Level: primary school
‘It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare,
it’s because we do not dare that they are difficult’
Letter from Sénèque de Lucilius
The following text relates the experience of Sébastien Petiot, workshop leader and traveller. Sébastien is a young trainer in ‘outdoor education’ (non-formal education using nature to work on inter-personal skills). In the year 2000 he worked as a consultant for UNESCO on the International Year for the Culture of Peace. In 1998 and 1999 he created a project called ‘ A Window to Elsewhere’ in Asia and South America supported by UNESCO. Through the Lions International, and the Alliance Française, he worked in over 100 schools in 20 different countries on the themes of the Culture of Peace and sustainable development. Here, he relates his experience in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil in 1997 with the IBEJI project.
The street children of the Barra a Salvador de Bahia district in Brazil, the most visited place in Brazil, live in gangs, begging on buses to survive, with a bag of glue as their drug by the hand. The relationships between them are very violent, in particular this is expressed through stone throwing. It is not uncommon to see signs of violence on their faces in the forms of deep scars. Also the effects of the inhaled glue have such harmful physical consequences that it is estimated that after 4 or 5 years of addiction the brain has already lost half of its faculties.
What can be done? Even if it’s just a drop in the ocean to help these kids. IBEJI , name of the Brazilian Orixa, the Goddess of Children, is a local NGO which works in the Barra district with the street children. It seeks to help them by offering them an open house where they can play, have a meal, sleep and where they can craft objects using coconut shells. There is also a classroom where they are taught to read and write and learn basic maths. The ‘open space’ notion is vital because the home of these children is the street and it is impossible for them to leave it from one day to the next. Gradually they hear about this house, ‘IBEJI’, come and have a look at the front gates and see other children playing, and then perhaps they come back out of genuine interest for the place. Like the rest of us when we are faced with something new, they hesitate between fear and curiosity. Life has taken so much from them that they can barely imagine it giving them something in return.
In 1997 I had been working for several months for the Alliance Française in the Cultural Sector in Salvador. One day, as I was walking along the beach on my way to lunch, I saw a street child aged about 10 with a bag of glue in one hand lying on a cardboard box on the ground. My first reaction on seeing him was, stupidly, to moralise him, ‘Do you realise what little dignity there is in lying around sniffing that shit?’ The child barely looked at me, got up and went to lie somewhere else. I then realised that what I had said was stupid and it was of no use to this child whatsoever. What point was there in talking to him about dignity as he had no doubt been abandoned in the street like a dustbin at a very early stage in his life? If anything can be done for these children, the ground rule is to address their reality. I then promised myself to do something for these kids. A few days later, completely by chance I met Yolanda from the IBEJI Programme. She asked me to join the project and organise theatre and movement workshops twice a week for the children with a view to putting on a show at the end of the year.
Thus I came to work with 10 children, boys and girls from 8 - 16, over a period of 3 months. Each two hour session had 3 stages:
‘Our Life The Street’ a 25 minute show with 50 participants was a great success. Such an experiment is an important way to help the children realise that after the efforts made during the rehearsals they are going to perform before an audience which will reward them with applause. Even if this work was difficult because at times it is hard to get the children to concentrate in each of the sessions, I have very fond memories of it. Two children who had taken part in the show ran up to me as they were leaving the IBEJI Centre and gave me a warm ‘abrazo’ (embrace). It was after this work that the idea of organising two other activities at IBEJI came into being. The purpose of these activities was to transform violent actions such as ‘throwing a stone’ and ‘sniffing glue’ into non-violent actions.
Who has never picked up a stone and thrown it into a lake? But picking up a stone and throwing at someone? Education teaches us to control this violent impulse, associating it with the idea of a bad action. How should one consider the behaviour of these children left to their own devices in the street at an early age, for whom stone throwing is a means of protecting themselves from other children?
In this workshop I invited the children to go through the motions of throwing a stone and to imagine what else this movement could correspond to. They were very good at moving and feeling at ease in their bodies, and that is why this idea went down well. One described the movement of a wave with his arm, another likened it to throwing a ball or the trajectory of a bird in flight, while another improvised a dance routine starting with this movement. The next step involved using these movements as a basis to get them to think about their potential as they prepared a small end of year show. Later when I met some of them on the beach they showed me the movements we had imagined together, giving them a different meaning to that of throwing stones.
The Bag of Glue
In a similar way, the exercise involved imagining what one can do with a plastic bag to escape from the sole image they had of it, namely a plastic bag containing a drug. We went on to disguise the bag in different ways: as a kite, a game with a ball or as material for collage. During the project, not one of the children sniffed glue and later on they recognised that it was more ‘fun’ to use the bags in this way. I then spoke to them about the damaging effects of the glue. I felt that they were more attentive than usual to what was said as a result of the activities we had done together.
By using their reality as a starting point, my aims were using a gestural metaphor to gradually get them to stretch their frame of reference, to help them see things from a different angle. Just a drop in the ocean, no doubt, but it might reduce the stones to dust.
‘Butterflies and moths prefer light to darkness’
For further information
Please contact Sébastien Petiot:
If you wish to contact the IBEJI Project:
Avenida 7 de Setembro - 3346
Ladeira da Barra
40140330 Salvador da Bahia
Tel: 005571 336 5835
Web site: http://www.e-net.com.br/user/ibeji
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