Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dakar Youth... Sharing...

This photo I took last week of homeless children in Dakar. There were to be 34 of them sleeping in that tiny space that night. It was late evening and we only stayed a few minutes but what I understood was that this tiny non profit in Thairoye Dakar is a partner non-profit for Citizens of the Streets - Citoyen Des Rues - Senegal. A Paris based NGO that seeks to provide assistance to street youth around the world.

This is El Hadj Beye and he is the president of the Senegal chapter and gave us a tour of Thairoye and the work they are engaged in. I also went to a meeting at city hall where El Hadj was awarded $500 by the Ministry of education and youth for his his NGO. Conducted in Wolof and French, with prayers by the tribal village headman it was quite an experience. The average wage in this economically challenged area I was told was $1 a day - below poverty line. I also accompanied El Hadj and the director of CAFT (below) for a meeting with the USAID education director for West Africa to talk about project funding.

I took this photo two days ago of Mamadou Diallo, the director and founder of CAFT - a school for children in Thairoye Senegal. It has been active since 1992 and is considered a community school which is certified by the Ministry of Education yet set up like a private school where each parent pays according to their means. Many are on scholarship, some pay nothing.

Since its founding Mamadou says he has personally gone to homes and knocked on doors to ask parents why there children were not in school and brought some 500 new students to CAFT this way. El Hadj Beye was one of his former students. Here is the CAFT website in French.

I was there to experience firsthand a training by an international non profit Play For Peace. The goal was to help create mentors and facilitators with CAFT teachers and older youth in the school. Mamadou had invited several other NGOs in Dakar to be part of this training as well so that it would have a much more far reaching effect in Senegal.
Elisabeth from Quebec Canada (she speaks French), and Agyat from India were trainers. Play For Peace is not a funding organization and was in Dakar to share their methodology that is now active in some 20 countries in communities of conflict. A skype session to Guatemala with an active Play For Peace center there, and knowledge exchange with Agyat and Elisabeth were part of the curriculum as was a heavy amount of game playing.

Together the two trainers have nearly two decades of training experience working with communities in the slums of India to the gang-slammed streets of Guatemala.

Every minute there was filled. Amazing for both the cultural experience and the warmth of the people as it was for the crash course in international aid work, local politics and being at ground zero where it all comes together.

My life in 10 days has been forever changed. I look forward to sharing these stories. My Kickstarter I am using to cover costs for this project is 89% funded. Thank you to everyone.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Breaking Barriers in Dakar...

We pushed through the darkness under an illuminating moon and light turbulence. Clouds were lit up, white over the vast expanse of the Atlantic that I could never see. The purser announced our landing in a thick Afrikaans accent and that the plane would be heading on to Johannesburg only departing Dakar passengers would be allowed off. We dropped toward a great arm of glistening lights, a constellation of stars in a space of sea. The new Old World for me. The furthest western point of Africa and Senegal...

The days have rolled quickly, one into another. Time is flying by. Every hour is filled with a new surprise. More smiles, more laughter and more ways I could not have imagined to break through the language and cultural barriers. Barriers that seemed to evaporate upon arrival. I did not feel acutely the “stranger in a strange land” syndrome I have traveling in the past.

On the roof, five stories up on top of the community school run by my host Mamadu and his organization C-A-F-T, primary school kids were laughing, clapping, singing, smiling... Engaged in play with their teachers who were being trained by Elisabeth who speaks French coming from Quebec Canada, and Agyat who comes from India – and like myself does not speak the local language of French and certainly not Wolof. There were also several other adults belonging to several other NGOs and even anartist and poet among those that Elisabeth and Agyat were training to bring Play For Peace into their communities in the greater Dakar region...

