I met the lovely Freeda during my stay in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire last summer. My biggest challenge whenever I go home to visit my parents is to keep my girls busy. In London, I know most of the baby and toddler activities in my area. But when it comes to Abidjan, a lot is still only available through word of mouth.
A friend mentioned Freeda’s workshops so I signed us up. The girls and I had such an amazing time that I immediately reached out to Freeda afterwards to set up an interview. I am so happy I did!
We were supposed to meet for an hour, ended up spending two hours chatting and I honestly could have stayed all evening, had I not promised my parents to have dinner with them! She has a bubbly personality, an unbelievable energy and is incredibly creative to top it all off. It was extremely difficult to summarise our discussion because I wish I could have printed every single word.
If you are ever in Abidjan with your children, you MUST attend one of her workshops.
What led you to start these parents-children workshops?
I moved back to Cote d’Ivoire from Malaysia in September 2014 to work for a ratings agency. For two years, all I did was work. One day, I went to my son’s school fair and to my horror the staff had no idea who I was. They thought my sister was his mom! I immediately took a three-week holiday! We went hiking, we visited the fire department among other things, and ultimately, I realised that contrary to what you often hear, there are lots of things to do here. You just need to look! While on holiday, I had a lot of parents dropping their children at my house because I was doing so many fun things with my son. It made me realise that there could be something to do there and the first edition of my workshops took place in December 2016.
How did you come up with the idea for the first workshop?
My son and I love dancing and I know that many people do. So, I thought it would be fun to do a dance battle between parents and children. It was supposed to be a one-off as I never expected it to be so successful.
I hired a young choreographer so we could all learn some proper moves. For the adults, we picked a Naija song from P-Square and for the kids we chose “Juju on that beat”. I also hired some djembe players to make it livelier.
We had the best time ever and I can tell you that some parents actually discovered their children on that day! I overheard a child say, “Wow Daddy I had no idea you could dance like that!”. Some adults learnt to ‘dab’ and were challenging their children. It was crazy! Afterwards I received tons of emails from people asking me the date of the next one.
How did you get the word out? And did you know how many people would attend?
The day before the event, I set up a Facebook page so I could get a rough idea of the number of attendees. I think people then shared the page with their contacts so I ended up with 140 people (parents and children included), when I honestly thought there would be 20 people!
Do you target a specific age group? Is there a minimum age to attend your workshops?
I often get this question and my answer is that I leave it to the parents’ appreciation. I sometimes have 18 months old babies and as long as they are able to listen to a story it is totally fine. (Side note: I took Audrey to the workshop at 16 months and she had a great time).
Could you give us examples of the other workshops? The one I attended was the seventh edition, what did you do after the dance battles?
We did a singing workshop followed by an event in the gardens of an art gallery. For the latter, I ordered custom made canvases and each family had to make their own painting. It was supervised by Sess Essoh, a very trendy and successful artist here. Other themes we did were Fashion, with Loza Malehambo, a famous stylist giving our guests some fashion tips, Michael Jackson (the moonwalks were out of this world!) and Soundiata Keita, which you attended. The most recent edition took place in October. It was centred around a tour of monuments in the historic town of Grand-Bassam, the first capital of Côte d’Ivoire, where we had the privilege of meeting the King of Moossou.
Apart from the educational and fun element, I would assume that it is also a powerful networking tool. Would you agree?
Yes, on many levels.
Because I hire real artists from their own domain of expertise and select appropriate venues, it is not only a networking between parents but also between parents and artists and between parents and a venue that they often do not know.
For instance, when we did the singing workshop, I picked a restaurant that does live open mic sessions so we already had all the equipment on site. I also booked a professional singing coach.
You put a lot of work and efforts into these workshops. What is the ultimate goal for you?
People work so hard here that they sometimes forget to enjoy their children and spend some quality time with them. What matters to me is that parents and children share a moment together.
As a parent myself, I believe it is important to transmit our customs and cultural knowledge to our children.
How long does it take you to put together an event?
It varies. The Michael Jackson event only took ten days. Others, like the “Grand-Bassam” workshop can take more time, which is why I give myself two months between each event. That usually gives me enough time for planning.
Would you say they are militant workshops?
My workshops are definitely militant.
If we don’t teach our children to love themselves, their heritage, their culture and if we do not allow them to be creative then we will always lose.
I strongly believe that everything starts with education, which is why these workshops matter so much to me.
I understand you are now getting calls from sponsors. That’s a great accomplishment in such a short period of time! Can you tell us how this happened?
When I did the Fashion workshop, the theme was “Star Wax, Star Tag”. My idea was to hand out pieces of African Wax prints for people to customise or spray paint.
Somehow, Uniwax heard about it and they offered to sponsor us. Similarly, ahead of the “Grand-Bassam” workshop, a famous kids’ magazine donated books to all the children. They now wish to establish a long-term partnership, which is amazing! The great benefit is that it allows me to maintain a reasonable entry price.
What is the next step for you? Would you like to hire a team, turn it into a business?
I really think it is the next step to follow. An increasing number of people are interested (partners/parents/venues/corporations) and approach me for more activities. In the upcoming year, I already have several workshops planned and I am seriously thinking about building a business around it…Stay tuned!
In the meantime, we have very exciting events planned:
- a Christmas concert
- a Christmas market where kids will be able to sell their drawings, their paintings…to their parents. In return, at the end of the day, they will buy gifts for their parents with the money collected. How cool is that?!
Please visit Freeda’s page on Facebook and do not hesitate to attend one of her workshops if you are ever in Abidjan: Les Ateliers Parents & Enfants de Freeda
You can also watch her previous workshops online: