March 12, 2010
I just returned from a week in China – specifically, Deyang, a city in the Sichuan province very hard hit by the 2008 earthquake (more than 17,000 people died and over 70,000 were injured; the schools in neighboring areas collapsed). I was there to train middle school teachers in play and performance, so they could incorporate play breaks with their students into the otherwise very serious and very stressful school day and help with the trauma that is still present for many children and adults. The training was a partnership with the All Stars Project and the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) and along with me were co-trainers Elouise Joseph, a pediatrician and director of youth programs for the All Stars in San Francisco and David Nackman, actor and creative director of Performance of a Lifetime in NYC.
CFPA had gathered 70 teachers and volunteers from 40 schools in the province to work with us for two days. It was a joy! All agreed that children needed to play, and the many teachers who initially said they themselves had forgotten how to play very quickly either remembered or learned anew. Over the two days we taught them many improv games, gave them time to practice teaching them to each other (performing as children), had them create and perform short plays as responses to the training – as we interpersed the theoretical basis for this approach to learning and development through conversation and video.
It was very moving and challenging to support the work already being done by CFPA and others for earthquake survivors in Sichuan by bringing to them the unique approach to human development I’ve been part of developing for so long. The teachers took to performance – playing improv games and creating dozens of improvised plays – and in their comments they shared ways they saw its value and potential: their thrill that “they did what they thought was impossible;” how they “gained confidence and related to each other with a more open mind;” the way they “learned to work together” and “discovered so much about themselves and others;” and that they “see children in a different way now.” One teacher said that on Monday morning when he came to school he was gong to be different – he would smile.
While in Deyang we visited the nearby small city of Mianzhu. The entire city had been rebuilt, including the school which we visited.
After the training we traveled to Beijing to meet with the national staff of CFPA, share our work with them, and learn about the many programs the organization runs, including their plans for expanding internationally.