Saturday, October 29, 2005
Looking back on the project's summer programme
It was hard while the programme was running to assess how it was going. We toured to six cultural centres in five cities (two in Damascus, one in Zabadani, Lattakia, Homs and Hama), doing one week on and one week off to keep ourselves sane. 4600 children attended the sessions, about 75% of capacity. There were three activities, storytelling, digging and debate, the last of these for the teenagers. This was the most difficult activity to get right, but the most powerful when it worked. Up came topics like housing, immigration, violence in school and the home, health, the role of women, overpopulation, water usage, pollution and much more. The feedback was that the teenagers felt that for the first time they were being really encouraged to contribute and being listened to.
Feedback to the programme overall has been very positive. Lots of thanks from parents and children directly. We have had teachers asking if they could go on the training course we put the facilitators through, as thety found the interaction with the children inspiring. Many teachers have said their schools would pay money to attend sessions like these. One girl said: "for the first time I don't feel that children in the West are more privileged than we are". We've had stories back about younger children searching for archaeological remains (the theme of the digging) or asking for magnifying glasses to study things they have found, so the impact seems to have endured.
Some of this enthusiasm can be put down to the fact that there is little like this going on here, and it is so different from the very traditional educational model found in state schools. But a lot of it seems to be purely down to the fact that parents and teachers saw their children really being switched on creatively. The programme had a real buzz about it, but it wasn't allowed to get out of control - there was always a structure that meant the energy was channelled properly. One thing that was very successful was working in groups; this is not done at all in schools.
There were lots of snafus to start with until we got routines worked out, and I think we now have a slick process, which of course we are now spending time tinkering with and improving. We will video the teenage debates, or at least get some talking head shots. We're looking at a different story for the storytelling. But without being over-produced (by some margin) we have got a well-run operation, and I feel very proud of the standards we have achieved.
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