I have done a lot of reflection in regards to the suitability and the appropriateness of this activity and I cannot with one hundred percent certainty that it was a success. On the very first day of the workshops, I risked an activity that I created myself based on workshops that I had done, pedagogical readings, and my own experiences as a student. The goal of the activity was to meet some of the bigger goals of the workshop as a whole such as teamwork, self-expression, and the development of creative and pacific resistance to various forms violence and oppression.
On the first day, my partner and I played the oppressors. We dressed up in suits, walked into the classroom with very stern looks on our faces, and then, in true Orwellian form, we began to explain that we would learn how to achieve peace through obedience, quietude, and silence. Then I declaimed that this was a most serious matter that must be treated with the most serious of attitudes. No talking. Absolutely no laughing. And as a final component, we imposed several rules that made participation in the workshop more difficult and marginalized different individuals in the group.
At each stage of the activity, we checked in with the participants to assess their agreement or disagreement with the progression of the activity. Once we had determined that all had unanimously accepted the rules and the methodology of the workshops, we stopped the activity and started the debriefing. What had gone wrong? Who had been treating whom unjustly, unfairly, oppressively? What tools/methods did we as facilitators/dictators use to submit the group to our exclusionary and despotic rules? How could they have acted differently in order to resist/change the negative elements of the situation?
Finally we described what would be the purpose and plan of the workshop for the following 3 weeks. We would be reading the writings of people who offered examples of peaceful resistance and expressed their struggle through “the word” written, spoken, sung, or shouted.
This was the first day. The last day we revisited the scene, same characters, same set-up, but possibly different results. Equipped with the skills that we had learned in our workshop and the other workshops especially the one on Leadership, the kids now had a new voice. The first time we ran the activity on the last day, not much changed. Every kid still was willing to follow all of the rules despite their undemocratic and demoralizing nature.
So, with only a short discussion in between to identify the problems that were still present, we ran it again. This time the creativity started to flow. They refused to participate in the workshop until we treated them with respect, some ripped the papers with the rules on them, some of the boys stood in solidarity with the girls when the girls were told that they had to participate in the workshop from behind, and some began chants such as "Alumnos unidos, no serán vencidos" (the students, united, will not be defeated). At one point one of the girls, who at the beginning had declined to participate because she was still too uncomfortable from the first time, stood on a chair to have a height advantage and explained tom y partner and me how and why were were violating their rights.
In the final run-through, we changed roles. Two students assumed the the position of teacher/dictator and my partner and I stepped into the role of the students. The two students who volunteered to be the teacher/dictator turned out to be two of the students who had been most affected by the activity from the first day. They were the ones who had begun to tear up and to become very frustrated. Now, with the opportunity to take on the role of the oppressor, they began to understand the true meaning of the activity and to take ownership it.
Although I would never claim that this activity or our workshop has forever changed the way that the kids deal with violence and oppression in their own lives or that we have created a strong alliance of creative resistance that will have a significant influence in Colombia, Bogotá, or even their neighborhood. What I would like to claim is that we sowed, and maybe cultivated a bit, the right seed for the plant that is not rooted in hostility and that can continue to grow to eventually be that impact of peace that is needed. The activity, to me, showed that we had created a relationship with the kids in which problems were solved through collective agreement and action. And it demonstrated that we had begun to develop those three goals that we had set at the beginning of teamwork, self-expression, and peaceful resistance to violence.
I will continue to reflect on this activity and its merits/faults. I hope to have many conversations with educators, organizers, and others as to its validity and value. And I welcome any comments, ideas, criticisms, suggestions, etc. I am glad that I took the risk to try the activity as I believe that myself and the kids learned a lot from it and we grew closer as a community.
This summer Taller de paz was filled with many memorable moments and laudable achievements, in other words, many things to write about. However, I would like to bring to the forefront of all these moments a new and important development for the program and one that really stands out in my mind. Due to the level of parent enthusiasm for our program we encountered last year, we returned to Bogotá this summer with the goal of creating a committee of parents of Taller de paz which would seek to engage those parents in the process of developing the program, facilitate their participation in our events and activities when possible, and also to act as a social support network outside of our program for the families themselves.
So beginning with the "bienvenida" that we held for the new and returning families, we began to advertise that we wanted to create a space for parent integration and participation in the form of a committee. We intentionally defined the purpose of the committee very vaguely, because we wanted to hear the unadulterated input of the parents and allow them to determine the goals and direction of the committee.
