Keep Them Safe Stage 1 – The Call to Adventure

Boy with soccer ball in Kayamandi
Boy with soccer ball in Kayamandi

Once upon a time

there were leaders who saw young people full of potential all across Stellenbosch.

Every day they would do their bit to help the kids discover and utilise their potential. Yet they felt alone in their struggle against the lack of opportunities, the hopelessness and the moral degeneration that threaten to steal the futures of the kids they work with.

Then one day South Africa, is chosen to host the soccer world cup. With it came the promise of economic influx, more money and more hope for everyone. Also along with it came the predators, those who promise the same, but exploit instead: human trafficking, commercial sex, child abuse, substance abuse. The leaders knew the kids would need to be kept safe. They also knew that the world cup would unleash a wave of opportunity for change and transformation – a wave that they needed to ride…

Yesterday I shared with you that most projects contain at least 2 stories: the story of the organisers who dream the dream and put together the project and the story of the target audience for whom they are designing the project.

Keep Them Safe is the story of the leaders and adults who embarked on the journey of realising the dream of a holiday programme for kids and young people all across Stellenbosch for the entire 4 week Fifa World Cup tournament.

The Perfect Pitch is the story of the kids and young people who sign up for the programme.

I am sharing with you the chronological unfolding of each of these stories stage by stage. Every story has 5 stages:

I               The Call to Adventure

II             Preparation for the Journey

III            The Journey itself

IV            Ordeal and Reward

V             Returning Home

In real time today 22 June, the stories are both in the Journey stage, but  let me tell you more about the Call to Adventure of Story 1 – Keep Them Safe.

Every Call to Adventure contains 3 essential elements:

  1. an introduction to the protagonist or hero – once upon a time there was
  2. a description of their Ordinary World which includes a problem which they are either unaware of, or unable to overcome – every day they would
  3. a once in a life time Opportunity that promises a solution, or a way out – then one day

We issued our Call to Adventure in two main ways from September 2009 to March 2010.

First we(and I really mean Henko, the project leader) had one on one coffee conversations with everyone he identified as possible partners – possible heroes for this story. In these meetings they would share their common concerns about the youth – their Ordinary World and the problems they face. Then Henko would introduce his dream… Because of his heartfelt identification with the plight of the prospective hero (being one himself) and his enthusiasm for his dream, the idea spread like wild fire. OF course Henko would never take credit for the idea since it was sparked in him after a conversation he had with people from The Ultimate Goal, the SA Sports Cohalition and the Stellenbosch municipality.  Still he saw the opportunity and started to call everyone and any one to join the adventure.

The Second way we issued the Call was more formalised. In March 2010 we launched a KTS Taster. The aim of this event was to gather everyone who had had a coffee conversation with Henko or one of the others he had ignited, into one space. We wanted to launch our dream formally and explain it to as many ;people as we could gather.

Representatives were brought in from all over the Stelenbosch district and put together in one room to get all the hot coals together and start a bonfire.

Yet now everyone had had time to ponder over the project and some concerns, doubts and reservations had begun to surface. We were moving into the next stage of the story: preparing for the journey… I will tell you all about that tomorrow.

In the mean time, if you have a project that you want to ‘sell’ figure out:

  1. Who is your target audience/protagonist? Is there more than one?
  2. What is their context (Ordinary World) like? What problems do they face that seem insurmountable?
  3. What solution can you provide that will speak directly to this need? What once in a life time opportunity can you identify and optimise (The Call)?

Keep Them Safe – Introduction

KTS Banner displayed in every community
KTS Banner displayed in every community

Since September last year (2009) a handful of people including myself, started to dream about a mammoth project that will stretch across the entire Stellenbosch district during the Soccer World Cup. While many saw either dollar signs or red flags, we saw a great opportunity for transforming our communities by focussing on kids and young people.

What if we could use world cup fever (or fevah) as a Call to Adventure and community transformation?

The Keep Them Safe project was born.

Today I am thrilled to report that there are holiday programmes running in 13 communities across Stellenbosch targeting kids and young people. The programme is called ‘The Perfect Pitch’ , it will run for 4 weeks and is entirely managed by teams of people from the communities themselves. Today I begin telling our story.

