This blog post is first out of two reflection pieces written by White Dove Project facilitators after delivering participatory theatre summer camps for refugee women and children in Berlin during summer 2017. This post is written by one of our senior facilitators Karin Johansson.
I have the privilege of being born in a country and family with safety, money and love. As we all know this is not the case for everyone and I think many of us want to help. The problem is to know how. So, wanting to spread the popularity of theatre and wanting to help people who need it the most, led me to join the White Dove Project by Scheherazade Foundation. I would like to share with you a bit of my journey with the project.
Combining two passions
I’ve been into theatre since I was 10 years old and joined a drama group at the local culture house. Our first performance was Winnie the Pooh and I played the part of Eeyore. Working intensively in a group, using your creativity and playfulness to solve problems and being in the moment were some of the reasons why I fell in love with theatre. And I’ve been in love ever since.
When something is that meaningful to you, you will sooner or later want to improve your craft and spread your passion. For this reason, I was studying acting in Paris when the huge refugee crisis hit Europe 2015 and it felt more urgent than ever to reach out to other people, not staying in my own bubble of comfort. Even though my choice to move from Sweden to France was completely based on my own preferences, my experience of being a foreigner in the country I resided in and not being native speakers made it easier for me to connect to people arriving in new communities.
I got in contact with the Scheherazade Initiatives through a volunteer organization and I immediately was attracted to the idea of giving the participants tools and experiences instead of only material help. Theatre is about telling and understanding other people’s stories and since storytelling plays a central role in the work of Scheherazade Initiatives I realized that this could be a chance and an opportunity for me to combine my wish to help people and my love for theatre and I decided to be trained as a Scheherazade facilitator.
Building creativity and leadership: the Scheherazade method
When we arrived in Berlin we knew that the facilitator team was going to be divided into two groups, running workshops at two different refugee centres. I was going to be in a group with only women participating and I had been planning the workshop together with another facilitator, who I already knew from my time in Paris.
We had made a detailed plan inspired by the David Glass methods on creativity. This workshop model consists of 5 stages: preparation, origination, organization, presentation and reflection. As we were running a 5-day summer camp, we did one step per day and in addition to that, every day had warm-up games in the beginning and a reflection phase in the end. The women participating in our workshop spoke Arabic and thanks to one of our facilitators from Syria we were able to do a lot of the language based exercises as planned, such as storytelling, talking about the future and imagination exercises.
The thing that is wonderful with the Scheherazade method is that it is giving to the participants the possibility to build their creativity and leadership. Furthermore, a part of the mission of a facilitator is to passe this method on to some of the participants so that they are capable and inspired to run workshops of their own. The last day of our summer camp one of the women participating ran her own dance workshop. This was an extremely satisfying moment for us as facilitators and even more so for the participant able to take leadership.
A connection established without words
The official languages of the workshops were Arabic and English, although there were far from the only languages I heard during the week with the White Dove Project. There was French, German, Farsi and even Swedish sometimes. To me who is studying to become a translator and interpreter it was inspiring to see how languages are bridges between people. Though what I also realized is that you can also manage without words!
One of the days of the camp, neither of our Arabic and German-speaking facilitators could be present at the workshop. The women participating knew very little English which means that we had no common language to communicate in. But the wonderful thing about theatre is that so much can be said without language! We had a great time and through body language and most importantly the wish to want to understand each other we were able to feel connected. For me as a facilitator, it was at times a challenging, but it was also amazing to realize that you can connect with another person without using much language.
The power of presence
The women and children I had the chance to meet in Berlin had all been through heavy things and were living under stressful circumstances, many not knowing what the future would hold for them or their families. Getting a little glimpse of what that’s like was upsetting and at times we felt powerless and useless.
But what I felt helped a little bit for the participants was us giving them a moment of peace. Focusing on listening and sharing creates a little bubble of presence. What hit me was that presence is such a powerful and healing force. To me, that has always been one of the reasons why theatre is so attractive to me. If you compare with film, art or recorded music, the art of theatre happens here and now. The human being has a tendency to be in the future or in the past. To actually stay present is harder than you think, but when you succeed it is such a gift! I wonder, is that why we call it the present?
A troubled mind gets peace when you stay focused on the body. Your breathing for example, will always take you back to the here and now. I’ve often experienced this when studying acting and practising mindfulness and yoga. It was therefore interesting to see that people in horrible and stressful conditions also got helped from this. Many of the women expressed a feeling of release and letting go of their problems after our workshop sessions. Even though our life and destinies are extremely different we can all find energy and peace in the same things, such as creativity and mindfulness.
It sounds like a cliché but the days in Berlin really made me realize that all people are the same. To actually feel and experience that and not only know it theoretically, was one of the things this project gave me. In the end, what human beings want is to be close to their family, have an education, find love, peace and joy in their lives. I’d say that goes for me as well.
Then some are lucky being born in a wealthy family in a safe country. Some people are born in war-torn cities with no other option than to leave the country. Some people get their own apartments when they’re 18 years old because their parents have the money. Some girls have their first babies at the same age. Some girls are worried about not having enough followers on Instagram, some girls are worried that their children won’t be able to stay in a safe country. To some girls, the word “home” is a positive and obvious thing. To some girls, the word home is a lost or impossible dream.
The differences are breathtaking but not as strong as the similarities: all girls want to be loved, all girls want to have fun, all girls want to have a meaningful life. And for people to feel hope and meaning through theatre is something that I can really relate to. The White Dove project is a great initiative because it focuses on the present but also the future. We give the participants tools and hope but also just a break from the everyday struggle.
A week goes extremely fast and I have the impression that I just got a small hint of what we can do, of the kind of work I want to do. These were just some of my reflections on this experience and I hope I’ll have much more and that these kinds of projects continue to develop.
Another cliché is that you must always stay positive. A refugee camp is not necessarily a place that you associate with joy and hope, but that is actually one of the most important things I’ll take with me: the positivity that the women had and the energy we gave each other.