Sunday, 30 April 2017

Teacher Training for Humanity

By Suzzanne Pautler

Global citizenship, humanitarianism, international mindedness; all are buzz words that infiltrate conversations at faculty meetings as well as mission statements posted on classroom walls.  How do we ensure that our students develop into such individuals?  Who shoulders the responsibility?  Which subject’s curriculum documents the plans to achieve such goals?

Teachers are under a lot of pressure to deliver content in a timely fashion through platforms that reach all learners: English paragraphs with text-based evidence, coordinate geometry, science dissections, stop-motion videos for French class. How do we fit in content about humanity?  The truth is we don’t want to just fit it in. As passionate educators, we truly believe in our hearts and our minds that this must be introduced to our students now so that they can develop the life skills of empathy and compassion, the essentials of respectful dialogue, and the realization of one’s rights and responsibilities.

We invited teachers from around the country to join us on the quest to teach our students about humanity. Teachers from Ajman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Al Ain signed up for Necessary Arts’ first teacher training workshop held in the UAE. According to the results from the pre-workshop survey, 90% of the participants have not attended any workshops on this topic during the past year.  Most responded positively to questions about best teaching practices and using technology in the classroom. The results were slightly lower for teaching about humanity in their classes, and the results were even lower for using drama techniques in the classroom.

Our first teachers arrived 90 minutes early, and thankfully, we were ready!  Our participants included a university student, two learning assistants, an operations manager, an English teacher, a kindergarten teacher, an ESL instructor, and a Spanish teacher. In addition, the workshop leaders are a drama teacher and an ESL teacher. Although our group is varied, we have a common focus: HUMANITY

We began the workshop by identifying the top characteristics defining our 21st century learners. Responses include: actively engaged, creative, critical thinkers, open-minded, respectful, risk-takers, collaborative, connected, communicative, knowledgeable, and globally competitive.  Knowing our learners and their needs is just the beginning.  Best teaching practices were identified as the core ingredient to a student centered classroom. The ideal learning environment is one that uses research based teaching methods to guarantee results.

An example of one strategy we shared was the “Art Gallery.” Teacher participants were invited to walk around the classroom looking at strategically placed photos, words, quotes, posters, and books focused on the theme of global humanity.  We questioned the teachers if walking around and observing was enough to engage all of our learners.  We decided not.  , we added probing questions for the participants to answer with a partner as they walked around.  The answers could not be found in the art gallery, but rather they required critical thinking skills.  Brain research suggests that the student doing the talking is the student doing the learning. This approach might engage a few more learners, but we still weren’t sure that we had engaged all of the learners.  We introduced the teachers to the app Aurasma on the iPhone because we know many of our students easily engage with electronic devices. Aurasma uses augmented reality to turn a photo into a video. We had linked videos to four of the photos in our art gallery. Technology seems to be a tool that easily reaches today’s 21st century learner.

We asked each group of teachers to choose one of the UN Global Goals as their focus.  Our groups chose: peace and justice, good health and well-being, and reduced inequalities.  We utilized various teaching strategies and learning activities hoping the participants could use the same activity in their classes, or tweak the activities to suit their learners. Of course, our leader suggested they "twerk" the activities, but we knew that didn’t sound right.

In one activity, we asked the teachers to create a socio-drama piece where they had only ten seconds to plan and then ten seconds to create a tableau with their bodies to identify each goal.

It was amazing to witness their creations.  We moved onto a written activity which resulted in similes comparing their global goal to a concrete item. “Peace and justice are like the Maldives because they both feel like paradise.”  “Good health and well-being are like a collage because they involve many equally important pieces coming together.”  “Reduced inequalities are like an extra large pizza cut into different sizes so everyone gets what they need.” Who knew there was a connection between the Maldives, collages, and pizza?

By the time the workshop ended that afternoon, we were all exhausted, yet inspired!  The participants completed a post-workshop survey where they confirmed that all objectives were met.  And most importantly, 100% of the teachers said they would recommend future training workshops by Necessary Arts to their friends and colleagues and 100% of the teachers are confident they learned something today that they can bring into their classrooms. Awesome!

