All Equal, All Different

Looking back to the first day in Latvia, we tentatively interacted we each other behind a veil of introductory activities. A few days later, as the activities and tasks became more challenging the veil had been collectively lifted and we were brainstorming together how to bring social inclusion  activities into reality.  There were different steps to think about such as the conception stage, gathering, finding resources and creating materials as well as the implementation stage, thinking about the social, political and economic environments we are working in and getting these projects out to an audience.  As the groups rotated from one topic to another, we were able to go much deeper than we could on our own.  Collectively drawing our knowledge and skills together, because they were so diverse could look at the issues from a variety of perspectives beyond our own.  It was as if we were doing a months strategy development in one day.
 Splitting the topics up on large sheets of paper and contributing to more ideas about how to handle the process of running projects by having several rotation rounds, we found ourselves discussing between each other a multitude of approaches to the topics at hand. 

 This combination of movement and flexibility in this task, is what made dialogue so fluid between us.  The meanings about the complex processes of projects and running youth organisations became more apparent.

After seeing all the functions operating at different levels, we grouped once more, so that we could devise a typical flow-chart from a project`s conception to implementation, each from the different topic`s perspectives.  Our group was focused on "funding" and the different steps needed to sustain the projects with a variety of funding channels.  After working on a very practical implementation level, we were then taken out into the broader context of society through a game that made us aware of the complex levels of inequality in society.
    We were each given a slip of paper that had a role from different levels of society typed upon it, such as a president of a country, a retired shoe-maker or a immigrant seeking asylum in a country away from their where they were born.  We were asked to stand in a level line by one of the facilitators, Mitja.  As he made human rights statements such as "you can vote in your country", those that thought they had this right, took a step to their right moving ahead from the line where we were all once equal.  Rapidly gaps between us appeared and as each human right statement was made, the more some people were left behind never getting far past from where we all started and others were able to quickly get ahead without any obstacles in their path.  There were people in the middle, but even between them, there were inequalities.  Looking like a scatter graph, we peered around to each other`s position.  Those of us who had few human rights and were left behind glanced at each other with sad faces in frustration and dismay that we couldn`t step ahead.  Those that had the roles, such as the Prime Minsters, who were able to get easily ahead commented afterwards that they felt good that there weren`t any obstacles advancing their path.  Lingering within and reflecting these given societal roles, left an impression on us and infused our dinner dialogue.  Those that played roles like a president were able to sit next to those that were in the role as a child immigrant to discuss with each other how they felt as well as the complexities and barriers to social mobility.  
   Our greatest challenge was yet to come.  Having explored societal disparities in a safe incubator  we were now being taken into a "real life" situation.  On the final day, we were taken to a school in central Liepāja.  Upon walking into a room filled with children with special needs of varying degrees, we immediately started interacting with them, by opening out the colourful parachute.  As we lifted it above their heads we gathered the children underneath so that they could see the colours above them. I held up objects that correlated with the colours that I called out, so that simultaneously, they could touch the colours.  Picking up a small boy, who was looking up, mesmerized by the colours above him, he grabbed hold of my shoulders and I guided him to look at the colours that were being called out, for recogniction.
Marios, the small boy no older that two, held onto me for the whole workshop.  Together we made and played with finger puppets, drew his face on a balloon as well as smelling and touching dried autumn leaves to kinesthetically introduce him to the autumn theme of the workshop and activities such as making animals with leaves.
 The room was a buzz of activity.  Crafts with paper, wool and paint were made together.  Both children and adults curiously explored different forms, shapes and ways of communicating.
At the end of the workshop we all gathered back into the circle and did some breathing and stretching exercises all together, feeling refreshed and exhilarated by each other`s presence. 

Everything that we had learnt within the ten-day training course, we were able to put into that two hour workshop.  Not usually having the luxury of time and space to explore in depth issues of social inclusion and exclusion, there were many points previously that had stayed unresolved in my practice and unanswered.  Through out this training course, I was able to find many answers to my questions, by which then further questions surfaced taking me to a higher level of understanding.  When I first arrived on the training course, I thought I knew about inclusion and exclusion, but I realised at the end of the course that old adage "the more you know, the less you know" never rang more true than it did here.  
    Feeling that I had just reached the tip of the iceberg within this field, I came away thirsty to drink more from this well.  Not only an open heart is needed to quench your thirst from this source, but also to not be afraid of delving into your own deep, still and dark waters; your shadow self and to challenge those prejudices and preconceptions that you have about society and your own sense of exclusion and inclusion.  This way into the depths of the heart that sees beyond boundaries, but is also committed to be wrong, to be challenged and to not be afraid of difference or work with people that are often hidden away, forgotten from public view and often excluded in society, is not easy.  However, once collaborating and exploring beyond your own limits and their boundaries, you feel a lightness of your own spirit as you let go of all those weighty judgements that held you back from previously supporting and collaborating in these hidden areas of society.  Doubts may assail you from every direction, convincing you that you are not capable of taking both yourself and those you are collaborating with beyond the expectations that have been placed upon both them and yourself through society`s inclusion and inclusion.  However, through trust in yourself, collective effort with others who are willing to go beyond themselves and your own will power, you can crack open both your mind and heart and in turn, transform society´s restricting core.

          Then indecision brings its own delays,
          And days are lost lamenting over lost days.
          Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
          What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
          Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

From 10th until 21st of October, Jessica White and Jake Street, Art Education Facilitators at Thinc participated in "Include your will power – step 2". A training course hosted by Child and youth union "Liepajas Jaunie Vanagi", supported by Thinc and EU Youth in Action Training.

Photos by: Children and Youth Union  Liepāja, Latvia.