Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Theater for Development" as a Means of Empowering Mayan Children in Guatemala

Watch Field Report Video Here
Proportionately the largest indigenous population in the world, the Mayans of Guatemala have a proud cultural tradition, but sadly, they have been discriminated against for centuries. Though they have won a right to a free education in recent decades, the odds for their academic success are stacked against them. There are a few main reasons to explain this achievement gap:
1. Their rural schools are severely lacking in school supplies;
2.  Spanish is their second language (they speak Mayan dialects at home); and
3.  The discrimination they face from non-indigenous students.
As a result, they often feel out of place and afraid to express themselves in school, which adversely affects their performance and often results in drop out.

What is needed is a way to create a more comfortable academic setting, where the Mayan students feel free to express themselves to fellow students and teachers. In my humanitarian work in other countries, such as Brazil, I have seen firsthand the positive effect that "theater development" has on marginalized populations; Theater for Development is an innovative tool used in the field of international development, wherein participants act out dramas, comedies, musical numbers and dance performances as a means of self-expression. The component of role play allows them to experience the situation from another angle and the improvisational component allows them to think on their toes and experience new forms of thought and action.

On the heels of other projects' successes, Cause andAffect was eager to administer this innovative methodology in a Guatemalan context, so upon our field visit in February, we were overjoyed to discover that CasaSitio (a wonderful partner organization of ours) was also interested in bringing this practice to their recipients.

We then partnered with a Brazilian organization that was conducting a Theater for Development training workshop in another city of Guatemala, so Cause and Affect agreed to finance the training session. With $1,000 we were able to send CasaSitio's practitioners to the 4-day training session, pay for the training materials and then install the theater project into their curriculum. 

We had to wait eight months for the training session and implementation of the program, but we are very pleased to announce that the social theater workshops are in full swing, and are already paying a valuable dividend in improving the academic performance of these Mayan students!

As the field report video documents, the students are overjoyed to have a forum in which they can freely express themselves, engage in role play and become more comfortable with their surroundings. With a more healthy integration into their schools and a new-found enthusiasm, they are already planning brighter futures.

The success of this project once again shows just how far a small amount of money, invested in a responsible manner, can create very effective change.

To contribute to projects like this, please visit our website and our Give page here, where you can easily make a donation via PayPal or credit card. Special thanks to CasaSitio for their assistance and our generous donors!