The purpose of the story

From the start I was privileged to contribute my knowledge of story and mythic journeys to help design the entire project as a journey of growth and transformation for all involved.

The story structure of a mythic journey has as its main purpose the transformation of the hero, also called protagonist. The entire story is designed to fulfill this function and every character in the story play his or her role in such a way that the hero can grow. The only difference between the hero and anyone else in the story is transformation and everything and everyone else is there purely to contribute to this.

It follows therefore, that it may be possible to use the structure of story to design a journey of transformation for other people. If you understand how to design a story so that the hero transforms, you can use this knowledge to design events and programmes that would let the participants transform and grow. This is what we did for Keep Them Safe.
Using the 5 basic stages of the mythic journey as well as its sub components, we designed such a journey of growth. As you read about my process, keep in mind that the same principles will be true for any other programme or event you want to design.

The title of the story

Before getting to the first stages, we must first determine the title of the story. The title refers to the protagonist and the challenge of the journey. To keep titles short, one or the other usually valls away eventually, but to get to the final title, both elements need to be clarified. A good example is Sleeping Beauty i.e. the girl who needed to wake” or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Many stories only have the name of the protagonist e.g. Hanzel and Grettel , others only have the challenge e.g. Titanic. Of course stories have other titles too, but the most common titles are the ones referring to the protagonist and his challenge.

Early on we discovered that The Keep Them Safe project has two titles referring to two different protagonists and two different challenges. Since then I realised that this is true of most projects and it is essential to take the two (and sometimes three) stories apart.

For us the stories were:

Keep them Safe: The story of community leaders working together to keep their young people safe.

The Perfect Pitch: The story of young people creating a perfect pitch for their own lives and their communities.

Today is the first day that these two stories are in exactly the same stage i.e. The Journey itself. So with both stories now running on their own and gaining momentum, let me tell you how we got here, and why the two stories did not overlap until today…

Why bats hang upside down – slides for teachers

How stories ignite values in children

What follows is a series of slides I used for a 90 minute workshop I presented to grade 1-3 teachers. The workshop was done first on 2 Feb 2010 in Cape Town and repeated on 9 Feb in Johannesburg. I did it in partnership with the Kids Development Academy. Thank you to them for a well put together experience! Thanks too to all the wonderful teachers who attended and participated with such enthusiasm.

The slides below will probably make more sense to the teachers who attended than to the casual net surfer who happen to come across them. If you have any questions, by all means contact me.


• Insight into the link between story and values
• Ideas for lessons
• An experience of the power of stry.

Building character

The link between stories and values

Between the head that understands and the hand that acts, lies the treacherous landscape of the heart.

Why bats hang upside down

The story

Reflection questions

• How many of you have felt like this in your life?.
• Close your eyes and think about bat hanging upside down weeping.
• What is he feeling?

Get the feelings expressed

• Draw this weeping upside down bat.
• Lets all pretend to be bats. What clever way can you use your bodies to look like upside down bats?
• Let’s close our eyes and think what a bat’s cry might sound like.
• Let’s right down the words that describe these feelings


• Pretend that you are one of the animals or birds at the party and you heard about bat being thrown out.
• Make a card for bat to make him feel better
What can you draw/write to make him feel better?
• Put it aside for moment.

How values work – the story

Values diagram, simple

How values work – the theory

How values work, meaty

Counter reflection

• How many of you have been in Baboon or vulture’s shoes?
• How does it make you feel?
• Knowing how bat feels, does that change anything?
• Are there situation where kicking people out is important? Discuss/ find an appropriate story.

Stories hold up a mirror to your heart

Why use stories?

