Recrear Participación is an interactive workshop providing young people with the tools to develop their ideas and passion into sustainable community projects. Recrear Participación was piloted between July 10th and July 25th, 2011 in two, separate, week-long workshops in the Dominican Republic in Esperanza and Santiago.  Recrear Participación encourages participants to engage more pro-actively with their community and to think critically about their communitys challenges while exploring innovative ways to address them. Interested in how the workshops went? We invite you to read our final report!

RecrearParticipacion has been a dense and powerful learning experience for us. We found it really hard to sum up our wonderful time in the DR and we thought pictures could help – so here is our attempt. 

Kevin in the Batey

Lead by the children of the Batey Libertad Community in Esperanza, we were shown around the community from the homes, football pitch, crop fields, latrines and communal meet areas. We grew to deeply appreciate the hospitality shown by the families there.

Batey Tour

This picture was taken during our first visit of Batey Libertad. After a tour of the rice field we stopped for some story telling and to lower the motoconchos-generated adrenaline. We were able to chat with some of the young adults in the community and to understand more about their life, challenges and habits.

Cherie

Cherie, also known as the great escape artist, was more often than not a mess maker. Yet despite the attention she demanded we could not imagine the Esperanza home without her. She was in many ways an equally important part of the honorary Recrear-Yspaniola team.

Project Planning

Even the simplest of exercises bring about paramount discussions, and this exercise on identifying objectives was no exception. Through a process of brainstorming, voting and coalescing of similar ideas – groups reached an exciting consensus.  With the project objectives and strategies in mind, each group moves towards the more challenging task of placing those initiatives on a 6 month time line.

Our night out dancing at Batey Libertad

This picture was taken during an unforgettable night out dancing at Batey Libartad. After a long dinner and some good Dominican Coffee at the Yspaniola house, we rode on motoconchos and were welcomed by the warmth of the Batey community. The second ‘dance floor’ for the night was in a dark alley. A car drove up as I was pushing my camera’s ISO in an attempt to capture the energy of the night – this is what came out of it. 

Mario and Luis doing the SWOT

Mario and Luis brainstorming on an exercise to develop their project, Fútbol para el Futuro, ‘Football for the Future’. After having agreed on the project’s objective, the SWOT helped identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of their project idea. Mario and Luis informally organize football games in their communities in Batey Libertad and Esperanza. During Recrear Participacion they had the opportunity to work together and discuss how to coordinate their efforts and utilize football as a means of integrating their two communities.

Fútbol para el Futuro

In Esperanza we worked with two teams developing proposals focused respectively on music and football as empowerment and community building tools. In this photo the Fútbol para el Futuro team just completed an exercise to define their 3 objectives and is showcasing its work.

Football for the Future

The sports development group took their idea to the streets as the team warmed up, stretched and ran together.

Domino!

A group of participants sticks around the Yspaniola house after session for a domino tournament.  During our time in Esperanza we learned that Domino is not a joke. To play it right it requires a balance between concentration, intensity and silliness. There is no small talking involved, but the silence is broken by the sound of dominos hitting the table.

Recrear Participacion Santiago

This picture gives a good sense of the vibe in the air during our workshop in Santiago. The group was energetic and ambitious. We worked in an overcrowded space and sweat a lot, but the room was always filled with positive energy and lots of engaging discussions.

Exercise in Santiago

An exercise centered around the importance of communication and goal setting energizes the Santiago group in the middle of Parque Duarte. The game was a fun way to get each group thinking practically about their capacity to realize their goal.

A remarkable group of individuals whom inspire through their committed work with the Batey community in Esperanza. Their generous hospitality and willingness to share their world with us allowed for Recrear’s project delivery to be that much more powerful.

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Kevin, Kirsten and I have been catapulted from a wonderful two weeks in the Dominican Republic to Canada, where we are giving 100% at Recrear Magnify.

We still have few blog entries in the pipeline- but for now, we would like to thank all the people that have supported us during our time in the DR. Thank you so much to Yspaniola and to the Rodriguez family including Gerald, Julie, Marissa, Jake, Eric, Alex and Mariela.

We are very excited to keep working with the inspiring ideas that came out of RecrearParticipacion… more updates on our follow up process to come soon! Tomorrow, we start three days of ‘Art of Silence’  and we are back in business on Sunday, August 8th.

For now, download here the Recrear Participation Final Report!

