- Emma Goidel, a Philadelphia playwright and a Production Dramaturg for the 2013 Young Voices Monologue Festival, was in Leh, India, partnering with the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation and with the Moravian Mission School, a private secondary school in Leh.
- Tasha Milkman, Teaching Artist and former Teaching Artist Apprentice, explored education, educational policy and the arts in Israel and the Palestinian territories through RealityPro, funded through the Schusterman Initiative.
- Steve Gravelle, Teaching Artist, was in the Pyrenees of Spain at the Fun and Learn Summer Camp.
We’re so proud to call these artist-educators our collaborators. And we’re lucky that they’re bringing back skills and experiences to share with the 1,000+ young writers that we work with each school year!
I spent the summer traveling through cities I’d never visited before in India and the Mediterranean over a three-month period. For five weeks, I wrote, taught, and climbed mountains in Leh, Ladakh, the capital of the Indian Himalayan region.
The people of Leh have lived in a small valley 12,000 feet above sea level for over a thousand years. Historically, Ladakhis thrived in this high-altitude desert by farming together, allocating water sparingly, and trading with Silk Road merchants and their neighbors in Tibet. Twentieth-century border disputes between China and India halted their ancient mercantile partnership, and in recent years Leh’s economic focus has shifted to tourism. With that shift has come a need for English fluency as Ladakhi livelihoods depend increasingly on contact with Indian and international visitors.
During my time in Leh I taught playwriting workshops to forty high school English teachers and advanced students to foster English fluency. I partnered with the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation, a public charitable trust established to promote the understanding and development of local and global arts, and with the Moravian Mission School, a private secondary school in Leh.
From the outset, I had serious concerns about teaching playwriting in Leh. I was afraid participants would react to the workshops with indifference or fear. There isn’t much theater in Leh, and I worried Ladakhis would find playwriting totally irrelevant to their lives. I worried I wouldn’t be able to surmount social differences in the classroom. Diffidence is particularly valued in Ladakhi society, and I feared I’d find myself empty-handed if participants balked when I asked them to try uninhibited theatrical play.
I was so wrong. The students and teachers showed up hungry to hear their own words aloud in front of an audience. Their building curiosity and quiet excitement transformed our demure group into boisterous improvisers. At every workshop I found students overwhelmingly eager for theatrical tools to tell their own stories.
I know I brought home untold lessons from my travels that time will bring to greater clarity, but for now, I know this: theater is a bridge. New friends ready to explore unmapped corners of the universe are always just within reach. The need to cross the divide between cultures and experiences and our own selves — to seek our story in someone else’s—is deeply human, and the hunger for tools to do so can mitigate ethnic and national and linguistic boundaries in a very real, very immediate way. Often, the hard part isn’t making it across that divide — it’s being brave enough to try.
As a person of Jewish heritage, I was repeatedly offered the opportunity to visit Israel for free as a part of a “Birthright” trip during my undergraduate years. I was often tempted and curious, but conflicted about vacationing within Israel’s contested borders. I wanted to visit the region to learn more about the complex issues affecting the Middle East, but worried that Birthright would not provide the depth of critical analysis I craved. Fortunately, I learned of a special funded trip that was designed as a professional development opportunity for young people (aged 25-30) working in education reform. The trip’s goals were to offer participants a critical view of the challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as a values-based leadership development experience.
While the journey was packed with deep insights and even deeper questions, the most memorable stop on the tour was our visit to an Arab village in the Galilee region. This community was located within the commonly accepted borders of Israel rather than the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank or Gaza, and its inhabitants were legally citizens of Israel. Yet many of these citizens had family on the other side of the contested borders, and many identified as Palestinian rather than Israeli. There are roughly one million Arabs living within Israel, comprising 20% of the population. This minority group has Israeli citizenship but experiences widespread discrimination and segregation. Arab children are educated in segregated Arab schools, and only learn Hebrew as a second language. Fewer government funds are allocated for Arab schools than Jewish schools, and higher education is generally offered in Hebrew, making it more difficult for Arab students to matriculate. Among other disadvantages, Arabs generally live in lower socio-economic strata than the Jewish population.
While visiting the Arab community in the Galilee region, we had the opportunity to learn about an organization that works to bring Arabs and Jews together through a variety of community programs. One of these particularly drew my attention – the Galilee Circus. This program brings Jewish and Arab children together to perform circus arts. This non-verbal performance promotes building trust and cooperation between young people in segregated communities that may have a history of violent interaction. The circus program is taught in both Arabic and Hebrew, and the children must work together to create and rehearse original performance pieces. The circus troupe travels to schools in Israel and other locations around the world to spread their unique and powerful message of cooperation and optimism.
The power of the arts in spreading this type of message is unmatched. The simple image of an Arab child standing on the shoulders of a Jewish youth proves that hope, trust, and cooperation can be built. Young people need the opportunity to develop voice and shape the narratives that define their communities. The Galilee Circus is a small organization, but the story it tells is enormous.
After learning about the circus program, our group had the opportunity to meet with a few Arab students. One young person gracefully demonstrated the message being built by the circus program with her simple answer to a complex question. A member of my group asked, “How do you identify yourself? Arab? Palestinian? Arab-Israeli? Israeli?” She smiled and answered simply, “I am Camilla.”
From June 27 – July 22, 2013, I was teaching at Fun and Learn Summer Camp in Spain. The camp takes place in a castle called Casa De Colonies Orriols in the Pyrenees, at the foot of a tiny, medieval village called Castellar De N’Hug. Founded in 2001, the camp is an English-language immersion camp for children from all over Spain to spend time in a traditional summer camp, while simultaneously learning and improving their English. The counselors this summer were from Philadelphia, Boston, New Hampshire, and California, as well as all over Spain and even Glasgow, Scotland. The students were primarily from Catalunya, although they came from Southern Spain as well.
I first worked at F & L in 2004, and I returned in 2005 and 2007. I was working a tightly scheduled summer job for the past 6 years, so I was unable to return until this year.
The biggest difference between Spain and America in terms of education is the biggest difference between the culture here and there: the Spanish, as a whole, are a very laid-back people. And so a lot of the attitude was very laissez-faire about student behavior, language (I now know all the swear words in Spanish and Catalan), and student attitude. The students were sometimes very rude to each other, and to the counselors, and essentially nothing was ever done about it. There is a huge culture of “it is what it is” with the Spanish people, and that was sometimes frustrating when I’m used to an educational system that is tightly structured, with strong standards of student behavior, language, and attitude.
What will I bring into the classroom? Some of the new teaching tools I learned from other Spanish and American counselors for sure. I have a half-dozen new name games, for starters. I have some new, active games. And I have a great appreciation for the (relative) order and structure of the American educational system!
How have I changed… I’ve realized that I’m not in a place in my life anymore where I can work 16 hours a day and sleep for 6 hours a night with no breaks. When I went in my early 20’s, it was all a grand adventure, but now it just felt like work. And not in the satisfying-though-it-was-hard way… more like the I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this kind of way. Time changes us so much, and the style and schedule of this camp are built for 21-year-olds, not 30-year-olds.