and their families were also treated to theatrical drama, music and dance. Many attendees from the surrounding villages enjoyed the performances as well as the children's paintings.
"Rayka was interested in my gallery and invited us to come inspire these kids which is something I always wanted to do", Rundgu fondly says of Toonda's leader. "Art gives mental well-being and a priceless freedom of expression to those who participate. The kids need more exposure to art and can develop their skills. It can be very lucrative as well but that's a secondary benefit." Rundugu believes in the future of young Ugandan artists with the support of organizations like Toona Cultural Center.
The Jonas Art Award winners were chosen based on the originality and execution of their ideas. These aspects include color choices, true-to-life replication, and creativity. The age of each participant was also taken into account.
At their events, lunch is regularly provided by Toonda's community kitchen. Local mothers generously volunteer their efforts over the hot, steaming pots of delicious food.
Most of the families in Kyakataama Village are subsistence farmers living in akasisera huts and do not have electricity. Many parents do not have the money for school fees. With the support of both Ugandans and donors from abroad, Toonda now sponsors over 60 children in primary school education.
The founder, Rayka Gerberding-Kobiella, initially conceived of Toonda Cultural Center as solely an arts center. Inspired by their experiences as traveling artists, the founder's focus was on hosting artists retreats and residencies as well as music and dance workshops.
"After Jonas died in 2019, I dearly wanted to give back to the community that comforted and cared for me", Gerberding-Kobiella remembers. "The community outreach aspect has become more important these days."
Her dream for the next phase of this amazing NGO includes fully equipping their community kitchen, which will focus as a meeting point for meals and will also serve as a social enterprise training local villagers in catering, pastry-making, and the fine art of coffee roasting. A section of the community kitchen will serve as a professional bakery café that also sells beautiful handmade crafts as well as art pieces made from found items and organic materials.
Gerberding-Kobiella is looking forward to what the future holds for the village of Kyakataama. She sees the trend of wealthier Kampala residents building vacation homes in the area and how meeting the growing demand for solar power. Training in installation and repair could empower the many teens who never even enrolled in secondary school. The ambitious vision of constrcting a vocational training center on a nearby parcel of land is steadily taking shape.
From music and art to cooking and crafts, Toonda Cultural Center is a living testimony to the memory of Jonas and the pure heart of this community.
Shoshana Kirya-Ziraba is a married mom and lifestyle columnist who splits time between Texas, California, and Uganda. From cooking to fashion, she covers what she likes to read about! Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.