-Gioel

While in Santiago, we stayed with a host family of our close friend, Eric.  Eric is a Dominican, studying Music Therapy in New Orleans at Loyola University with his colleague Alex Legges.   These guys were doing such amazing work around the city, outside of our work in Recrear, that we asked them to come do a short activity with our work group.  This video is the testament to their ability to connect individuals through the art of music.  We look forward to working with them in the future through our New Orleans local chapter.

-Kevin Potter

My reflections of the day are all dedicated to my ‘colleagues’. If you know Kirsten, Kevin and I, you know that we are all VERY different. Together, we are a tragicomic and soap-opera-worth trio.  Spending every single awake (and asleep) moment together for the last four weeks has been an interesting process full of ups, but also with some downs.

This is an incomplete list of things that we have been doing together every day:

work, gather food, share beds, get coffee and sugar high, handle money, laugh, coordinate who gets in the shower first, share flash-drives, give each other challenges, listen to music, be introspective, fight roaches, open doors, catch cabs, share towels, whine, make fun of each other, learn how to understand each other’s sense of humor, psychoanalyze, celebrate, ride moto-conchos, make each other’s coffee, laugh, combine our language skills, forget that we have a non-Recrear life and fail to manage it, sleep.

We are perfecting our teasing, making fun and picking on each other’s weak points skills. In the process, we do get irritated and annoyed at times. So here is what I am learning (or trying to) while working in a Recrear full-immersion symbiosis.

5)Be aware of what you and your colleagues need.

While we eat the same food and share the same bed, we are still very different. Seems like a basic idea, but it is easy to forget. We each have our own particular way of handling stress and work on our own rhythms. Our bodies work differently. Living together we are becoming better at understanding when we need to get disconnected for a second, when ‘it is not the right moment’, and when it is appropriate to mess with each other (mmm, we are still not very good at that actually).

Personally, running around all day and working long hours it is equally easy to forget what I need to feel good. Any need that is not taken care of becomes a reason of tension for the entire team- basically, taking care of ourselves and of each other is a common interest.

6) Be ready to deal with your weaknesses cause they are going to come out.

We are not Recrear machines. We all carry around our fears, our weaknesses, our deeper reflections and emotional to do lists. We decode the meaning of our experiences uniquely and are willing to share our thoughts and impressions to a different extent and at different times. I think that being aware of our complexities helps us being more respectful and connected.

At the same time, while it would be nice to put awkwardness aside during projects, in a 24/7 environment trying to hide our fragility is simply a lost cause. Instead, often we just need to deal with them. We all have our own coping strategies. When we are feeling off we laugh hysterically, get quite, get moody, listen to music, sleep, eat ice cream, or get snappy. Of course, this moments cannot be coordinated (and that is a good thing, because usually at least one of the three remains sane at all times ;).

In all these situations, humor is the hero. While it is a powerful and dangerous tool (emh emh), it is useful for us to discuss sensitive issues and get over tension.  Eventually, humor evolves into more serious conversations- the capacity to talk things through (and sometimes to simply let things go) is golden to resolve most of our communication troubles.

7) Take mental pictures

Cameras are all right- but our minds take the pictures. I try to immortalize my favorite memories in mental pictures.

This a brief mental picture guideline:

What is a mental picture? A mental picture is the snapshot of a scene, moment or sensation that you want to capture forever in your database of memories.

How do you take a mental picture? You can take a mental picture in three simple steps. Step 1: Recognize that you are experiencing something special; Step 2:  Decide you are going to take a mental picture; Step 3: Close your eyes, smile, feel fully, open your eyes back up and let the image connect to the feeling you are having. Easy.

How do you become a mental picture photographer? If you are a beginner, it might take some practice. You can definitely take mental pictures by yourself. In fact, you should. But, for me the best mental pictures imply a moment of recognition and connection with the people around you. When you can feel that everybody around is getting the memo ‘mental picture’ you know is going to be great.

 

During Recrear-Participacion we have been taking lots of mental pictures-Our album is not sharable and no, we won’t try to put our logo on it. Taking these mental shots makes us appreciate our work and brings us on the same emotional page. Our mental pictures tend to catch pretty epic moments. But they don’t necessarily have to be ‘objectively’ epic. For example, I have also a little mental post it collection. Sometimes simply a random moment, a smile or a joke can be powerful enough to know that we are ‘here and now’, aware of each other’s presence and happy to be living this experience together.