Elisabeth brings with her over 6 years of experience with Play for Peace - mostly in Guatemala and Agyat for 13 years with Play For Peace in India. To see them work is a powerful experience. They are relaxed and continually engaged and attuned to not only the moment but the outcomes and how they are heading there. To see their process unfold is illuminating - the evening before as they loosely plan the day together, checking in throughout the day, tweaking, removing barriers by working to engage all the participants and help them feel comfortable and focused – working through the Play For Peace methodology that Everybody is invited and everybody wins. Mamadu, the host here in Senegal was very forward thinking and non-competitive by inviting a number of different NGOs here to participate, not just his teachers...

My self imposed barrier, my talisman of protection, I assumed would be my camera. A way to be involved but safely on the outside looking in, the observer and future sharer but thankfully that was not to be. In a skype interview to the Executive Director, Agyat mentioned that, “Bennett is connecting and communicating with his camera with the children. All he has to do is have it out and they are all around him.” It was true, there were some that would run away if it was brought to eye level but it was always with laughter and a kind of game of tag... Waving at me to take the picture of them and then running away weaving deftly through a laughing knot of other children. Some were brave and asked to see the image on the screen and they would laugh at themselves and their friends.

The training and the play sessions are mostly one and the same. Reinforcing the games by playing them again - the working theory that through repetition and through inclusion, non-competitiveness and caring the games bring everyone together in a very positive and joyful way. There is magic that happens when a large group of children are smiling, laughing, playing...

The French teacher, an older man in traditional robes of the Muslim faith, came up to the roof and was all smiles when he saw the kids in two groups, circled up and actively playing a game. He spoke very few words in English but needed no words to express how happy he was. He put his arm around me. “I am French teacher. No understand English.” He pointed to the children and proceeded to search through his limited English vocabulary to express himself. “This is wonderful. I very happy you are here. Peace very good, very important. Thank you.”

Yesterday beneath drizzly skies, as the call to prayer rang out across Thiaroye and Dakar, the trainers Agyat and Elisabeth shared some of the philosophy of experiential education and how to effectively run play sessions with the 17 Senegalize. When Agyat would speak and Elisabeth would translate and add to the conversation. They seemed to seamlessly communicated. Sometimes Wolof was spoken by the trainees as they shared questions or observations amongst themselfs, occasionally a few words English idioms that they knew would be shouted in affirmation. At one point Agyat made a point that, “If you go and play in many different areas with children this is not Play For Peace – that is just play. The model is based on consistent continual contact. For any experience to become a complete learning it has to have frequency.”

The whole idea Agyat later told me is to empower. “But we keep the power with us if we make all the decisions. Through experiential education the participants take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of what happens. Normally in the classroom this never happens and as a child you don't have any power in this environment.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

PIctures from Dakar...

Agyat from Play for Peace has posted these photos he has taken so far in Senegal... I am in a few of them. He has done a great job documenting his process of bringing Play for Peace here with Elisabeth... here is the link to the link to his album.
Me in Senegal...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kickstarter Has Launched!!!

Wow! Within just a few hours of going live I already already have backers for my Kickstarter campaign... I am honored.

I am leaving Friday morning for Dakar, Senegal. I have never been to Africa. I am both excited and nervous.

My goal: Shoot thousands of images - candid and portraits. Get lots of audio interviews, write feverishly and document the process of trying to create a better life for youths that face intense adversity in Dakar.

I need all the support I can get! You can help back my project by going here to Kickstarter.

Below is from the campaign...

Documenting the struggle and resilience of Dakar youth

Describe what happens when two NGOs and youth of Dakar come together and through play try to create a better life from great adversity.

