Peace and Love! A slogan that has become popular world-wide yet seems to have lost meaning given the level of violence permeating every strata of society. ‘Peace and I', an initiative of Youth for Peace working with different groups of youth, uncovers layers of domestic violence that are commonplace in many families and communities even today . These cycles of violence are imitated by children who grow up thinking this abusive treatment is normal.
Sangeeta Isvaran worked along with the well known Art School, Escola Guignard — Universidade do Estado de Minas Gerais (Minas Gerais State University), Belo Horizonte, Brazil, at the São Jerônimo State Centre for Reeducation with their project ‘ARTEXPRESSÃO'.
Working with juvenile delinquents using painting, music, dance and theatre, one was struck by the difference in the stereotypic ‘sweet' images of peace that they talked about and the reality of the aggression in their actions and body language. For example the girls spouted the inevitable ‘paz e amor' and drew plump hearts — hearts with flowers, hearts with arrows, hearts with crowns and roses — but the body sculptures they created (with their own bodies) exhibited naked aggression and an obsession with sexuality. When abuse is a casual daily occurrence, transforming themselves from victims to perpetrators is the only way they access power and control over their lives. As perpetrators they create new victims who then seek victims and power of their own.
To break this cycle, we developed a series of theatre, dance and art exercises, games and discussions that were guided from destructive behavioural statements to healthy questioning. Questioning is the first step. We cannot force them to make choices; we can only present the choices, discuss them, enact them, live them and see what they make of it. Through these games, we could discuss the past and the future. One of the games involved dividing a heart in two and writing/drawing the positive and negative things they see within and without. While there were many sad and frightening images, there were beautiful ones too of their babies (yes, some of these children have already birthed children), their mothers, favourite foods and friends.
A team of art educators headed by Luana Mitre work with them regularly and the workshop with Sangeeta Isvaran culminated in a ‘sari' painting that the girls dedicated to ‘girls like us in India'.
In India too, schools teach us by rote our moral values. We repeat them mechanically, learn about Gandhi ‘Thatha', about ‘ahimsa', sing ‘Shanthi nilava vendum'. In a fun exercise at Olcott School with a bunch of lively Std VII kids, after they sang a song about peace and early answered questions on what peace means (with wonderfully painted, rosy visions of brotherhood, prosperity and world peace), they were asked ‘In the past two days, anyone who has not had a single fight please stand up'. First a lot of them stood up; then we said ‘Not even with brothers, sisters, parents, friends? No fights at all?' Sheepishly, one by one they sat down. One kid said ‘But miss, fighting with brothers doesn't count!'
Then they were asked how many stray animals in bad condition lived near them, how quiet was their environment, how filthy was it? Then a true picture of their ‘peaceful' realities emerged.
What is wonderful is that they got the point immediately and within half an hour a huge discussion on how to participate in this reality and change it for the better was on (and global peace was forgotten). Those children were not stupid; given the chance they placed themselves squarely in their reality and stood up for it!! Surmount the stereotypes!
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