After our first meeting, which had been scheduled for the weekend after the close of our first week of classes, we realized that probably the biggest problem we were going to encounter in this effort was scheduling. The overwhelming majority of parents, who had employment, worked either 6 or 7 days of the week and those that didn't were constantly busy job searching or taking care of their families. This meant that we would only have about one chance every week to meet. These first meetings initiated conversations to brainstorm ideas for the purpose and functioning of the committee. We were able to hold three meetings during the time of our classes; because of scheduling difficulties different parents came to each one (a total of about 16). Although this meant that for us each meeting was a repeat of the same agenda, it actually worked out well because each group generated different ideas, which we were able to combine at the end.
The main ideas that were generated during these first three meetings were as follows:
- To Organize and facilitate the participation of parent volunteers
- To support better communication between the talleristas and kids during the interims
- To create some kind of talleres for theparents themselves
- To identify specific academic issues kids might have (with each parent) and addressing them appropriately
- To task TdP (organizers) to find other extracurricular opportunities for the kids
- To write diagnostic evaluations that might help regular teachers understand one of our kids better (middle and high school classrooms in Bogota are typically of 50+ students so one could imagine there’s not much time to be lent to understanding individual children and figuring out how to best communicate with and teach them.)
- To Assist with curriculum development
- To Support our kids to graduate high school and seek opportunities, if possible, for them to continue their education afterwards
- To appoint presidents for the committee
- To have reunions for the kids to be able to see each other between talleres
At the graduation event, the close of the program, a group of parents who had attended the first meetings spoke to the rest to explain the importance of being able to meet as a whole group and to ask all the parents if another final meeting were scheduled to please make whatever sacrifice was necessary to attend. And so we were able to convene one more final meeting, to be held before the exposition of all the work done by the kids during this summer that we had planned to hold at a community center in Suba during the next weekend.
Tangible progress was not made until the last meeting to which about 20 parents (almost all) attended. This was a breakthrough moment for the establishment of the committee because it served as a forum to review all the ideas that had been generated in the previous meetings and receive feedback and criticism about them. It was also very important to have everyone collected at the final meeting because everyone was available to approve any future plans of the committee which is what the majority of the meeting dealt with. First, it was decided that in order to maximize the utilityof the committee, it made sense to plan immediately for what could be done to unite the kids while we were gone, since to the parents it seemed that the relationships that the kids had built amongst themselves was one of the major benefits of the program and that it should continue if possible. After another parent proposed the idea, it was decided that all would attempt bring the kids together by having one outing the last Sunday of every month in some sort of community space where the kids could see each other. It was also decided that the parents committee should continue to meet as much as possible, because it was important to the parents to maintain contact with the other families. By getting to get to know the other parents better, as someone in the meeting mentioned, there was tremendous opportunity amongst themselves to help each other out, from sitting kids to helping find employment. It was also pointed out that some families were newer to Bogotá than others, so it made sense for those who had experience in the city to help newer arrivals out. Hence a meeting amongst solely the parents was also scheduled for the second to last Sunday of each month, in order to be able to plan the reunion of the month as well as to create a space for mutual support and communication amongst all the families. In order to facilitate these plans, as a group we elected three co-presidentas. Three mothers, Gloria, Yesenia, and Luz Estela, (see Gloria left and Luz Estela right in the picture) all of who were very active in the meetings that they had attended, offered themselves to take on the responsibilities of organizing future functions of the parent's committee, while we were to be gone. The date and time for the first parent's meeting in August was promptly decided upon.
Needless to say, it was extremely gratifying that all of this occurred with very little input from ourselves. This was the best any of us could have hoped for. That our parents would take the responsibility to make whatever sacrifices necessary to create a space while we were gone in which the kids could interact, all while the families got to know each other better on their own terms and that the families themselves continue to support one another in what ways are possible.
For now, that's everything. Stay tuned for news of the first independent parent meeting and "get-together" at the end of august, hopefully we will also be able to post pictures.
It was 10:05 am. Class was supposed to have started five minutes ago.
My partner had not yet arrived and I didn't know what to do. Should I listen to Julian cry his heart out? Or should I go inside and teach nine other students that were in my class, waiting for me? The nine kids were becoming impatient and began to peep out the door to see what was going on.
“Necesito que pares de llorar y me digas que tienes. Si no me dices no puedo resolver nada,” I need you to stop crying and tell me what's wrong because if you don't tell me I can't solve anything, I said to Julián.
Julian finally revealed that Yeison, his older brother, had pushed him into a table and that his stomach hurt.