This November I am traveling to Dakar, Senegal to document youth in and around this city of two million as they participate in a program designed to quickly improve their lives. Statistics from The World Bank and UNICEF show that only about half of Senegal's 12 million citizens are literate. Over half live in poverty. I will be working with two NGOs (non-governmental organizations), whose mission is to help empower youth.
Why Now?
Dakar is offering an ideal platform to visually and verbally describe a combined effort between an international and local NGO - They believe that the program they seek to create will have great potential to positively effect the lives of children in Dakar.
A center will be established for youth and the goal is to co-create a program designed to serve and empower under-served youth of Dakar by playing cooperative games and by training locals to be mentors and instructors of these games.
How will I share this?
My involvement will be to document and create a visual and written portfolio. Through photos and recorded interviews I plan to share the stories of the local children. I will also document the unfolding of the process of creating this center aimed at empowering youth.
To do this I will need your support. I have to cover travel and in country costs and then spend weeks assembling all of the material upon my return. Donors will be an essential part of the process and I will be sending updates while in Dakar - and while the process continues when I am back in Colorado. I will be providing photos and downloads of the series and process to those that help make this project a reality.
Why me?
For over a decade I worked as an outdoor educator, experiential educator and a guide and believe in the efficacy and necessity of the shared process and mentoring for building trust and confidence to better the lives of youth. My experience however, was largely with children from California, from private schools and privileged backgrounds. I am curious to see firsthand and to document how an international NGO can co-create with a local one to provide a platform for sustained positive change within a very challenged city in the developing world.
My big questions I hope to answer are: Can play be used a kind of international language and create a better life for these children? And if so, what exactly is this magic recipe for empowering under-served youth in challenged communities?
You can see more of my photography and published feature work at my website
Below (and the lead picture) are a series of images from Andes in South America that are part of an ongoing project describing the challenges indigenous cultures have to face while embracing tourism and climate change. The images are currently under curation at Tandem Stills and Motion.

Risks and challenges 

There will be language challenges (French, Wolof, Arabic and a number of tribal languages are spoken) and cultural differences - but spending time and building a rapport and trust of the community will help to overcome obstacles.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Documentary Work/Play

Is play actually work? Does it work to play and improve lives? Can play be international language for positive change?

Africa looms much closer on the horizon today.  I will likely be there much sooner than I realized... Like a few days?!

Documenting the struggle and resilience of Dakar youth

A tiny village without electricity high in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru's Andes ©Bennett Barthelemy/Tandem

My first foray in to the creative fundraising world... I am about to launch a Kickstarter program...

Perhaps my biggest challenge to date was sitting in front of the video camera yesterday. I realized I like to be holding the camera - not being the subject. I guess this was my crash course in empathic understanding for all the folks who have been patient models for me over the years was overdue.

This documentary project is powerful for me on many levels.

I worked with kids from third grade to high school for over a decade on and off. Doing both experiential and outdoor education. I saw incredibly positive results. Kids who were shy or nervous gaining confidence - normal school dynamics fall apart on a hiking trail, while climbing and doing team building activities. Kids gain agency and become active participants in their own lives and in forging the collective goodwill of the group. With a little mentoring and helping to empower kids to realize they have a voice, worthwhile questions and knowledge to share, and wonder is appreciated - creates a space fo certain positivity to blossom - and helps with a strong sense that our challenged world just might be OK.

I have missed that time in my life. There were daily rewards with smiles, wonder, inspiration, laughter. Playing a game to teach about the local geology, or each taking turns speaking our collective myth about a group of stars we were viewing under the night sky, walking with your blindfolded partner and being their eyes...

But this was in the deserts of the American Southwest and the mountains of California's Sierra Nevada. With large budgets for travel, props and shiny new protective gear, fancy vehicles to travel in and nice and safe national parks and state parks. The population was largely wealthy private school groups, upper middle class kids and from the first world... And with very little in the way of language and cultural differences. We never had to question if we would be eating the next day. We counted on the fact that we would be safe so we could better focus on having fun and learning through play.

Africa and the international non profit Play For Peace intrigue me. PFP is taking aspects of what I was doing with experiential education and will bring it Senegal in a few days. PFP has never been to Senegal before and it poses for them a largely unknown landscape of new cultures and languages. Granted, they are in 23 different countries and expanding - There programs and techniques are in communities of conflict around the globe so they have a leg up. They are following the model of cooperative play and using whatever is easily available in these communities for props and gear that have little or no budget for such things as play. The plan is to stay for two weeks- play, train, mentor and then leave...