The teacher comments include the following. “It was an enriching experience.” “Great work by the team.”  “You both are super professional.” “This was truly a session that I can take back to my students.” “I like the way it was chalked out with fun filled activities and was not boring as all were actively involved. It was a very friendly environment and all were upfront with the best smiles and listening ears.” Every participant had positive feedback to share. One comment that I particularly enjoyed was “The message is clear. Action leads to learning, and humanitarianism is action!”

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Every Child Has a Right to…

By Suzzanne Pautler

The inspiration for today’s class is theatre practitioner Augusto Boal who created the dramatic technique “Theatre of the Oppressed.” Boal invited the spectators to stop his performance and suggest different outcomes for the oppressed character.  Then the actors would continue the performance using the audience’s ideas.  Boal’s spectators became “spect-actors” and as a result, the audience became empowered to create change and take action. His style of theatre, Forum Theatre, became the basis of activism. Unfortunately, the military government of that time felt his theatre was a threat, and their response was was to kidnap, arrest, torture, and exile him.

With Forum Theatre, actors create short scenes demonstrating problems that exist within the community. For example, gender equality, stereotyping, and racism are serious problems that have permeated communities around the world. Audience members replace characters in the scenes and improvise new, innovative solutions to the problems.  This technique is used in the Thompson’s Thespians workshops, pushing the students to improve not only their acting and stage techniques, but also their thinking about how to solve the problems of the world.  While the students may think this is simply a “fun” acting workshop, their life skills, such as critical thinking, are developing simultaneously.

The students have been challenged to create a drumming and movement piece for their upcoming showcase. When the drumming stops, so does the movement. In the silence, each student takes a turn to improvise a short scene to share a narrative, include a statistic, and finish with one of the rights of a child. Every child has a right to education. Every child has a right to recreation.  Every child has a right to health care. In addition to staged performances they have also produced public service announcements depicting their ideas around the rights of the child. Above is a sample PSA video written by the students and also filmed and edited by one of our students using the green screen method.

The UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child has changed the world’s perception of the child.  Children are human beings with human rights; they are not just objects. There now exists a global commitment to advancing children’s rights, which has resulted in declining infant mortality, increasing school enrollment, greater access to health care, and so on. There is still much to be done as not all children have access to all rights. The teenagers enrolled in the Thompson’s Thespians workshops are spreading this message, while also encouraging the audience to take action and make a difference.

The showcase takes place on May 15 which is just five weeks away.  We look forward to seeing the final product as these students push themselves to improve their performance, improvisation, elocution, etc. to the next level. Their message is powerful and we are counting on them to share their message with the audience in the strongest, most thought-provoking manner.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Finding Partners to Protect Syria's Children

By Naima Thompson

On our way to Turkey from Dubai, a million thoughts raced through my mind. I wondered what my Dad really thought, knowing I am heading close to the Syrian border to bring Necessary Arts to Gaziantep and to Syrian refugee children. I wondered about our safety; I had no idea what to expect. Theresa and I arrived at our hotel, ordered dinner, unpacked, and crashed for the night readying ourselves for what would be  a hectic schedule of meeting NGOs who might be prepared to partner with Necessary Arts . We started bright and early. Tarek, our second point of contact on this visit, sent his associate Azza, a young Syrian humanitarian working for IHSAN (a cross border humanitarian group), to meet  us at the hotel and to escort us to the Syrian NGO headquarters. She smiled warmly as she explained her role with IHSAN and its role in disaster relief. They are mandated to work only in Syria, but with the ongoing conflict they have managed to set up an office in Gaziantep where they respond remotely to their team on the ground in Syria. Their program is monitored on a weekly basis to ensure that participants, both parents and children alike, receive the protective and psychotherapeutic program as intended. We then shared with her the services of Necessary Arts. Right away she recognized the value we could bring to the crisis at hand and we prepared ourselves to collect Tarek and then head over to our next meeting.

