Waterford Kamhlaba United World College Southern Africa - (WKUWCSA)

Kemiyondo Coutinho (Uganda, WK 04 - 07)

Kemiyondo was born in Uganda, but at 3 weeks old, the family moved to Swaziland where she grew up. Though she has a Ugandan passport, she feels very much Swazi. Currently she lives in Los Angeles, USA, where she has just completed her Masters in Fine Arts at The American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T). 

“…When people hear my story,… that is a part of the UWC movement. I have yet to see a better idea than the UWC colleges. It is truly genius and makes this world a better place…”

Having grown up in Swaziland, and since her older brothers went to UWC Waterford Kamhlaba, which has the reputation of not only being a top school in the country but also in Africa, there was parental pressure for Kemiyondo to do the same. Kemi, as she is known by most of her friends, joined UWC Waterford Kamhlaba in Form 1 (Grade 7) at the age of 13.

At UWC, Kemi was able to learn valuable lessons that she treasures to date. Although the setup of the school was multi-national, she found it imperceptible. In addition, her fellow students came from all walks of life: from the King’s children to those whose parents did not know where their next meal would come from. Despite these massive differences, everybody was treated equally. They were all the same. This instilled in her the virtue of creating bridges and not boundaries. UWC enabled her to get rid of the biases of creed, race, nation and socioeconomic status:

“You are surrounded by so many cultures yet you never notice it. THAT is the magic of UWC. The magic lies in the fact that you DON’T NOTICE how many cultures you are surrounded by.”

After her graduation at UWC, Kemi received a Davis scholarship to study at the Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon where she pursued two degrees: one in Theatre and the other in Communications. It was here that she was introduced to the idea of auditioning for A.C.T where she did her masters.

Currently, Kemi is an actress and playwright signed with SDB partners. Her love for theatre spans back to when she was a little kid. At the age of nine, she took part in her first play ever. Acting is one thing that she does with a lot of passion and this is visible through her work. Professionally as an actress and playwright, Kemi has the following works under her belt:

  • In her last year at Waterford, she wrote and starred in her first one-woman show ‘Jabulile!’ which depicted the effect of gender inequity has on Swazi women. This went on to The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown as a part of the fringe festival, twice. The play was also performed in Uganda, Canada, New York and Chicago.
  • In 2012, she developed a new play called ‘Kawuna…you’re it’. It told the story of three women whose lives had been affected by HIV/AIDS and explored how gender inequity and HIV are closely related. The play went to go to the National Arts festival in Grahamstown as a part of the Main Program.
  • In 2013, she created a festival in Uganda called NuVo Arts Festival which used visual arts, music, fashion, poetry and theatre to address HIV/AIDs. She produced and starred in ‘In The Continuum’ by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter at the festival.
  • Other productions she has been in are: Orpheus Descending, Silent Voices, Napoli, A Christmas Carol, The Glass Menagerie, Hamlet, Seven Guitars, Niagara Falls and many others.

She was also a host for ‘Discover Uganda’, a program that showcased Uganda’s premium holiday destinations.

As a result of her works, Kemi has won several awards and accolades, including the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival award and The Dorothy Berkson Award for her play ‘Kawuna…you’re it!’. Her plays have also been a part of the Hybrid Theater reading series in New York as well as the San Francisco Playhouse Theater reading series.

Kemi attributes her success in theatre to her UWC experience. Not only was her talent appreciated and nurtured at UWC, she was also exposed to the greater world. She says,

“When taking on characters I feel like am at an advantage of having been surrounded by so many different cultures and mind-sets. I feel that that’s what differentiates me from a lot of actors. I have encountered so many people with so many different values that it is rare for me not to understand where a character is coming from. To be able to be flexible as an actress is a gift and I owe a lot of that to my UWC experience.”

In 2008, Kemi took on a class which focused on gender. This showed her how handicapped and vulnerable women are in all societies. She also did a communications class that opened her eyes to the way the media portrays women and how it is used to keeping black women at the bottom of the ladder. This exposure ignited her passion for women’s rights and gender equality. Thus, through theatre, Kemi has become somewhat of a female empowerment activist. It is for this reason that she started her own theatre company called ‘Voices of Abafaazi,’ when translated means ‘Voices of Women’ so as to try empower women and make their voices heard. Most of her plays, such as ‘Jabulile’, ‘In the Doll House’, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and ‘Kawuna…you’re it!’ also focus on the theme of female empowerment. Kemiyondo is writing her next play which will explore Ebola in West Africa and she is planning to collaborate with one of her former professors, Stephen Buescher, who introduced her to the idea. She has also recently delved into screen writing and has written a TV pilot called GREEN. In the future, she also plans to get involved in coaching young actors and writers. 

UWC exposed Kemi to a myriad of memorable experiences. Asked to identify one that stands out, she says, ‘laughter’. Whenever she remembers her time at UWC, she remembers how she could sit on the stairs outside Esiveni and just laugh. Laugh with anybody, everybody, about something and sometimes even about nothing. Most importantly, however, is that UWC impacted positively on both her personal and professional life as it taught her to view the world differently.

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