September 21, 2017Abbie CaldasThrough a series of games and role-play, we explored participatory community engagement: how educational and societal structures can oppress the marginalised – and some techniques to overcome this. Ensuring communities can trust and feel empowered to share their perspective is critical in creating change.As almost strangers, we entered the room knowing only about each other that we shared a curiosity in empowerment and education. An hour later, we had drummed together, stood on chairs, been lead blind, created languages, sculpted personas, and changed the rules. Through a series of interactive games, we explored the art of participatory community engagement and developed an intimacy, unachievable by a standard lecture. There were only seconds to jot down notes, but it didn’t matter because the understanding was in our bodies and the experience, maybe more so than in words in our notebooks.The lead facilitator, Luc Opdebeeck, shared inspiration from Brazilian Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” which explores how to liberate people through a process of critical awareness. A somewhat radical perspective, it requires an openness to embrace change. As participants of this workshop experienced, there is a partnership between facilitator and learners which empowers dialogue and self awareness. One person does not have all the answers s/he must impart onto passive students; we can learn, work, and live together, in a continuously evolving relationship. Stemming from this theory, the “Theatre of the Oppressed” developed by Augusto Boal, also Brazilian, uses images and actions to communicate rather than words. Eager to try it out, workshop participants trusted the process and released their own creativity and playfulness, which opened up opportunities for deeper dialogue.By applying these games, we quickly developed group cohesion and a safe space to experiment and express ourselves. We played a rhythm on a drum as we introduced our names and performed an action which represented something we are not. Highly encouraged to get involved, it brought us into the moment, not able to be distracted and think about something else. We were then lead around the room, eyes closed, by a partner who created a language as we went along. People looked for new ideas and pushed their own boundaries. Facilitated reflection is a key component to these games and after some laughs, we were asked where and how are we blind in life? When do we have to just trust others and go with the flow?Further games invited more questions: What does “oppression” look like? What is your position of power? What happens when rules change? What is your limit? When are we victims of the system?How can we change those systems that are not working?We concluded with the recognition that we are all actors. In such a group setting, people can project their reality onto the actors which can facilitate discussion of difficult topics. Through this method, participants become more aware and more active in their own lives and it is important to work with the heart as well as the mind. With a grassroots approach of participatory engagement using theatre, communities are trained to use these tools themselves, so there is never an end to this process. This powerful approach highlights how we must understand the system in order to change it.
- Luc Opdebeeck is the Director of Formaat, a workplace for Participatory Drama: http://www.formaat.org. He works with marginalised people facing issues of community conflict, minority rights, homelessness, mental illness and other ethical dilemmas.
- Co-Facilitator Mellouki Cadat-Lampe is a senior advisor for Movisie, a centre for social development, promoting citizen participation and independence: http://www.movisie.com
- Jamila Talla is the Chair of the Foundation “Voice Of Afghan Women”
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