After a bit of a false start at our first official meeting with UNICEF,  representatives Samuel and David, explained that they were spearheading the cross-border response section and had no jurisdiction in Turkey. Before I could despair, Samuel quickly exited to find Ender, from the Turkish UNICEF branch whose unit was just upstairs, to meet us and to discuss a possible partnership. Ender was enthusiastic about the possibility of  working with us once he learnt of our services. He suggested that we send him an outline of how our program could be part of a teacher training initiative here in Turkey.
As we waited for the driver on the sidewalk outside the unmarked building, I said to Azza and Tarek: Even to engage in dialogue is a win. I meant it. I felt privileged to be part of discussions to find solutions for the 2.7 million Syrian children displaced here in Gaziantep. As we left the UNICEF offices and headed back to the hotel, I could already feel the weight of our mission. As promised, I quickly scripted an email to Ender outlining our intended program involving the use of techniques from Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed to reach the traumatized children under his jurisdiction.

In  our second meeting, this time at the IHSAN headquarters with representatives from an anonymous organization whose mission is to work holistically, draw on extensive implementation experience and share responsibility for achieving objectives with partners, we discussed with two representatives the possibilities of teacher training for Syrian teachers who hope to visit Gaziantep in July. I sat across from the two women and wondered how many times they had met with people like us. I wondered if they believed in us and how far they will go to convince their team to bring us on board. They asked us to send them a sample program of work and a budget outlining the cost to bring NAS back in July. If they decide to partner with us it will be the beginning of a purposeful, sustainable mission.

The next day I woke at six o’clock to the sound of my  alarm. As I reached for the cell, I remembered I hadn’t heard from anyone concerning site visits to children centers. I sluggishly constructed messages to Tarek , Clara, and Azza. The request was simple: Can you please follow up on finding a center for us to visit? I pushed the sleep button on the cell and drifted off to sleep. It was only after Theresa woke me, that I realized just how much the previous day's visits had worn me out, but I couldn't succumb to fatigue. I picked up my cell to check for an update, and there it was, a message from Azza:  “We have centers to visit today. So if you are ready, we can go in an hour.” We were getting into the company car within the hour and on our way to pick up the contact person, Jehad. Before we knew it, Ruba, the director of The New World Academy, an education center for Syrian and Turkish children, had greeted us and kindly offered us the standard offer of Turkish tea or Syrian coffee. During  our meeting, an  outcome was quickly confirmed: Necessary Arts would return in July to work with children aged seven to twelve using puppets and and other manipulatives.

Our emphasis on the notion of sustainability resonated with the agencies we met with. Other organizations had come and gone doing one-off workshops with no follow-up. We assured Ruba that Necessary Arts is insistent on and committed to follow-up and would stay in touch between visits to ensure continuity. After our meeting, Ruba took us  on a tour of the school showing us classrooms which were bright, clean, and colorfully decorated with paintings of Disney-like characters. The children responded to our hellos with “Hello, how are you?” Pictures were taken of us among smiling children, but I knew that behind the smiles were realities too remote from my existence for me to ever understand them. We thanked Ruba and the children for their gracious hospitality and moved on to another education center.

Next we visited the Homes League Abroad Education Center which serves only  Syrian children who have been out of school for several years and are now catching up. Students are being taught English, Turkish and Arabic. The director, Obaida Abdulkader is hopeful that we can bring our drama program to strengthen the literacy of at least twenty students and, for continuity and sustainability, share strategies with the center’s teachers.  We toured the school with Jihad and Obaida; when he entered a classroom, he was met with cheers and loud, joyous voices. It was evident that Jihad’s psychotherapy work had in a short period of time already made an impact on their lives. As the tour came to an end, we were serenaded with a Syrian national song. At the director’s request, we will submit a program of work in Arabic for him to discuss with their CEO and, we hope, be invited to conduct our program in July.