Will I uncover more powerful play parallels in Senegal to my time in the US? What will the parallel be to kids having fun while holding a climbing rope and building trust while on $100,000 climbing wall and ropes course? The facilities will be vastly different in this city of two million and in a country where 50% live below poverty. Does play empower youth in the long term? Obviously PFP thinks so. They help build centers with local communities to effect this change on a sustainable level to help improve the lives of these youth that often live in intense poverty, surrounded by violence, vast unemployment, natural disaster and war-prone areas.

The languages spoken in Senegal are enough to exhaust the most dedicated polyglot. French, Wolof, Arabic, English and many other tribal languages... Religious and cultural diffrences, infrastructure, poverty, literacy.... And then simple play - empowering youth through coopertaive play and mentoring... Can this make the world a better place? Sounds great. I plan to find out...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Helping To Make Peacemakers...

Lately I have been intrigued by an international non-profit called Play For Peace and am collaborating with them to better understand their process and platform for reaching disadvantaged youth.

I had done a team building event with Craig Dobkin, one of the founders, in early July of this year when I moved to Boulder Colorado. Craig is an amazing individual - and over the next few months I learned about his work with his non-profit and I have been fascinated with the premise, scope and reach.

The ultimate goal of PFP is to create peacemakers, to make the world a better place. Simple. Yet it has catapulted me into a larger world - the real world. Of conflict, conflict resolution, DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration), PTSD, the power of laughter and play. It has offered me glimpses into individuals lives that have dedicated themselves to this "simple" goal.

I have just scratched the surface I know... Pulled a handle of a door and am peering in through a crack into Senegal, India, Kashmir, Guatemala, the West Bank, Philippines, Haiti, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver... Please, feel free to peer in with me...

Voices of Play For Peace
©Bennett Barthelemy
The following are the shared voices from interviews with participants at the Play For Peace pre-workshop at the Association for Experiential Education conference in Denver on October 30, 2013. The interviews, conducted with both PFP community members and those that were newer to the ideas of the non-profit, were aimed at gaining a sense of the passion that these people bring to their work with children and to get a better sense of how Play For Peace activities are working within the varied organizations that the individuals work with.

The focus of the workshop, facilitated by Play For Peace co-founder Craig Dobkin and executive director Sarah Gough, was an experiment with unstructured play. The goal:  To help foster the co-creation of ideas and tools to better serve the varied populations that the diverse group of attendees work with - throughout the US and the world… 

One of our guiding beliefs is that every community has the resources they need to be peacemakers and to do Play For Peace activities. We are just sharing a tool that we think works - and we are sharing our community for people who want to be part of PFP - for motivation, inspiration, for the knowledge exchange. But that’s all you really need. -Sarah Gough, Executive Direct PFP

1.     Chaun – Chicago. PFP since high school in 1997. Used PFP activities with local community centers in Chicago after 9/11 as an intervention to help his neighborhood stay peaceful as things began erupting into mayhem. It worked.

“With PFP I have seen kids, teenagers that didn’t have a voice before, whether it’s in their school, with their community or friends – Get a voice. Confidence grows. Shy kids learn to be more confident. Kids that didn’t think they could go to school, or go to college or achieve anything because their environment has always taught them they can’t and you won’t, go on to graduate college and start or work for other programs doing things that they learned from us. That’s the beautiful part about it – Seeing somebody that you helped, doing what you did for them, now doing it for other students. That’s beautiful.”

2.     Lorenzo – He works with Project Voyce. Uses his boxing and martial arts training as a tool to reach kids in a non-violent way. He struggles with how best to blend both traditional and non-traditional learning styles (classroom vs. active). This is the subject of his current masters.

