Here’s a report on an OST meeting that I did on the weekend for a really interesting project which got youth to monitor violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the city of Vancouver.
The project was the brainchild of a number of organizations in the Vancouver, who came together to ask about how the UN convention could be used to draw attention to some of the pressing issues faced by children and youth in Vancouver. These issues included experiences in the child welfare system, poverty, lack of equitably funded education opportunities in poor neighbourhoods, safety and treatment by police, transit security and others in power.
The project lasted over two months during which youth facilitators working with a team at the City of Vancouver set out to hold focus groups to educate youth about the Convention, and to gather information from youth themselves on rights violations. More than that though, the youth were also invited to create visions for the future and for the society that they wanted to see, and these visions were harvested through words and pictures.
All of this work through local neighbourhood organizations culminated this past Friday and Saturday. Thirty-five youth gathered on Friday, to meet one another, build community and most importantly, reflect on their experience in the process and create a performance piece that would express a summary of what the project had learned. The performance itself involved the construction of a mural, some spoken word and rap, music and playback theatre. Parts of the performance were in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew and Russian.
Saturday morning, leaders from various levels of government and organizations were invited to join the youth in Open Space to figure out where to go forward. The project was officially over on the Saturday, and so we wanted to create a space in which the messages would get sent and an invitation made from the youth to the adults to work together to keep alive the spirit of what was happening. Fifty-five people gathered Saturday morning, and the youth did their performance which kicked off a short and intense Open Space. There was some significant power in the room, including two Members of the Provincial Legislative Assembly one of whom is the the provincial child welfare critic. Topics raised included what to do to help youth live independently and in safe conditions, stopping police harassment of Aboriginal and Latino youth by working with the police, and educating youth and adults on rights. All of the groups were composed of both youth and adults and the feeling in the room was one of possibility and optimism, despite the huge nature of some of the changes that were being discussed. To have provincial politicians sitting in the room with street youth, working together to move forward the learnings from the project was a powerful experience.
Increasingly I am seeing the possibility involved in bringing creative expression into play with youth working in Open Space. I know there have been many conversations about playback theatre in the Open Space community over the years, but, being a little slow on the uptake sometimes, I’m just now beginning to see how it integrates with OST work. The creative pieces, and the process of creating something together, is another practice ground for passion bounded by responsibility, and youth find their voices in many different ways when they are invited to work together to create art which is used as an invitation for action. There are a number of places in which I think this can be a significant combination and I’ll be looking for opportunities like this over the next little while. In the meantime, if you have had experience combining youth, creativity and Open Space together, let me know so I can continue to expand my horizons on this a little bit.