October 30, 2009
These days, la Cuidad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico is pretty much known for one thing—violent crime. No denying the destruction of life and transformation of culture that’s hit this city so hard. But it is not the whole story (it never is).
I had the privilege and challenge of spending four days last week in this city on the US-Mexico border just south of El Paso, Texas. My colleague Carrie Lobman and I were invited to share the social therapeutic approach to learning, development, therapy and community building with a diverse group of people in Juárez. Our visit was hosted by CASA (Centro de Asesoría y Promoción de Juvenil, A.C.) and the Department of the Humanities, Universidad Autónomia de la Cuidad Juárez, and arranged and organized by CASA’s Miguel Cortez, a graduate of the East Side Institute’s International Class.
Our work began Thursday morning with a presentation I made to a packed auditorium at the university, entitled, “Como debe Cambiar la Educación: Juego, Performance e Improvisación para el Desarrollo Humano y el Cambio Social.” After that about 80 of the over 100 attendees crossed the campus courtyard to the workshop room. For 3 hours that day and 4 the next, Carrie and I led the group in performing conversations and improv activities, with both words and body. Near the end of the second day, we divided the group (by now very warmed up and into creating together) into smaller groups to design projects to “grow the city and its youth” and then performatorily share them with the large group. They had great ideas, like Cultural Caravan, Urban Complement, Winds of Change, Shoot Me with Your Ball.
CASA has a strong and solid presence in the poor community of Juárez. Headed by Maria Teresa Almada (“Tere”) CASA’s staff and practice is passionately progressive—unwavering in their conviction that people CAN develop in the worst of conditions. And they have what appeared to us to be a productive, non-hierarchical working relationship with the university. Throughout our conversations with staff, university faculty and students, and young people we never heard anyone blame either the young people who are killing and being killed (hired by the drug cartels to do their bidding) or their parents. They are, instead, focused on the community as a whole taking responsibility for what is going on and working together to provide prosocial things for young people to do.
On Saturday we led another workshop, this time at CASA. The group of about 60 included many teens—some from a CASA high school project and some who don’t go to school but who volunteer with CASA—and women from the community who are involved in CASA programs. Carrie and I saw some new things of value from leading the group in improv games, especially those involving mirroring and creatively imitating each other. One of the most moving was the transformation of both teens and adults when they started playing together, and seeing the teens’ joy when adults imitated them! In the environment we all built, Vygotsky’s views on play and creative imitation—and their advancement in social therapeutic practice—were living, breathing forms of life.