“I work for Project Voyce in the greater Denver area and we focus on leadership, youth development and some education reform. We use PFP techniques because we do a lot of activity-based learning and engage the students. After we run an activity and have fun, laugh, challenge and sometimes frustrate them – we then take that and transfer that learning and say, ‘how can you take what you just learned and apply it to your real life?’”

“We like to create a very positive environment and typically when kids experience a group of people that are supportive and aren’t going to judge you their mindsets and perspectives on the world can change. Sometimes they come in feeling the world is a pretty cruel one, you cant trust anyone. So positive things just happen because they learn there are people you can trust and that will support you. It motivates them to do better in school and improve their relationship with their family and peers.”

3.     Loren – Runs a youth center in Los Angeles that serves underserved kids.

“I met John and Craig a little over a year ago when they came to me and the center in Los Angeles and introduced the idea of PFP and it seemed like a great fit for what I was trying to do there with leadership, peer mentoring and experiential learning. I was struggling a bit with how to engage the older students with helping the younger students - with that peer-mentoring piece. I had a couple of things in place but this just sang to me and I thought Ok, this is it. This is what we do it: Teach them how to facilitate experiential learning games.

4.     Sam and Sarah – Multiple trips to India where PFP has been active for over a decade. Together they raised 8 foster children. They just travelled 10 months in India from the southern end to the Tibet border. In Kashmir, which is very war torn - the couple was hearing from local facilitators there that PFP was helping kids “relax”.

Sarah- “India in general has taught me the value of interdependence. I think in our culture we place a high value on false independence.”

5.     John and Anbern – Working together in Cebu in the Philippines and experiencing new ways PFP is being used to help displaced minority groups i.e the Bajao Tribe… John has been with PFP since its inception and is newly married to Anbern – they met through PFP.

John- “PFP was an extension of what I was doing with special needs groups. You go there and improvise it. Look at where the needs were and help them to be self-sufficient and build a better community for them.”

6.     Curt – Denver Parks and Rec employee –Says the mayor is an ally and very kid-centric. He believes that Denver is paving the way in the realm of youth advocacy with its forward-thinking programs for youth.

“We have 24 recreation centers in Denver and launched a program last year called My Denver. All kids can come to the rec centers for free, use the libraries for free and soon ride all the rapid transit in the city for free. We do youth programs and PFP fits right in there beautifully. All the data shows that kids who are involved in after school programs have really high success rates, test scores go up, graduation rates go up…”

7.     Sir – Project Voyce teacher/mentor. Craig has come and done trainings with Sir and Project Voyce – activities that they incorporate into Project Voyce summer programs to co-create and meet the specific needs of the population Project Voyce serves – inner-city, underserved and minority youth.

“It’s pretty much a long story but to cut it short - Craig, Craig Dobkin. He is very interesting kind of guy. I like the way he presents himself. When I see him and he does workshops its kind of a fun, ha-ha kind of moment, very improvised kind of spur of the moment depending on what’s going on. And that’s kind of how I am when I am in front of the classroom. I will have a lesson plan in my mind but a lot of the time I just kind of observe what is going on and just go from there, improvise, wing it. Nowadays I like to wing it with a purpose. I am interested in this workshop because it will give me different tools and ideas to look at for teaching our summer leadership program in schools all across Denver. Each school is different depending on the students there, the leaders there, the size of the class - so each one presents a new challenge.”

8.     Craig – Everybody’s invited, everybody wins - is the catchphrase he currently likes for PFP. Craig has some four decades of working with incredibly diverse populations and helping found several non-profits aimed at serving youth. PFP was his first international non-profit he helped birth in 1996 with the goal of creating peacemakers in communities of conflict around the globe.

“We are adding new countries with different cultures and different conflicts so our learning curve is extremely high. For the kids we serve it would be nice if they could go home with something they learned that they can share with their families, which brings peace to their family. They can be the facilitators, the coaches, the teachers, the mentors. And we try to do that but we need to do a better job. Just simple activities that bring awe and surprise. ‘Wow, how do you do that? You can do it and I can’t. Can you teach me?’”