Azza appeared  anxious to leave, but it was not until two hours later that I understood why. As we visited children who had escaped the horrors of the Syrian crisis, an incomprehensible misfortune had struck her hometown of Idlib. A lethal gas, possibly Sarin,  had been released on the town killing up to 70 and injuring up to 500. I got the news as I sat with Theresa that evening, creating a video short of the happy children we had met full of hope earlier. Now, it was four in the afternoon and we had to head back to the IHSAN headquarters for our final meeting of the day with Ahmad Shiekhan, a psychotherapist and master trainer in the Mental Health & Psychosocial Network,  MHPSS.  The air was thick with melancholy as  we entered the room. Despite the tragic loss of life and a great sense of despair, it was clear this team and their partners would not allow the situation to derail a meeting which might  ultimately lead to restoring hope.

Ahmad shared with us his position and interests. We shared ours. The enormity of the work required became crystal clear.  We charted our different connections with organizations to explore if our shared  goals could be met. He made calls to key personnel in an anonymous organization and INSAN. His enthusiasm toward our possible contributions was not in any way subtle and before we knew it three unexpected meetings were put in place. One would be with an INSAN and the other with Hurras. The third would be another member of an anonymous team with programs based in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

We headed back to the hotel both encouraged and inspired by the resilience of the Syrian people we had only just met and now had to leave in what felt like their darkest moment. How on earth, we wondered,  were they able to carry on given what had just happened in Idlib. It was quite remarkable to witness. But back in our room, my stomach knotted and a deep sense of despair set in as Al Jazeera updated events of the day. Theresa, grounded as always, suggested we take a walk in the brisk evening air and step away from the news for a bit. We did.

Our final day in Gaziantep was upon us. A flustered, but well-groomed young man, Anas, from INSAN, met us  in the hotel lobby. He had been delayed by a taxi driver too stubborn to listen to directions. Anas very quickly and clearly shared his company’s background and his reason for making every effort to get to us.  The vision of INSAN, is for communities free of hunger and poverty, full of human values, where no one is left behind and each person can be a productive part of society. He turned out not to be the psychotherapist we expected; but in fact a business manager for the organization. He had been sent because, in fact, he was the only one on the ground in Gaziantep who spoke fluent English. Fortunately, in the short time we had with him, we convinced him that he needed to convince his team to support our return in July to lay out a program of support.

Link to video: Looking for Learning in Gaziantep, Turkey

I looked at my watch for the first time since we had sat down and realized it was two minutes to ten and we had a five minute walk to our ten o'clock meeting with Dr. Ammar at the IHSAN headquarters. Thankfully, Dr. Ammar was also running late. While we waited we  chatted with our first point of contact, Khaldoun, a surprisingly spritely older gentleman with a white-sprayed beard and thin, soft hair. His laughter was infectious and his spirit quite light compared to the other members of the team. I wondered about his disposition and then he confirmed my suspicions. After many years in the trenches he was now on the sidelines watching the next generation run the machinery. He was their council and refuge it seemed. He shared with us his involvement when they were based in Syria and the challenges he lead his team through as they set up operations in Turkey.

Once photos were taken and gifts were handed out, our intended meetings for the day began. Two representatives from Hurras, Karam and Rahaf entered the conference room and after quick introductions we got straight to it. It seemed as if they had come to see how rather than if we can form a partnership. They were into the business of project management and had teams of trainers on the ground in three areas of Syria: Idlib, Daraa, and Douma. These trainers were training others in the community to address the various psychosocial needs of children and women primarily and, in some instances, senior citizens. They were keen to understand the work of NAS and our intended program of work. One issue both parties felt very strongly about was understanding and tailoring a program to meet beneficiaries’ specific needs. In addition to the cross border response teams, they also have beneficiaries on the ground here in Turkey. A plan emerged for us to pursue the possibility of working with up to twenty children aged between eleven and sixteen and trainers over a span of about a week with a  break at midpoint.

