Sometimes many events combine together, giving us the perfect opportunity to publish a new text. Three weeks ago marked the presentation of the exhibition Colours of a Journey in Porto (Portugal), as well as the unveiling of the Playing Cards by SCI at the European Youth Forum in Novi Sad (Serbia) and the start of a Theater of the Oppressed collective in my hometown of Aveiro (Portugal) with the help and support of Thomas, one of the persons behind the Peacecraft collective.
All of these constitute, we believe, examples of good practices in the integration and giving back the power to refugees and asylum-seekers and they were all presented at the Branching Out Forum of Service Civil International in Antwerp, which took place from 6th to 10th of June and gathered members and volunteers of affiliate organizations of SCI.
In a moment where we witness Europe hold a mirror to America and see a recurrence of the same fears, traumas and perceived threats which have prevailed for the last years and are still not dealt with due to the Venezuelan crisis and the ‘caravans’ of people fleeing their home countries to come to the USA, we find it important to present a counter-balance to these narratives.
“The media always portraits refugees always as weak. We are not weak”
– Roxette, actress and member of the Peacecraft project
“All of them did many acts of bravery and courage
– and sharing their stories is only one of those acts.
They’re not just victims. They are powerful”
– Terry Reintke, Foreword to the book “Letters to Europe”
“In the case of Europe’s refugee crisis, it’s often not the refugees themselves
who have any say about how Europeans view them.
Stories are written about them rather than by them”
– Curating Team, “Letters to Europe”
Thomas and Roxette, both part of this project, came to present their work and also some dynamics of the Theatre of the Oppressed that can be used with vulnerable groups in the ‘Branching Out’ Forum. In the evaluation of the Forum, this was considered by many participants as one of the more interesting and pleasant moments of the venue.
The Peacecraft project aims to tackle issues related to refugees and migrants through an interactive game and a theatre play, both based on real stories and facts. The goal is to open up a frank dialogue in a climate of tension and polarity, both in the way refugees are portrayed and in the reactions amongst the hosting communities. This project encompasses a theatre play and an interactive game, providing also the tools for educators to be able to better deal with the often constricted topic of migration.
“Meaningful debate is possible when we start from real stories and by truly listening to each other. The theatre play and the game are the tools to achieve just that”, Thomas says. He and U move 4 Peace, the socio-artistic component of Pax Christi Flanders, have been working with the methodology of Theatre of the Oppressed, a form of interactive theatre, since 2009 and used it to develop the theatre play which is shown mostly in schools around Belgium.
Before they were working directly with asylum seekers in the centers but, as Thomas points out, the “people there were not in the best conditions, because they are waiting for their papers and live in this very insecure situation. Psychologically, it was not easy”. This realization caused them to change their approach, creating a story that reflects different points of view on the refugee situation.
One of the actors of the play, and the only one who is not a refugee, is Daniel, who came from Ghana in 2011 to reconnect with his father. In 2015, he got the opportunity to become an actor, as well as a singer and dancer and later joined Peacecraft. Daniel states that “the project is just not theatrical, it is also a space where the audience can interact”. In schools, the play is acted out and at the end, the question asked to students is “do you recognize yourself in the characters”?
As Daniel declares the goal is “to create awareness in the students about refugees but also to hear their story. We are not just telling a story and going away. We really want to create a platform for the students where they can have their own perspective”. Besides this dialogue, Daniel emphasizes also the chance the play creates for students to interact with refugees directly and learn “oh, ok, this is what it really feels. This is what they go through on daily basis”.
In the group itself, as in Belgium, different languages and cultures co-exist, but for Daniel this is solved on stage by “speaking different languages and letting people know that we are from a different background, but we are as one performing”. Peacecraft stands for a beautiful message of co-existence and coming together in a world plagued by fear, menaces and insecurities. As for himself, Daniel wishes to continue telling “the story of others who cannot tell their own. There are true stories that need to be told and we get a chance to play it out. We, as actors, have the duty to bring these stories to the audience”.
