Welcome to Hello World’s interview series showcasing the work of individuals and organisations that are championing education and helping marginalised communities to shape their own future.
EDUCATION IS… being inspired by your heritage
Christelle Pellecuer is the Founder and Creative Director of Razana Afrika, a community-led organisation that teaches African history and culture in order to inspire and empower young people. Previously she worked in the education sector for over 15 years undertaking programme and project management roles with an international focus.
Christelle is also co-director of Bristol-based theatre company, ‘Black Women Let Loose.’ All of its shows are written, performed, produced and directed by its members. Christelle’s own writing (for both stage and screen) is based on her experience as a Black woman living in the diaspora and as a transracial adoptee, and explores issues of identity, memory and displacement. She takes her inspiration from African culture, traditions and mythologies.
Additionally, Christelle is a make-up artist for fashion, film and the TV industry.
If you could write on your school report, what comments would you make?
“I know you feel lost and have put all of yourself into studying, but do remember to take time out to play and have fun now and again. I know you have had to grow up early, but you don’t have to be so serious all the time. As you get older, be clear about the subjects that bring you joy and keep nurturing those, no matter what people say to you. Do not give up those subjects just because others advise you to, or you will regret it later.
Education is important but do remember that there are different ways to learn; you will learn important life lessons outside the formal education system. The school of life will teach you about yourself and the world around you so be as attentive to informal schooling as you are to your formal education. You will soon find out that learning is a lifetime journey and you should try and enjoy the ride along the way.”
What did you dream of becoming when you were a child and what obstacles got in your way?
As a child I wanted to be a dancer, writer or journalist but pressure to conform to family expectations didn’t allow me to pursue those dreams. They were not seen as a way to earn a living nor accessible for people from our economic background. Several members of my family were artistic but art was considered a hobby rather than a career so I had no encouragement from family to pursue my creativity as a career path. Instead I was encouraged to take up a job that would guarantee a good source of income.
As a teenager I struggled with the tension between doing what I wanted and what was expected of me and this really had an impact on my identity. For a long time I did not know which direction to take. For the early part of my career I worked in education – somewhat by accident as I got my first job in this sector after leaving university. As education has always been important to me, I was comfortable working in this field, but arts and creativity have always been in the background of my life.
After a decade in the education sector I was made redundant so I seized the opportunity to train as a make-up artist, specialising in fashion, film and TV, (despite the disapproval of many people around me who didn’t think it was a sensible or safe path for a single mother). But I decided to go with my heart and gut instinct and never regretted that decision.
It is also interesting to me how writing has stayed with me over the years. Initially I saw it as a therapeutic process rather than a possible career, but in the last few years I have overcome the fear of sharing my writing with others. In 2021 I was selected to be part of the BFI Network’s ‘New Voices’ initiative and currently have a short film in development with Blak Wave productions.
I am so grateful now that I can truly embrace creativity in my life and, like a child, I grab any opportunity to explore this in whichever discipline it presents itself – theatre, film, writing, fashion, make-up. Sometimes it is about bringing together several of these disciplines but the end game is always about creating and telling a story. In a way, the work I do with Razana Afrika is putting all of my passions in one place: educating others about African history and culture through arts.
Razana Afrika empowers communities from Afro-Caribbean heritage by providing educational resources and positive role models – what lessons has this work taught you?
My work with Razana Afrika has taught me more about the power of education. Education has always been important to me. I grew up in Madagascar where it is common for children to have to walk many hours a day to attend school. I myself didn’t have the privilege of receiving a formal education until I was adopted in France at the age of 10, so when I got the chance I took it very seriously. I embraced school wholeheartedly and my education opened up a wealth of opportunity for me.
The work of Razana Afrika is to bring awareness of African history and culture to communities that did not have the chance to learn about these aspects of their identity through the school system. Educating people about who they are and where they come from is fundamental to their empowerment. It is about building confidence and gaining a sense of belonging. It always gives me joy to see the reaction of the community when they learn something new about their history and their culture. Whether it is a smile or tears on their face, that is the power of education.