Teatro em Comunidades & Working with Children who Speak Another Language, a post by Azhar Aboubaker

4 Jun

My name is Azhar Aboubaker, and I am going into my fifth and final year of college. I am double majoring in International Studies with a sub-plan in International Security, Norms and Cooperation, and Sociology with a sub-plan in Law, Justice, and Social Change. I got involved with PCAP as soon as as I transferred to the University of Michigan in the Fall of 2016. I discovered PCAP through UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) and chose it as the yearlong project I wished to be a part of. I worked under Vanessa Mayesky, the Associate Director, and my jobs included mail correspondence, social media management, and database archiving.

I signed up for Ashley’s class, the Atonement Project, the following year in which I co-facilitated a music and theatre workshop at Cotton Correctional Facility. It was my first time inside prison, and I was struck at the level of intellect, honesty, and kindness of the men in my group. It was bittersweet. I looked forward to every Thursday though I knew once our workshop ended we were barred from keeping any connections, which is oh so cruel. We may not have been experts in the arts, but by the end of it, we were all better communicators and human beings.

I then signed up for Theatre and Incarceration the following semester not knowing about the study abroad opportunity. Eventually it came to light and after the initial nervousness that comes with flying to a foreign country, I signed up. From watching plays back-to-back to inhaling every dinner plate within a mile radius of me, it has been a whirlwind of emotions and excitement.

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Our workshop group included 30 kids from the neighborhood, two UniRio student facilitators, six Michigan folks, and Isabel, who is the coordinator from a local NGO called Redes da Maré.

This Saturday was our first theatre workshop with UniRio and also my first workshop with teenagers/kids. As soon as we walked in, their eyes lit up. We were vastly outnumbered, and I loved the fact that Portuguese was the dominant language in that group for what felt like the first time on this trip. (So many faculty and students at the universities we’ve visited have spoken English.) They split up all “the Michigans” amongst three workshops, so there were six of us in our Teatro em Comunidades (theatre in communities) workshop. We kicked things off with an intense dance routine in which the Michigans struggled to keep up with what felt like professional little Brazilian dancers. They loved watching us try to keep up. The sweet little girl in front of me turned frequently to offer two encouraging thumbs up. Although my muscle mass was low, my spirits were high.

Navigating the language barrier was fun because it involved a lot of body movements and very expressive eyes. I noticed that kids in particular have more vibrant facial expressions and interpreted the language barrier as more of a fun challenge rather than a frustrating one.

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The UniRio student in the foreground of this picture was teaching us to dance. She was amazing, and we could not keep up. We were out-danced by a group of incredible children.

For our last activity, we were split into five groups with a Michigander in each one, and we were to improvise a little skit. We immediately got to work and, of course, Beyonce was their music choice (which I totally support). They assigned me to be the choreographer, and after a little translating by Ashley and Diego, I was told they wanted me to be Beyonce. I may have botched the performance a bit, but they appreciated my effort. I appreciated their desire to not only put me, but all the Michigans in the spotlight.

They were so happy to have us. I remember being nervous starting my workshop at Cotton. What if they thought I was a big headed girl who thought she knew everything about the system and was coming in with that white savior mentality, or in the case of Brazil, “voluntourism” mentality? That wasn’t the case with either. Those kind of toxic mentalities are rampant. I was expecting some kind of cynicism but that’s what communication is for. The guys in Cotton asked us of our intentions the first day, and we made it clear this is a workshop driven by mutual growth. We are not here to teach; we are here to listen, to learn, and to share. We genuinely care, as everyone in this world should. We all have a stake in mass incarceration. We all have a stake in systematic oppression. That doesn’t mean it is upon you alone to solve the world’s problems. Sometimes, it just means that a little fun goes a long way.

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One Response to “Teatro em Comunidades & Working with Children who Speak Another Language, a post by Azhar Aboubaker”

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  1. Mais uma visita de amigos da Universidade de Michigan – Programa Teatro em Comunidades - June 12, 2018

    […] Teatro em Comunidades & Working with Children who Speak Another Language, a post by Azhar Aboub… […]

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