“Ahorita hablo con Yeison. ¿Te me sientas para poder empezar con una actividad muy chevere?” I will talk to Yeison in a little while. Can you sit down for me so that we can start a really cool activity?
I lead Julián back into the classroom where Yeison had decided to crawl under a table and wouldn't come out. “Not this too...what am I going to do?” I thought to myself.
“Yeison puedes salir de debajo de la mesa para poder empezar?” Yeison can you come out from under the table so we can start?
Yeison looked away and pretended not to hear. All the kids were starting to say, “¿Va a dejar a Yeison alli?” Are you really going to leave Yeison under there?
It was 10:08 am. I decided to begin the activity and left him alone, thinking that I could entice him to join the class. I handed each student a piece of modeling clay and told them that we were going to work on a really cool activity and that Yeison was missing out on it.
“Vamos a hacer un pequeño cofre donde podremos poner nuestras quejas o sentimientos” We are going to make a small chest where we can put our complaints or feelings.
After Yeison saw how excited the other kids were with the clay, he crawled out from under the table and sat down with the others. Once my partner finally arrived to help with the activity, I took Yeison outside and asked him to tell me his side of the story. I let him know that what he had done was not acceptable behavior. He eventually told me his side of the story and we sorted out the matter later that day.
For those 10 minutes I was clueless to how I was going to solve the situation and became extremely frustrated. However, the experience taught me, for when I have to manage my own classroom in the future, the importance of staying calm and collected even in the face of frustration.
Around 35 of the kids were huddled together in close proximity. Curious, eager, curious. Staring at the weird box shaped object that had been placed right in front of them. Arms up, and down, arms up, and down. Then arms up again, but this time, moving their bodies up and down while shouting “Macarron”!, “Macarron”!, “Macarron”!.
This was how the kids were introduced to the wonderful Macarron.
The Macarron, as it became known (thanks to one of our participants-Jorge Arevalo), was an instant hit. The half puppet-theater look-alike and half make-shift creation allowed the kids a space where they were able to make confessions, questions, raise concerns, etc—reality TV style.
Though I cannot share the content of these confessions, for obvious reasons, the macarron received everything from sacrificial dances, smiles, blank stares, secretive confessions, and many thank you’s and I’ll miss you’s.
Though the macarron was recently disbanded, it was definitely one of the best (recorded) memories from this summer.
Being part of Taller de Paz is such a rewarding experience. Although the workshops only last 3 weeks, it seems as if it had been at least months. All that they accomplish and the relationship that is created is just truly incredible. Maybe it's because no time is wasted, from day one everyone becomes friends so that by the end of the first week, we have become a warm-knit family. We eat together, share experiences with each other, and have fun. There really isn't much of a power dynamic, and we (as Workshop leaders) strive NOT to be authoritative. It really is worthwhile because we all learn from each other and go with the flow. This mutual learning relationship really pays off because not only do the participants take advantage of the unique opportunity but at the same time are really consciously gracious. For example, I get the most warmly-indescribable feeling when someone gives you a small treat whether it is chocolate bar, an arepa, fruit, or a beautiful creation that was exquisitely crafted with so much love. Dennis, a really bright girl (whom I truly believe has the ambition to become a doctor if she wanted) said, "you guys are always giving and giving; we also want to give- even if its just a little" as she gave all the workshop leaders a home-made arepa (D E L I C I O U S !!!). It's such an amazing feeling, because we don't think its just a little, every gesture every experience in TdP has an intrinsic value that simply cannot be matched. And thus I love finding these surprises in my pockets at the end of the day. (:
Sorry, thus far, I’ve been absent from the website updates; these past three weeks have been busy. This summer I co-led the "Liderazgo," or Leadership, taller with Sami. To be honest, from the beginning I had ambivalent feelings about how the taller would turn out. My most pressing issue was that while most of our activities were designed to explore both interesting and important topics such as trust, teamwork, collective decision-making, rights, responsibilities, and gender issues, all with a focus around leadership, none could really be successful nor exciting without the committed participation of the kids. While there were definitely some rough moments, when for us class felt like pulling teeth, they were by far a tiny minority. The kids took to said topics like piranhas to gizzard, a metaphor actually used in one of our class activities. I’m very excited to be able to explore through this website all of the work that the kids completed during our three weeks of class, for now though, I thought it appropriate to share part of a final class project created by our oldest group of kids, "el grupo rojo."
