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Archive for March, 2012

My recent trip to Bangladesh was very full and complex  as are often in the nature of these trips.  This trip however, had a little more complexity to it, than in my previous visits, in that it included a trip to the small village of Mirsarai to do  anti bullying work using art,  and Playback and not only did that but also continued grief and trauma work with a community that had experienced a horrendous disaster of losing 45 boys after a futball game last year. Working with my Bangladeshi colleagues (Reza Aziz and Nila Farzana) we created a team of 15 wonderful and multi skilled people. It truly was an eye opening and heart opening experience I think for all of us. And many of you supported me in this endeavor for which I am very grateful. With your financial support, I was able to  defray my trip costs.  THANK YOU! These trips are not inexpensive, as I am sure you are all aware!

But my trip started in Dhaka at the University of Dhaka clinical psychology program where I taught a very quick 2 day workshop on “Using the Expressive Therapies for Stress Reduction”

Considering that at that exact time, there were rallies around a meeting that the Opposition to the Government were having in Dhaka, this workshop was well timed and well used!! (For the first day, there was no public transportation allowed except for bicycle rickshaws) – There were very real concerns over potential violence in the city- particularly near us, as the DU students were also protesting the government. We discussed this at length in our workshop. The benefits of course was that  the commuting time for all was cut in half or even more. Many stores closed and no one was going to work!

Some photos from DU…Using music to understand our emotions

Musical instruments were hard to come by for this workshop. So participants improvised in very creative ways. Key sets, water glasses water bottles and sticks made for very interesting sounds to complement the tambourine and drums.

Writing in journals is very important in this process.

Using music in our work

                                                                                               Creating journals

Journal writing is an important aspect of Expressive therapies. Here participants create their own journals for the workshop using collage material. Once the process began, there was no stopping. Participants felt very at home cutting, pasting, gluing and drawing!

Drama allowed us to take on roles of the other. To experience ourselves from the perspective of someone else. Dancing allows us to free up our emotions and to experience our self through our bodies. In both ways we explored our internal worlds during these 2 days. This might also have been a responsive way

to experience art that was created.

Dancing to our personal story

We also did some work on grounding ourselves when integrating challenging, stressful material. In this picture,  two participants are using the “Heart sandwich” as a way to help a person access emotions and to feel supported and grounded. Other techniques included breathing , meditation and visualizations.

Over all, the experience was truly one of stress reduction! Including for me as I was 2 hours late for the second day,  due to a meeting to help find support for the Bangladesh Therapeutic Theatre Institute which organized this trip. It was important for both Reza and I (who was with me) to breathe and create art in order to be able to integrate back into the class!!

Painting our emotions

Then, onto Chittagong, a port city on the Bay of Bengal.

Thus began 3 days of team building and training of the 15 people who would then go to Mirsarai.

First though was the Unite Theatre for Social Action 15th year celebration. I received an appreciation for my work with them in the last 10 years.

Jahid, Hannan, Myself, Reza and Nila at the 15th celebration for UTSA

We began with an ambitious 3 day training called “Developing Empathy using Playback Theatre” This actually also included understanding trauma work, and outlining the ways in which we were to use Playback Theatre to understand and work with the issue of bullying. We knew that in the 8 months since the accident (July 27, 2011) in which an open back truck carrying 45 students coming from a futball tournament swerved into a ditch, there was an increase in bullying behavior in both the primary and high schools. We know that there was tremendous community wide  grief. On a previous trip in October, Mark Wentworth and Dynamic Theatre worked with this community, and I expected that there would still be a fair amount of grief work still needing to be done. In  2 assessment generating trips that Reza and a small team made before March, it wasdecided that the over all focus would be on offering support to families that lost children on an individual level, and to do an anti bullying campaign in the schools.

Therefore the team needed to be able to cope with and handle very sensitive material, and be able to support people who (most likely) still be in deep grief. This was also a time for me to assess the groups knowledge and abilities around using Playback Theatre and other drama  based skills that we would use in Mirsarai. There was a lot to hold.  The training included 3 clinical psychologists (2 of whom would go to Mirsarai) UTSA staff that work using theatre in the slums of Chittagong, People who have trained with me in Playback and/or Psychodrama. It was multi generational (including the 18 month old daughter of 2 of our members!) and multi faceted.

Sculpting needs

Included in the training was a day of personal work, team building and self care techniques to support each other and to use with community members in Mirsarai.  This was vital, as many had not seen me in 3 years,  since I was last here and yet I was supervising them- So team building and bringing me into the fold and to help each other connect with each other in a way that would bring support when the time really demanded it was crucial.

Playback Theatre at Chittagong Training

At one point, I offered a short presentation on Art Therapy to the community. I met people from the disability community and the founder of the Autism Foundation of Chittagong. I ended up offering a presentation to the Autism Foundation another day after the training  day ended.

Here they are working on a drawing together ‘having a conversation on paper’.

Using theatre to work on the issue of bullying

After 3 days we all traveled to the remote village of Mirsarai.

Our first stop was to the site of the accident. An open truck, going to fast, swerved and went into a watery ditch. 45 students in the back were killed or drowned. It was a powerful memorial of remembrance. We all stood for a moment in silence, reflecting on the enormity of this experience as children and parents ourselves.

Mirsarai is a little  town that is made up of two distinct subsections. Socioeconomically mixed,  the community  was both Muslim and Hindu.  We worked with people of all levels of economics and religion.There was a lot of cultural openings for me on this trip. Cultural norms in general, were more conservative than  in Chittagong.

