Remember the light box space in New Cross Learning too!
At the end of my time with this first project, Patricio interviewed me about my impressions.
Our original idea with the ChangeMakers was to have young adults 18-25 years old. What we quickly discovered though was that would mean girls and boys could not work together. So instead we decided to work with 13-16 year olds. Some of the people we talked to were still sceptical about whether that could work but we decided to give it a go anyway.
In the first session I ran, we had about twice as many boys as girls. They were bigger, more physically noticeable and more demanding of attention. The girls would have been easily overlooked. So although letting each one of the 25 of them have their say and explain what JOY means to them, and let the interpreter explain it to me took a lot of time, it was an important shift. It meant the girls did speak. And they expressed themselves capably and beautifully which gave them more confidence. By the end of our 2 hour session they were sitting a little taller and more assuredly.
The next day as I arrived I started to see people I recognised from that session. And they recognised me. Already things felt a little different to the day before. I had asked the staff to gather 2 smaller groups, still with a 50/50 gender balance of young people, to get started on the baseline research. I explained the idea to them, they practiced on each other and then we set out to interview residents and gather data.
At first my young researchers were very hesitant. It is not easy to knock on doors in any context and this was no exception. The boys were more prepared to just get on with it but I could see how the girls really wanted to run away, how they were wishing they hadn’t signed up for this. I also know from my own experience that this awkwardness is part of the process that has to be gone through to get to the other side. I couldn’t speak directly to them because of the language barrier but could be there for them in the background and loved seeing them grow in stature and confidence as they progressed. By the time they came back the next day to do more they all looked a foot taller and three years older. They were proud of their new skill and I was proud of them.
Interesting to how despite all the terrible reasons why they are there, these girls and other women in the camp may have experiences and develop skills and confidence there that they would never have been able to do in the villages. I’m no expert on the local culture, but that was the sense I got from the experience. Maybe in the long run some good also comes out of the situation in terms of the isolation of the women in their homes.
(for security reasons and for their safety, we can’t post pictures of them here, hence more generic shots)
You can contribute here and help train a researcher or get involved.
I am just back from a hot, dry, intense week at the refugee camp working on this project.
You can see more about the exciting developments on the art side here, this posting is about the people and the research.
On arrival at the camp, the vastness is the first thing that strikes you. Rows of shelters as far as the eye can see. The absence of colour. The absence of signs of life. No trees or plants because of the climate. No landmarks, nothing holding up the sky. The single storey shelters spread over the undulating rocky ground like a carpet.
You wouldn’t know there were thousands of people living here. No radios are playing, no groups gathering on corners chatting. There are a few children going to school, some people collecting water. A small stream of refugees trekking across the windy open spaces to the supermarket. It feels very temporary. Very un-owned by the residents.
The first requirement was to understand the dynamics of the place. There are lots of stakeholders (government, NGOs etc) and we were guests. We needed to play by the rules more than we normally have to, We met loads of amazing staff members and volunteers who put hours of effort into the social needs of the refugees. I read some of the English books I’d taken along with some teenage boys keen to improve their language skills. And some young women reading Dan Brown (!) on the tablets they have occasional access to were delighted to see the crowdfunding video we made and recognise the shelters.
I will post pictures of some of the people once we have the permissions / clearance to do so.
I then got to meet the young people who would be working with us to implement both projects. That first workshop was a bit crazy! As you would expect, the children have been through a lot and find it hard to concentrate. Both they and the local staff were a bit puzzled to be asked to draw ‘joy’ – not used to working conceptually. We got there though – lots of calls for nature, love, football and things that ways to make a shelter look more like a home.
From the group of 25 we selected 8 who would be the research crew. For a more robust process given that we were crossing a language barrier, using teenagers and working with some illiteracy issues, I had designed a pictorial research sheet.
You can contribute here and help train a researcher or get involved.
We have had two streams of working with young people in the refugee camp. Patricio has been running workshops with kids to transform a very common object in this bleak environment (rocks) into precious stones, things of beauty. An early breakthrough came with the thought of combining two undesirable aspects – fences and rocks – into a new way to view them.
Then, after a dash to the paint shop in the nearest town, the workshop got going. Originally intended to be for children, the staff couldn’t resist getting involved to. From the security guards to the boss man, everybody was keen to have a go and create their own precious stone.
By the end of the day the fence was transformed into a glittering, vertical Aladdin’s cave. When we left for the night people were approaching the fence with a look of wonder. Beauty is hard to come by in this environment and the combination of colour and sparkle made each stone an individual work of art.
No great surprise then that by morning all of the stones had disappeared, been untied and taken away to be part of individual refugees’ temporary homes.
At first it was a shock, but we quickly came to realise that this degree of engagement, of hunger for beautiful objects was a strong endorsement of the idea. More paint was procured and more workshops organised.
The bigger plan is that next Tuesday – when it is Eid, normally a time of great festivities in Muslim communities but with little to look forward to for residents here – Patricio will run a giant rock dipping event. Our crazy ambitious target is that every child (over 4000 of them) gets the chance to make a rock. They will then be displayed on the tall, barbed wire topped fence around the school.
Contribute here and be part of peace rocks
And now Sainsbury’s are offering us 4% if you sign up for their new ‘Everyday’ card. Mine just came. If you ever use Sainsburys, get your card here and help support the local community projects like New Cross Learning, Common Growth and Grow Wild without any extra cost to you.