Monday, February 23, 2015

Workshops, workshops, workshops

By Lauren Dowell 

This week has been an intense and wonderful one, for us zebras. We’ve moved on from searching for partners to work with and planning activities, to facilitating a series of workshops to two of the four of Arco Iris’ centres – Casa Refugio, a refuge for young mothers, and Casa de Paso, a home for high-risk young boys. Although each series of workshops follows the same general pattern of Sport, Art, Relaxation and Communication, each target audience is pretty different, with different needs, and so despite having a core template for each workshop, activities and deliverance style have needed to be adapted according to each circumstance. I think I speak for us all when I say that our ability to improvise has been put the test - but we’ve pulled through with yoga routines that were planned in a day, impromptu aerobics and spontaneous English language sessions - and the centres have seemed pleased with the results.

Our first workshop, a rugby-themed sports workshop at Casa de Paso (which aimed to promote teamwork and leadership skills) ran relatively smoothly. Although it was difficult to keep all of the boys engaged in the team-building activities (as we had been pre-warned), another team member provided a short dance class for those that did not want to participate, ensuring that the majority of the boys remained involved in the workshop and experienced some form of sport leadership. Those that chose to stay, however, also had a great time, learning the basic rules of the game and how to pass a ball before taking part in a miniature tag rugby game.

The second workshop, a combined Relaxation and Sports session for Casa Refugio, didn’t quite go to plan. Due to the terrible weather, and the intention of playing rugby on the local field, the workshop evolved into a three hour relaxation session – but one that went surprisingly well! Beginning with guided meditation, followed by a twenty minute beginners’ yoga session, the workshop unfolded to include physical activity to replace the intended rugby practice, in the form of aerobics, a dance routine and an additional closing yoga sequence. The young women were very receptive and open to try new things, and we hope to have provided them with relaxation tools that they can utilise, either as a group or independently, in the future.

The third workshop, once again at Casa de Paso, was entirely spontaneous. Initially intended to be an Art workshop, in which the boys would paint a mural outside of their accommodation, this quickly changed. The centre asked that the walls should be whitewashed before painting onto them, and so while half of us got stuck into this task, the other half of the team did a fantastic job of delivering the Communication workshop, which hadn’t yet been finalised. Again, issues with concentration and participation arose, but the facilitators did a great job of using a range of activities to re-engage the boys… and the walls are now whitewashed ready for the Art workshop which has been re-scheduled for this week.
The fourth and final workshop of the week, an Art and Communication workshop for Casa Refugio, went wonderfully. Using art as a vehicle for motivation and for the understanding of human rights, and communication games to enhance confidence, the session was enriching and inspiring for both the young women and us volunteers. The activities, which included painting a mural, which reads “the sky is at your feet” on the roof terrace, Pictionary and making and wearing banana and honey facemasks (even the male volunteers were coerced into participating…) urged the young women to come out of their shell and by the end of the two hours, even the shyest girl was covered in banana and trying to get the boys to teach her some English.

Facilitating these workshops has been just as educational for myself as it has been for those that they are provided for. I’ve learnt the basic rules of rugby, I’ve co-led a yoga session and I’ve learnt that sometimes improvisation works much better than following a concrete plan. And the latter is part of the beauty of living and working in La Paz – here, ideas and intentions change so frequently that you have to be prepared for any eventuality, and in a relaxed and positive way - and I feel that this Bolivian approach to life is a valuable skill that we are all developing, and which we will take back to the UK to inspire our attitude to work and towards life in general.

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