We worked  in one area- Which poised a bit of an issue for those in the other township until they realized that we really had our hands full doing what we could in one town! Mostafa Kamal Jatra, the director of UTSA was instrumental in networking and speaking with different community leaders and helping to organize how everything would be run.

Villagers bathing at the pond outside our house.

One thing that I was very pleased about is that we convinced the journalists to stay away while we worked. This was vital for the integrity of our work and to create the confidential  safety needed for any of the participants to share what they wanted. Given how fragile people were and how much trauma care was necessary , we were relieved .

Munna and his daughter Obani- Our youngest team member.

We stayed together in one house- This was wonderful as it allowed us easy access to each other. We had team meetings twice daily in my room to allow for daily debriefing and exploring ways to do things differently if need be and to be able to support each other. It was tremendously important and grounding.

We ate at a small “hotel” another name for cafeteria.  I have to be honest- I did not watch very carefully about how the food was made :~  Simply put-the “kitchen” is very different from what I am used to! The food though was very good. They were amazed  that a “foreigner” would eat there (I really stood out every where I went- I was the only white person in the whole town! On the first day I  had people just walking to my bedroom to  look at me- So I had to lock my door when I was alone- It seemed to calm down after I started meeting people…) I also noticed that we were the only group there with women. Women do not go out to these hotels- its a male dominated space, but in our case they allowed it as they were feeding us 3 times a day.

Tslima and Rupa relaxing at the hotel

Stories were told in a variety of ways. Through Playback, through art and by listening and sharing in circles.  From Day one we connected at the heart level and supported men and women to reconnect not only with their family and friends but themselves on a deep emotional level. Not always easy- One thing that is prevalent in Bangladeshi culture is about how important boys are. The 45 students were all boys. Boys in this culture are the ones that often go to college, earn a living and care for their parents. Girls unfortunately do not carry as much clout. So one thing that was happening is that many of the girl siblings were left emotionally to mourn on their own and in some cases ignored. A goodly part of our work, was to support parents to open up more to their girl children to reconnect. We were heartened by seeing some of this occur.

One of our main missions was to offer an anti bullying program to the schools. We worked in the 4rth standard and third standard classrooms. Each class had about 80 students!!!! We split the team up in half to do this. On day one , and introduced the issue of bullying. Through game playing exercises, and theatre games we did community  and  team building work with the children.

We did  role plays  and other theatre methods including sociodrama and Playback and Forum theatre based work in which  the kids told us what  and how they wanted to see a bullying scene end differently that would support the victim. We created art and and we did some Playback to support all the feelings. Amidst moderate chaos, the children learned different ways to listen to each other and respect each other. By the third day when they had created posters for the school, all the children knew at least 3 ways to prevent bullying and to stop it when they see it happening and had a way to process the feelings around the issue.

Our last major event was to offer a community Playback Theatre performance. Many of the families we visited over the 3 days came as well as many community leaders. It was poignant and touching to see how people had made significant shifts in some cases from not wanting to engage to engaging and participating.  It was deeply moving and very powerful.

One story told by a father that had lost both his children, talked about how he felt differently than he had before we came. That he was able to process things in a different way now about his children’s’ deaths and his own life.

Watching the ending performance. This woman we worked with- could not stay seated.  She was pulled by the trance of personal stories being made into beautiful art.

That was the end of our work in Mirsarai, but not the end for our group- The next day, we spent the day debriefing the experience- through Playback, art and movement, as well as sharing- What worked, what was challenging, and what could have been different. Like any project, there are bugs to be worked out. One huge hurdle for future work is having people train more in counseling skills- to continue working on their Playback skills,  to be able to embrace the challenging stories, and to keep working as a team to keep developing them selves as a group- Challenging due to  their living in   different geographic locations.

Over all, I feel that the experience was positive and that we made a deep and lasting impression. Leaders in the community have invited the team to come back. Of course the next big hurdle for the village is July 27th. Anniversaries can be so hard….

Our team picture. 2012.

Picture of our team after coming back from Mirsarai

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So I am on my way to Bangladesh. I am only in New York, and already I have been on the road 8 hours! We will be boarding for Dubai in a couple of hours. The trip is long, but I find ways to work with it. Walking is an important step (pun intended) and I read. Today I am reading about bullying, working with bullying, and using theatre- specifically Playback Theatre to help people understand inside and out how bullying affects us and how incredibly prevalent it is.

I’m reading about bullying, because that will be the primary focus of our work in Chittagong and Mirsarai, where, last summer 45 students were killed in an unfortunate and horrendous truck accident. What has come to the surface since then, is the volcano of anger that was under the surface-probably long before the accident occurred. One of the reasons I so love Playback, is that its focus allows us to explore an issue from many angles- Specifically the angles of the teller who might come from my culture, and might come from another culture. In working with the ritual, holding the frame, I from the US and others from Bangladesh can explore this important and disturbing theme in a safe and contained way.

I know that bullying something that happens everywhere, and in the next few weeks, I will explore the differences and similarities of our different cultures on this topic. My guess is that it isn’t too much dissimilar. From school kids in the yard, to our political leaders (if we can call them leaders at times) bullies are rampant around the world.

I am doing other things there too- Many of my colleagues have become close and we are friends. I have been invited to the home of one, and I look forward to meeting children who have grown, and been born since I was last there in 2009.  And dialogues and connections will be made.

Then after that, I’m on to India. I will write more on that when the time draws near.

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