Last week I had the great opportunity to spend two days working with our friends at the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures at the University of Leeds. We spent some time talking through the progress of our work together, but also reflecting on the shared experience and learning from two associated pieces of work with partners from India and Brazil. It was fascinating to talk about what differed about our work, but also those things which seem to be universal in terms of the way people work together and the challenges that poverty and inequality present.
We also spent a day looking at the way in which participatory arts intersect with work like ours with a range of academics and practitioners who brought perspectives from different artistic disciplines and places, from Bournemouth to Kazakhstan! The purpose of all this was not to gaze at our navels, rather to look at what works and what we can learn to the benefit of the people we support. It was an inspiring and thought provoking couple of days. It also provided us with the opportunity to share our great work in South Africa, whilst learning from the work of others.
Our stake in this work is focussed on our Peer Education Programme, which sits alongside our Safe Park Programme. Whilst the Safe Park Programme focuses on assuring that places and services are provided which protect and support vulnerable children to access education, health and the counselling support they need, the Peer Education Programme helps assure that they have a say in their community and are enabled to become the leaders of tomorrow. We do this by building Youth Committees in each Safe Park, which form part of the Governance. These committees can also mobilise around the big issues in their communities, building campaigns to raise awareness amongst their peers and influence change by those who make the policies that effect their lives.
This is where we use participatory arts – such as forum theatre, grassroots comics and community film making – although this isn’t an exhaustive list and we are looking more at music and the possibility of ‘gamification’ of child rights and protection issues using mobile phone technology. These are all approaches which have the possibility of creating as safe and neutral a space as possible for people to discuss and debate a problem and the possible solutions to them. This helps them to build confidence and see that they are not alone in facing challenges in their lives. I’d add that as much as we are committed to assuring that those children and young people we support have access to the best facilities and opportunities possible in terms of the arts, our focus must always be on the outcome, i.e. what changes because of the support we provide.
It is these changes which will create a better future and reduce the need for what we do in South Africa – such redundancy being our ultimate objective! This is why it is so important for us to pursue this programme alongside what might often be seen as the more ‘traditional’ support to communities that the Safe Park Programme may represent. The combination of the two is powerful – addressing the short and medium-term needs, whilst enabling children and young people to address the long-term needs on their own terms. I firmly believe that we can learn a great deal from them – we just need to listen.
Looking ahead I’m in the process of preparing for a visit to South Africa in March when I will have the chance to meet with our staff and partners there again. It will be good to be back on the ground with them and review progress in the year past and our plans for the year ahead. I look forward to learning more about what more we can do to continue to develop our work so that we serve communities even better.
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