• Creates a safe space
• Brings distance for reflection
• Transforms abstract into concrete
• Participatory: involve entire person
• Purpose driven
• Particular to a community
• Communicate universally: symbols & archetypes
• Playful
• Learner centred

Final reflection

• What kind of person are you?
• What sort of class are we?
• Make a big painting/write the words/ create a song…

Why bats hang upside down – the story

Once upon a time before humans ruled the earth, animals reigned on the ground and in the tree trunks and birds reigned the sky and the tree tops Both animals and birds loved their world and loved who they were.
One day the animals decided to celebrate their ‘animalness’ and the word was spread across the land. When Bat heard the news he was very excited. He loved dressing up and he loved making friends. So, on the night of the party, he brushed his hair, gelled it with a bit of tree gum, cleaned his wings and set off. On the way he caught his reflection in a puddle and he winked at himself.
At the party he was just about to swagger in after the tall giraffe when a foot shot out and tripped him. Wait a minute’ said Big Baboon who was playing bouncer for the night. “You can’t come in”.
“Why not?” asked Bat surprised.
“Because you’re not an animal”, said Baboon, “you are a bird. Look at those wings and you only have two legs. OUT!”
“But I have fur and teeth. Look at me, I an animal”, pleaded bat.
“What about my ears?”
“Owls have ears and they are birds”
Bat tried a desperate dash through the door, but Baboon grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him out. He landed on a wing and bruised it. Limping home bat began to cry. At home he sat on a branch and the tears just kept streaming. He cried so much that the branch on which he sat got wet and slippery and Whoops! He slipped round it, his feet still clinging and there he hung, upside down, weeping.
A few weeks later the birds had a party. They too wanted to celebrate their ‘birdyness’ and the words was spread. Again bat got excited. He loved dressing up and he loved making friends. Again he brushed his hair, gelled it with gum and cleaned his wings. He paid extra attention to his wings. As he slinked off he caught his reflection in a puddle and winked.
At the party e was just about to glide in after Little Sparrow when a curvy beak grabbed him from behind. It was Vulture who was the bouncer for the night “Wait a minute”, Vulture said, “You can’t come in”.
“Why not?” asked Bat surprised, this time he did not expect trouble.
“You are not a bird, look at you, you have fur and teeth.”
“But look at my wings” said bat confidently, and I have two legs. Clearly I am a bird.
“Nonsense” said vulture” you don’t fool me, look at those ears”
“Owls have ears” bat whimpered.
“Owls ears are just sticky outy feathers, not real ears. OUT!”
“But the animals say I am a bird” he tried one last time
“OUT!” Said vulture and flung him out with a strong talon.
Bat landed with a leg twisted in under his body and sprained it. Limping home bat began to cry. At home he sat on a branch and the tears just kept streaming. He cried so much that the branch on which he sat got wet and slippery and Whoops! He slipped round it, his feet still clinging and there he hung, upside down, weeping.
And now ever since, bat hang upside down because they are neither animals nor birds.

Flutes found in Gauteng

Our follow your own flute workshop this past Saturday was great fun and life changing as promised. Thank you Rachel, Johan, Joy, Lidia and Sharon for a memorable workshop. Your generosity of spirit and willingness to play made for a fun filled and meaningful experience.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback we received at the end shows us that we are addressing a deep felt need and doing it in a way that is non threatening, safe and enjoyable. The comment Johan made about how well the process is designed and how well integrated it is warmed my heart – aesthetics and learning, design and impact always go hand in hand.

Don’t forget the Improv Your Foxy Skills Workshop coming up this following weekend! This one is for people who want to stop analyzing and act with confidence in spite of change and uncertainty.

For those interested in the Follow your own flute reading material, you can read the following articles that I have just up loaded:

The story of the Black Prince that we used along with some comments on the versions we generated for the ending at the workshop.

Building character: an article about the elements that form part of the value system of both fictional and real characters,

I invite you to use it to expand on and refine your own value system so that you can act true to your own character in any given situation. Amidst the kakophonie of noise out there, it is essential to get to know your unique melody and follow your own flute.

Developing six new senses for the future

In his ground breaking book A Whole New Mind Daniel Pink references three prevailing trends pointing towards the future of business and the economy: Abundance (consumers have too many choices, nothing is scarce), Asia (everything that can be outsourced, is) and Automation (computerization, robots, technology, processes).

This brings up three crucial questions for the success of any business:

  1. Can a computer do it faster?
  2. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?
  3. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?

When these questions are present, creativity becomes the competitive difference that can differentiate commodities. Pink outlines six essential senses:

  1. Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  2. Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument.
  3. Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  4. Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  5. Play – Bringing humour and light-heartedness to business and products.
  6. Meaning – Relevant feelings and values connected to a person’s passion and purpose..