The assignment was to create some type of presentation written or performed that used as a theme issues that we had discussed during our three weeks of class. The end result was a mural with two poems the kids created aimed at reconstructing gender stereotypes they felt existed within their community (an idea generated soley by them, through “discussion”). The kids finally decided upon taking control of two words, which to them had negative conventional meanings, and redefining them through poetry according to their own terms. There were many elements that contributed to this final product, though one I feel especially deserves mention. Upon completion of the mural during our last class, one student came up to me and said, “profe, creo que es importante acordarnos que esto es el resultado de una pelea y de que podemos lograr con la discusión y concentración.” [Profe, I think it’s important to remember here that that this is all the result of a conflict and that this is what we can accomplish through discussion and concentration]. The project really was the result of a heated argument among the kids (not one of the finer moments in our taller) but I couldn’t have said it better myself. What was so great about Miguel’s comment was that it captured the essence of what Sami and I had hoped the final projects would be, a manifestation of a process of reflection to conclude our three weeks of class. Stay tuned for pictures of the actual mural!
Poderosa mujer, eres
Unica en tu esencia,
Tierna con el mundo, y
Astuta para enfrentar el problema de la desigualdad de género
Powerful woman, you are
Unique in your essence,
Tender with the world, and
Astute to confront the problem of gender inequality
Maravilloso ser, que
Ama la vida con todo su
Corazón, aprendiste a ser
Hombre, no por ser machista, sino por el
Orgullo de amar a una mujer.
Marvelous being, that
Loves life with all of its
Heart, you learned to be a
Man, not by being a chauvinist, but through the
Pride of loving a woman
In this second installment of Peace Talks, the students of TdP respond to the conversation that the students of PNG had concerning several issues surrounding displacement. The questions presented were
Does the world community have an obligation to assist a country with their problem of displaced persons?
What are some of the primary causes of population displacement?
Are you more sympathetic toward people displaced by war or by natural disasters?
What can you do to help a displaced person?
The conversation was enriched not depreciated by the diversity of responses even if at times they were conflicting because of the mutual respect that was held for the varying experiences that each person was contributing to the discussion. This was especially important because "displacement" as a discussion topic is not the easiest for many of the participants in TdP. They have all been displaced for different reasons and those reasons can be opposing. By sharing stories, histories, opinions, and ideas, the students were able to devise strong, detailed, and complex answers to these very difficult questions that many if not all adults have a hard time solving.
To watch the PNG conversation visit here.
During the Story-Telling Workshop, we watched the video and discussed our reactions to meeting youth who live thousands of miles away and have a different repertoire of cultural experience, but at the same time still have many things in common and to share with us. Afterwards, we recorded our own video of introductions, this time in English in order to return the favor to the PNG students.
The video is below and can also be found in the section Peace Talks on the website. This is part of what will be a series of videos of dialogue between the participants of both groups in order to create mutual understanding, share and compare cultural and life experiences, generate discussion around the difficult topics of global concern, and build cross-national solidarity as each group works to build strong, peaceful, and creative communities in their respective spheres of influence.
Please feel free to leave comments, questions, suggestions, etc at the bottom of the page. We love the feedback and can share any ideas you might have with the participants. If you are interested in being a part of the exchange (sending your own video, adding your opinion to the discussion, or whatever) send us an e-mail or leave a comment and we'll set something up!
Being part of Taller de Paz is such a rewarding experience. Although the workshops only last 3 weeks, it seems as if it had been at least months. All that they accomplish and the relationship that is created is just truly incredible. It really fascinates me at how genuinely outgoing TdP participants are.
No time is wasted, from day one everyone becomes friends so that by the end of the first week, we have become a warm-knit family. We eat together, share experiences with each other, and have fun. There really isn't much of a power dynamic, and we (as Workshop leaders) strive NOT to be authoritative. And it really is worthwhile because we all learn from each other and go with the flow. This mutual learning relationship really pays off because not only do the participants take advantage of the unique opportunity but at the same time are really consciously gracious. For example, it is the most warmly-indescribable feeling someone gives you a small treat whether it is chocolate pieces, an arepa, fruit, or a beautiful creation that was exquisitely crafted with so much love. Dennis, a really bright girl (whom I truly believe has the potential to be a doctor if she wanted) said, as she gave all the workshop leaders a home-made arepa (D E L I C I O U S !!!) "you guys are always giving and giving; we also want to give- even if its just a little." But we really don't think its just a little, every gesture every experience in TdP has an intrinsic value that simply cannot be compared.