Tuesday, January 26, 2016

To Be a Child, Again and Again

Two years ago I traveled to Senegal to document the realization of a Play For Peace Club. Play For Peace is an international non-profit that uses games to help inspire youth in communities of conflict. I think I succeeded in sharing this process to a degree. My first attempt at a multi media project is housed here.

Personally, this experience was as powerful as it was altering. While there, I glimpsed the brighter side of humanity and the potential we have as humans. This slept in me a bit these last two years but has never gone away. 

In 2015 I began seeing pictures of Agyat - one of the trainers that was with me in Senegal - back in Africa again. Laughing again, playing... I knew I had to reconnect with him. There are people you meet in life, at certain moments, that become integral in re-shaping and re-tooling how you view the world. Agyat is one of those people for me. 

Agyat is currently in India and I am in Denmark. This was our first real connection since our time in Senegal... This last week we Skyped and emailed... Below is a bit of our conversations... As well as images that share the process of bringing Play For Peace to Senegal.

A conversation with Agyat - 

I don't have a last name, in all my ID's it appears as Agyatmitra. If they dont understand, I split it as Agyat and Mitra....though mitra is not a surname...it means 'friend'...and Agyat means unknown.

17 years my partner and wife Swati and I have done Play For Peace (PFP). Last year we brought PFP to Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar and South Sudan. There is never a doubt or a question about going to these places.

Yes! The vision is to use it as enabler...enabling people who we work with to take it on...
Leaving it behind so that people on the ground become owners.... Inclusion is the core... and its in this spirit that people do PFP because they feel it belongs to them. Also, since its about cooperative games, all one needs to do is be playful...which is more spirit then anything....

Today we need to live in a world where we must have a whole-hearted acceptance of each other – a strong spirit of inclusion with nothing to fear. We create that space within the first two hours of doing PFP. With all our trainings in India, over 100 organizations are using Play for Peace in programing. Many organizations working in areas of conflict, social exclusion, or remote locations have people applying PFP.

Last year we went to an IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp of 100,000 in Mingkaman (Awerial), in South Sudan. We went in a helicopter as roads are considered unsafe. There was a girl who had lost one leg in conflict in the IDP camp and wanted to play. In reality it was the rest of us that needed to include her and not the other way around. She was already doing it and she got it out of us. Swati and I changed a rule. We played that game just using one leg. It was an 'a-ha' moment for them to SEE inclusion in action. We can't go with a plan, because that means making assumptions, and the only assumption worth making is 'trust the process'. On the third day children were leading games and 'educating' adults on some tricks of playing.

Funding is the only barrier. I can walk into any school, any city, or any country… Since 2000 we have worked for PFP. In 2002 there was a funding crisis with PFP and we were told we could go and do other things to survive. By the time funds stopped we saw immense possibility of transformation in youth and we didn't think of it as an option to quit, in time word of mouth spread and organizations started asking us to come and share “Play for Peace”. It was more natural to share without having the burden of putting it in any bracket. The spirit of inclusion became the only guiding force. In Pakistan we funded ourselves. We thought it was very important and we were very curious about it because there are so many myths reinforced by the media… 

You ask people 'what' about how they experienced play for peace, and they will talk about how it dissolves barriers of age, gender, physicality, privilege, skills, space. There is just nothing in it that will stop anyone from joining in. When we travel and work outside India, we cant assume we will be able to go back again and again, so the concept of Club really helps to share and to know that its working.
Social Media becomes very valuable, like in Myanmar, all the locations we worked in now have clubs, they are posting on their FB page what they are doing. It is not an obligation, and yet its a critical piece as it helps people connect to the larger picture and see themselves as part of something bigger than just their immediate reality.

100+ organizations are using Play for Peace as part of their programming. Many community based and community lead organizations working with socially excluded communities and/or in remote locations have people actively using Play for Peace.
We offer a Youth Leadership Program to World Vision and they have around 100 ADP (area development programs). World Vision has started looking at these young people as community leaders and is working to create a youth group at the national level and most or all of the core team members have been through Play for Peace training.
In many ADP's after completing 5 trainings of Play for Peace, youth have formed an organization with support from World Vision. In many ADP's these young people go and train their peers. These are typically 3-4 days training completely led by these young people. Training sessions include understanding the concept of Play for Peace, learning skills to conduct “Practice Peace session” (This is what Play Sessions are now called). 
Practice Peace sessions / Play sessions are 40-90 minute non-stop sessions where we engage in cooperative activities. This is what we call a “Play for Peace” experience.

In the development sector there might be more money for providing trainings so there is a range.
Development Sector also has a hierarchy, on top are International Agencies, or donor agencies, like OXFAM, Action Aid, CRS, World Vision, PLAN, they think dollars when they decide honorarium for consultants. So when we first got a call form Catholic Relief Services in Ahmedabad to work with them and they offered us 5000Rs./Day (100USD at that time, 80USD now), it was a pleasant surprise and helped us continue. 
The 2nd rung of Development sector are National /state level organizations working on multiple issues of community development.
The bottom rung is of people on the ground, community based organizations that have people from the community working to bring development, advocacy and delivering a whole range of programs that get decided by donor agencies and come to them through national/ state level org.
Many organizations working at the bottom rung may have people with vision but not funds, so they see value of Play For Peace and we work with them irrespective of if they can pay or not.

When you have PFP and give them that, they find moments where they can make it profound. In Pakistan we worked with the director of the Starfish foundation. He did not play much. Perhaps because he was an authority figure and felt uncomfortable and more reserved so he mostly watched outside the circle. In 2015 there was a blast in a church in Youhanabad. He went there after it happened to visit homeless girls that had been effected and were under trauma and played with them. Now, every few weeks he sends us pictures of him playing games. When you have Play for Peace, something so simple that 'anyone' can offer value engagement to others, that person can make it profound.

In the state of Gujarat in 2002, 2000 had been killed, some 200,000 displaced. We went as a team to assess need in 23 relief camps in Ahmedabad.  Despite skepticism of team members, on the fourth evening we said this is what we we do. So we called over some kids to play in Jamalpur relief camp. We started with 10 children and soon every single child in the camp joined, playing and laughing. The outer circle had mothers jumping and laughing in joy. When they said to us that they are seeing their children laugh after 3 months, this became a constant source of motivation about the value of what we do.
When you offer an experience that generates intense emotion of fun & joy and address universal needs of connection and safety, there is not much talking / telling required. What I will say may only undermine what value people have driven from their experience.
Young children, especially in mariginalized communities or affected by conflict, their childhood is compromised, burdened. When they participate in a practice peace session it quickly becomes their space. Absence of fear & judgment brings them home....to be a child again and again.

Text © Bennett Barthelemy 
Images ©Bennett Barthelemy and Tandem Stills and Motion