ArtCorps Artist Naphtali Fields provides a fall progress report about her work building creative leadership among women and girls in Ahuachapan, El Salvador. The ArtCorps-Oxfam America Creative Partnership is supported by New England Biolabs.
ArtCorps-Oxfam Creative Partnership Goal (January 2011 – December 2013): To engage communities in Oxfam’s Community Finance and Prevention of Violence against Women programs, by developing creative leadership in women and youth and using theater to educate and raise awareness.
What changes have you seen in the groups you work with?
Naphtali: I see the greatest results in the Youth Theater Group. They have overcome their initial shyness and have learned basic body movement and expression techniques. Right now, the youth are learning to write a dialogue about sexual harassment. This exercise teaches them to work collaboratively and think creatively. As they create characters and build a scene, the youth uncover and share their own understanding about gender-based violence. This scene is part of the play about gender that is being written by the group and will be performed in their communities and for other youth groups in the region at the end of the year.
To be honest, after our first meetings with the Women’s Group, I never thought we would be able to create and perform a play because the women were terrified to speak in public. Now, they are well on their way towards developing their own play and they participate with real enthusiasm. They are still shy, but much less shy than before. They eagerly share their opinions in the meetings, and as facilitator I often have to work hard to get the group quiet. A real bond has formed among the women, and the group is a safe place of trust where they can discuss topics no one ever talked about before, like the reality of gender-based violence in their communities.
What has been your biggest challenge so far and how are you working to address it?
Naphtali: Consistent attendance has been challenging because [as subsistence farmers] the entire family shares responsibility for farming the land. There is enthusiasm for our work and I make sure to schedule meetings at times that are convenient for the group (avoiding their busiest seasons) and be flexible, so that we still cover the material and they have time to tend their fields. I am also working with the field staff whose expertise is in sustainable agriculture to include workshops on food security, and at the same time, demonstrate how theater can be used to teach people about any topic.
Congrats on your decision to return to ArtCorps for a second year! What made you decide to continue working on this partnership?
Naphtali: The transition to living and working in El Salvador took a long time for me. I believe deeply in this work, but it has taken time to adjust to such a new culture. When I started imagining leaving before Haidee and Margarita had their babies, or Kenny’s sister learned to read, or Maria could say a few lines in public with confidence, I couldn’t imagine it. I’ve worked so hard to become part of these communities, and have already seen so much growth in their creativity and participation. I made the decision to spend a second year with ArtCorps because I want to see how far these women and youth can go in the year to come.