As we tried to work out the logistics, a worn yet gentle man entered the room. He immediately joined in the dialogue. Dr Ammar Beetar from SBF whose vision for Syria is a rising community enjoying psychosocial well- being, is a qualified psychiatrist-trainer, who has worked for humanity for many years. He put it quite plainly: We medically-trained workers need innovative ways to support the traumatized and displaced people of both Syria and Iraq who have absolutely no support systems in place for their recovery. He explained that he and his team have received minimal training in Forum Theatre strategies and have found the implementation to be extremely fruitful. Ultimately, we have to plan very carefully to raise the funds required to bring NAS to work in collaboration with the various psychotherapists working for humanity. After we all agreed that innovative approaches are the solution to bring about rehabilitation for the resilient people of Syria, Theresa and I thanked everyone and bolted for the airport.

Ahmad Sheikani had already spoken with Maen from an anonymous organization and brought him up to speed on what Necessary Arts is all about. This preamble made for a smooth and efficient cell phone dialogue between Maen and myself at 11:30 the following morning of our arrival to Istanbul. Maen was involved on the ground in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt and would find a way for us to be involved one way or the other.

The past three days were jam packed with meeting organizations all with the same mission in mind:
TO OFFER PROTECTIVE SERVICES TO THE SYRIAN PEOPLE both cross border and in Turkey and other satellite sites in neighboring countries. Necessary Arts is committed to being a part of the solution and look forward to returning to Gaziantep in July … Inshallah!

Thank you to all the organizations which met with us:

New World Academy:
Homs League Abroad:
And, most importantly, the team at IHSAN who were responsible for making these connections possible and for hosting us as graciously as they did.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Achievement for ALL

By Patrice Trim

"We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community ... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own. " - Cesar Chavez

I used to teach in public school. I had a wonderful experience. But I wanted more. I now teach in a private school. I have forgotten...

...Forgotten that some children in the public system in Trinidad and Tobago aren't benefiting from it. While many are flourishing and doing great things, some are not.

I have forgotten...

Some have basic reading and writing skills. Some can comprehend and phonetically sound out and spell some words. Some can read and write their own names and nothing else. Some unfortunately cannot recognize their own name unless you point it out to them.

I have forgotten...

Some have great coping skills. Talking to them you'd never know. Some don't cope as well. As soon as you have a conversation with them, if you're listening closely, you can tell. But some people don't listen closely. They ignore. They forget.

But now I remember...

The children who are participating in the Necessary Arts - Reach the Unreachable program in Maloney helped me to remember. I see children who are excelling. I see children who are coping. I see children who need more than they're being offered.

I remember...

...remember that the education system in Trinidad and Tobago is failing some of the children who pass through it. Some. Not all. But some is too many in the long run. I'm not sure why. I have theories. Some have theories. Theories aren't helping the children.

I remember...

What we need are solutions. Systems and people and resources that support and educate not just sort, promote and ignore. As cliche as it sounds the children are our future. If we don't help the children, we are failing the next generation. Someone needs to do something and soon.

I have an idea...

Our situation is not unique. It's a problem that exists around the world. There's no easy solution but I feel happy to know that I'm part of an organization that's making strides to creatively start to solve some of the education problems and empower some children.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

As an organization Necessary Arts has educated and empowered some children. We have taught them basic and advanced literacy skills of reading, writing and comprehension. We have taught them basic and advanced acting techniques. We have taught them basic filming and editing skills.  So what now?

The pieces come together...

I am excited for next weekend. The kids will be filming and editing their bio poems and their interpretations of the Declaration of Human Rights. They will utilize all of the skills and techniques they have learned to make something amazing.

I can feel it already...

They have worked hard as individuals and as a collective. They have reminded me of what needs to be done for some but they also remind me of what has been done for many. We  as an organization are contributing to the change we want to see. Small steps, but every drop in the bucket helps right?

Next Saturday, we start at nine and as Trinis say "We eh stopping till we done!"

Stay tuned!