Playing Mantis specialises in both story and play.


Story is the skill to simplify that which is complex and organise it into a sense making whole. It also helps you to make concrete those aspects of your reality that is abstract and hard to grasp. When it comes to relationships and team work, the way that story places characters in sense making relationships with one another highlighting the causes of conflict and their resolution, can be of great help in managing business relationships.

Similarly the way in which storytellers organises human attributes and role functions into archetypes, can be of great use in understanding the different roles people play in your life. Stories can also assist you in understanding how you can develop your own character by looking at how the hero of a story grows and develops.  This can greatly assist in leadership skills development.

What makes this sense so accessible is the fact that we all already use it. The way in which you relate your day and how it went to your partner before bedtime, the way in which you tell a colleague about your weekend or how you sum up an overseas trip all carry the characteristics of a well made story. You pick a theme and select scenes to support and carry that theme. You populate your story with characters that either worked with or against you. You shape it with a beginning middle and end. In fact, any experience can be made sense of in retrospect by organising it into a story, Even the most confusing and emotional experiences, perhaps especially these experiences,  are made sense of by trying to organise it into a story.

Story is also the way in which we remember things and make sense of the world by linking seemingly unrelated events and ideas. Simple lists of facts do not make sense to us, but linking them with cause and effect turn the facts into one story and makes it memorable. The king died and then the queen died, are two seemingly unrelated facts, but saying that the king died and then the queen died of grief, immediately makes it into a story by adding an emotional component that link the two facts logically. We all do this with things we read and learn and experience. It is a sense well worth cultivating and understanding so that its power can be utilised in areas of our lives where meaning still escape us.

Kids playing with blocks

Play, on the other hand, is the most effective way of learning, working and enjoying it.  It is the way in which children learn. It is their method of organising their worlds into sense making sections. Through play they discover how the world works and what their own place in it is. And while their games are fun and light-hearted, they take it very seriously. Improvisational Theatre utilises the same characteristics of play in a way that makes it accessible and usable for adults. Through this kind of play it is possible to learn how to deal with things that happen in your life that is hard to make sense of – especially if the situation ask you to change how you have done things or understood things until now.

Again improvisation is something we all are able to do in ordinary circumstances. When unforeseen things happen and you have to adjust your plan, you improvise. When someone asks you a question you sort of know the answer to, but not quite, you improvise. When you are cooking and discover that you miss a certain ingredient, you improvise. You use what you have and, maybe more importantly, you use what others have to offer. Honing these skills can greatly help you in dealing with change and uncertainty so that you are less apprehensive and are able to trust you own ability to adjust.

Perhaps even more poignant is that improvisation helps you to remain light-hearted and playful amidst times of stress and confusion. The playful attitude is not the same as being frivolous and superficial, but rather one of great seriousness, but with a certain detachment to the outcome. Think again of the seriousness with which children engage in play. To them it is not at all unimportant and inconsequential. Marrying work and play is the goal of cultivating the sense of play in business..

The other four senses of empathy, symphony, design and meaning all are cultivated during the workshops where we create a creative experience for learning. This experience aims to involve all of the multiple intelligences including emotion (empathy), sprit (meaning,), lateral thinking (symphony) and aesthetic judgement (design)

Summary of benefits:

The most important reasons for using story and improvisation both for team building and for dealing with change relate to the kind of play that is stimulated by these activities. This kind of play

  • Unlocks hidden potential, opens up all your intelligences and puts you in touch with your instinct and intuition,
  • Enhances focus and effectiveness and provides a sense of purpose which is absorbing and motivating,
  • Raises self esteem and self confidence and rekindles your spontaneity,
  • Inspires individual and group creativity, forms a communal paradigm and lets group knowledge surface,
  • Provides understanding and insight into fellow players and creates common focus and priorities while allowing for the safe expression of feelings,
  • Clarifies and simplifies things that are abstract and complicated and produces innovative solutions.

We will teach you this kind of play, help you to reflect on its significance for you and apply the skills you learn to your real life situation.