To learn more about this project, know about the play or download the game, you can visit the following links:
http://peacecraft.be/ (available in Dutch)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPrOJPqzMy4&feature=youtu.be (in French with English subtitles)
Colours of a Journey & Letters to Europe
This project was presented by Martin Bogdan during the space open to participants at the “Branching Out” Forum to share their best practices. “Colours of a Journey” is born of a collaboration between transform!europe, change4all, Euroculture Network, SOS Racismo Portugal and ARCI and aims to cross the bridges between academia and activism. As Martin says, what “we would like to do is reshape the way academia is always explaining things. For us, it has to do with democratizing academia and bringing new voices into a debate, rather than having academic experts explaining the society from their ivory towers”.
The project was inspired by an exhibition organized by ARCI, its Italian partner, displayed during the Sabir Festival of Cultures, 2016. The exhibition consisted of a series of paintings made by unaccompanied children who survived the horrific ship-wreck that happened close to Lampedusa Island in 2014. The children told their stories through the paintings which gave a vision of their past, present and future. The objective of “Colours of a Journey” was to transplant the experience of this exhibition by creating a digital archive of the “stories” of refugee and migrant children, making one “see the journey through the children’s eyes”.
For the Colours of a Journey collective, this initiative opens a “counter archive and counter memory of the History”, an avenue to let refugee kids tell their story, a History “written and drawn and told by the new comers and refugees”. It also allows these stories to widen the scope of what this “crisis” means, “giving the voice to the ones who are the immediate witnesses of the events”.
The platform is designed to collect and exhibit paintings and illustrations done by children between the ages of 6 to 18 and addresses all kinds of supportive structures. The identity of the children is protected and the workshops are based on their strict Code of Ethics, with the support team aiming to “let the drawings speak for themselves”.
The workshops took place in Zagreb and Kutina in Croatia, Elliniko in Greece and in Lecce, Italy and the pictures can also be part of a physical exhibition, as it has already been the case of places like Porto, Novi Sad, Zagreb, Cambridge, Uppsala or Groningen, where it all started.
Many of these drawing were also featured in the book Letters to Europe, a different project, which consists of a play and a book. The book, with letters written by refugee women, is divided with Postcards to Europe, the drawings of kids, and for its authors this project was born out of the aspiration “to have stories told by human beings, who are neither threats nor just bare numbers in statistics – but actual human beings”.
To learn more about both these projects, you can visit the following links:
The Diverse Communities: Visual Method Cards
The Diverse Communities: Visual Method Cards was also presented at the SCI “Branching Out” Forum and they were developed within the project carried out by one of the largest, 98-year-old peace movement, called Service Civil International (SCI). Participants at the forum were asked to contribute and present some of their good practices in order to improve the quality and the accessibility of information to activists worldwide. These were then collected and organized to make them visually appealing and easily accessible.
As Sonja Barać, one of the organizers of the project and former EVS (European Voluntary Service) volunteer with SCI, says that “beside the fact that these method cards were created to enhance intercultural dialogue and bring people together in various international activities, they are also the direct outcome of commitment, passion and hard work of activists within SCI and its partner organizations, working in the field of social inclusion of refugees, asylum seekers and marginalized groups”.
The goal of the whole project has been to empower groups of volunteers and their local partners in Europe to connect newcomers, refugees and asylum seekers and their local community to meet, talk, play, and be creative together and the Visual Cards are the concrete product emerging from all the work of compiling and editing creative methods spawning from all over the world. This resulted in 9 interactive methods that can be used in different contexts, 40 photographs on the back of the Cards and one joker method which explains in details how those photographs can be used, making the method more attractive and timeless.
To learn more about this method, how you can get the physical copy of the cards or send your questions and feedback, you can visit the following link:
We wish to thank all the people who participated on the Branching Out Forum and who contributed to this article: Thomas, Roxette and Daniel from Peacecraft, Martin from Colours of a Journey and Sonja from SCI.
Story: Alexandre Fonseca, former EVS volunteer at Volunteers’ Centre of Vojvodina with the project “People BeyONd Borders” (Erasmus + Program).
All photos are courtesy of the organizations involved.