“We would like PFP to go into schools and look at education and curriculum to help kids with reading and writing comprehension. We have a lot of activities around these things.”

“When I look back what surprises me is how American we were in the beginning. We were brutal. We would go into countries; Bosnia, Serbia, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip - The other co founder and I did a tour – and we were selling a product they didn’t want. We didn’t ask them what their needs were – we just forgot. We were very naive. At the end of that trip when we reflected we were just laughing. What were they thinking when we went through our dog and pony show and then asking and NGO for $250,000 when they had never seen us before? We needed to connect and create relationships and show that we were sustainable and in it for the long haul.”

9.     Sarah, Executive Director of PFP – Self-proclaimed onductor of the orchestra (700 volunteers in 20 countries and growing), from a tiny village of 600 in Guatemala. Sarah started as a volunteer by coming to Guatemala 2000. Her husband is a Guatemalan and her daughter was brought up in PFP activities since she was just three weeks old. Sarah, who has an advanced degree in social work, was instrumental in helping establish PFP training that has been required of every social worker graduate from the Guatemala university system since circa 2006.

“One challenge certainly is trying to focus my time and energy on the projects that will most bring energy to the community and bring more resources to the community and help us grow and be a dynamic and thriving organization. I love the one on one interaction – to Skype, email and interact and to see all the amazing people that you have started to meet. So it is always a kind of balancing act then with looking for funds, making sure we know the technology part and building our website with the marketing and all of that, so we can be a thriving community. I think it is the community that brings me energy and it’s my job to just be a really good conductor of the orchestra. I have wonderful volunteers from all over the world who volunteer and do pro bono work whether its translation, graphic design, writing… those that not only do PFP but also those that just want a more peaceful world.”

“What we have realized over the years is that PFP has had impacts in many ways we never imagined in the beginning and we are still learning new ways. Where it has never been PFP explicit intention to go to communities to help after a natural disaster, or displacement after war  - or whatever reason, people from our community are caring, committed people and when they hear about these different tragedies they go and help. So what has happened is from our PFP community members going in to refugee camps and going to work with kids after natural disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, hurricanes – is that the impact of creating a space for play for children, having them laugh, connect with themselves and others in their community has been very powerful. PFP are not necessarily trained therapists. But the stories that the parents share with us are that I haven’t seen my child smile since we have been at the shelter, until now. This speaks volumes about how they can get through the next day…”

All Images ©Bennett Barthelemy 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Longs Peak and TailWinds feature...

TailWinds magazine just published a feature of mine on the Keyhole Route, a kind of how to for ascending Longs Peak. A fun publication that specializes in adventure travel and first person accounts out of Tucson Arizona. My next feature for them is on Patagonia! Wahoo!!! Check out the feature here.

The Unburdening...

Profile, interview. Query. Video, stills, audio. A mess of technology to record. It’s a strange process to pull memories and information from the hidden ethers, from invisible synapses and cloudy grey matter - after years or even decades. 

The flicker of emotion across an engaged face, eyes transfixed on some unfolding event long since passed. Describing a smell from the Black Hole of Calcutta and the nose and lips twist again in revulsion. The concussion of a Saigon rocket blast remembered, the nerves tingle from a horrific moment from a lifetime ago. A smile and warmth across the face while recollecting an epiphany – the moment it finally made sense. The shared memory from two together, recalling how they met. Tragedy, love, passion, awe, wonder, relentlessness…

I have shared many of these moments during this last week. Lifetimes of key experiences - from nearly every continent and spanning 60 years from more than a dozen people. A conduit. I become the shared synapse. Passed from one to another for me to pass along again. A collective sharing. A sharing collective. A polyphonic communication. A hope. -
Ear, eye, head, heart.