ArtCorps Program Officer Aryeh Shell reports back on how trainees from a recent course are integrating creative methods into their environmental education and outreach work.
A mind, once stretched by a new idea,/ never regains its original dimensions. ~OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR.
In May 2013, we landed by a small puddle-jumper plane in Punta Gorda, Belize to pilot ArtCorps’ three-day course in Creative Leadership for Social Change. Eight men and seven women from six environmental organizations responsible for managing twenty protected areas in Belize and Guatemala came together seeking new ways to promote the responsible and sustainable use of natural resources, and nearly all admitted that they weren’t quite sure what to expect.
We started the intensive training with a discussion on the value of having a comfort zone, and the importance of being in the “stretch zone” where things can feel uncomfortable but where learning and growth takes place. Over the course of the training, we invited the participants to try on new things and put themselves into the stretch zone as much as possible.
We witnessed every participant rise to the challenge by stretching outside of their comfort zones to acquire innovative skills and strategies to strengthen their work. They tried on many things for the first time, from making masks to creating and performing theater skits. The gratification has continued through our follow-up coaching calls as we hear about the success they are having as they put these new tools and strategies into practice.
Cordelia Requena of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) described how she stretched to facilitate a “World Café” dialogue about alternative livelihoods in a binational meeting of twenty-eight community leaders from Guatemala and Belize. Five tables were set up for conversation with paper and markers for participants to draw and capture the key insights of each round of conversation. The Belizeans played the role of host and rapporteur, while the Guatemalan leaders rotated tables to share their experiences and questions about projects, challenges and strategies. Since language can be a barrier at these gatherings, the process offered everyone an opportunity to contribute through small groups and drawings, generating new ideas for collaboration and sharing best practices.
Participants are also stretching to adapt the activities they learned to their unique context. Omar Sierra of the Southern Environmental Association (SEA) has reported great success in modifying the “Exploring Leadership through Creative Recycling” exercise for public school teachers. The activity creates the opportunity for teachers to experience and reflect on the benefits of participatory education.
Omar has also obtained permission from the village chairperson for a youth mural project. The aim of the mural is to generate dialogue about local issues and how residents can be part of the solution.
Ya’axché Conservation Trust has stretched internally as a team and extended its learning into its community outreach and education. The Executive Director Christina Garcia has used appreciation and trust exercises at staff meetings to strengthen the bonds between colleagues and to model arts-based methods as part of the culture of the organization.
In leadership trainings with local residents, staff are not only applying the theater, drawing and collective visioning exercises that they learned in the Creative Leadership course, but they are stretching to invent entirely new activities on their own! For example, Ya’axché staff developed a game called “Fishing for Life” which used toothpicks, water, corn and cacao seeds to represent dwindling resources over time. The activity allowed community leaders to reflect on their current practices and generate new strategies to conserve and manage their resources for the long term. See photos.
In a few short months, they have successfully applied creative facilitation to engage community members in addressing complex issues such as participatory land use planning, natural resource management, women’s leadership and participation, forest fire prevention and conflict resolution. And we can’t wait to hear what’s next! Here are more photos of community members laughing and actively participating in their workshops.
ArtCorps is excited to continue supporting these efforts and to stretching and growing together!
This training was made possible thanks to the vision and support of the New England BioLabs Foundation.
Aryeh Shell is ArtCorps’ Education and Training Officer. Learn more about ArtCorps’ Education and Training Program.