-Gioel Gioacchino

 

4) There Is More Than the Obvious Way to Communicate

How do you communicate when . .

living in a Spanish – Creole – French speaking environment. Even just speaking “Spanish” means something different here: where you are expected to drop your s’s, shorten your words and talk as if all one word. Just when you think you are beginning to discern one word from another you are thrown into an environment of Creole speakers with a broken Spanish (far better than our own of course) and maybe some rudimentary French. So here we go again, attempting to start a sentence off in Spanish and throughout the communication struggle wind up in French only to wonder if anything was understood at all.

It’s at that point that the theatre geek in me would kick in. Body language, hand gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, music and dance: all ways of expressing a message – and in my personal opinion a lot more fun. As we learn to slow our words and stretch the elasticity in our face we begin to embrace the Jim Carrey in us and find a way to make ourselves understood. In desperate times when even your face is unyielding, you take center stage and with a John Cleese-esque demeanour shamelessly act out what you have been trying to say. All the while an addition of colourful voice tonality and just a pinch of word stresses make for really interest conversation – au non-traditional style. If all fails, of course you can also resort to song and dance (even though I myself have always preferred this form of communication as a point of departure). These are universal languages that we all know and when you are able to carelessly move around the room to the beat of a song around people you know little about – then it is the most beautiful form of interacting there is. So whether it was doing music therapy with the group – assisted by two dynamic and talented individuals or re-energizing through song and dance exercises with our eyes closed – it has been refreshing to connect at a more profound level.

So although our Spanish-Creole-French has improved since our time here – our ability to use the purest forms of communication has proved the most useful. It has been wonderfully endearing to see people come to life by engaging them in this way. It has also be an incredible experience for us in appreciating the volumes that can be communicated without speaking at all.

Ultimately it’s all about capitalizing on our commonalities and remembering that somehow through the differences I can smile at someone and they understand the symbolism of that act.

Kirsten Williams

 

3) Get Silly

While working to inspire a community to make a lasting change for themselves, when the community has never thought critically about the possibility to start a movement from within; it could be easily forgotten that the best work stems from the work you do while having fun.  We are spending hours a day pushing ourselves, and our participants, to basically create meaningful work for themselves.  However, the time spent building connections across cultural boundairs should not overlook the possibility to have fun.

Every day we are in our workshops we introduce different ways to build team camaraderie, and sometimes that means to just play a game.  My experiance working at my university on our Orientation staff has given me a wide variety of activites and I loved having this opportunity to see how well they would translate for a different target group.

Above, you can witness one of our more successful ‘Icebreakers’.  In this one, called Animal Farm, we have the participants close their eyes and make a predetermined animal noise(told to them secretly).  Then, when the game begins everyone must call and then listen for the appropriate matching animal.  At the end of the game, everyone will be grouped in the corresponding animal group.

This is just one example of a variety of different games we play, but it was one of the most successful attempts to take ourselves out of the stress of project management and just enjoy our brief time together.

-Kevin Potter


Our time in Esperanza has come to an end. As we get into our last week in the Dominican Republic, I feel that Kirsten, Kevin and I have a bunch of epiphanies about what the ‘whys’ ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of delivering projects. We tend to be too ‘high’ in our moments of panic and glory to really understand what we should be taking out of our experiences. Instead, the most interesting reflections we have had emerged in the many day and night ‘debriefing’ sessions (this brilliant sessions usually entail A LOT of laughter, music, claps, and ridiculous tangents).

This entry sums up some of our reflections. Kirsten, Kevin and I seem to agree on these 12 points but I am sure there are a lot they have to add. Anyhow- here we go.

1) Manage your expectations

This point has a lot of different facets to it. Travelling and working on projects is freaking exciting (If you love Recrear there is simply not questioning this statement). It is normal to have expectations- about the way you are going to feel, about the culture you are getting in, about your team’s dynamics, your projects, your target group- about pretty much everything. Excitement and adrenaline are oxygen for projects. But we are finding that our capacity to reassess our expectations is an even greater asset than the excitement itself.

Personally, I tend to end up feeling more fulfilled than I initially expected. At the same time, there is very high degree of fluidly to the work we are doing, and it is important to roll with it. There is an infinite number of dynamics you should be able to control in order to make things run smoothly at all times. Realistically, plan as much as you can yet still expect chaos. In this way, you will feel reassured by what works out as you planned out, and less frustrated when things take another direction. With this more realistic expectation you will be able to fully appreciate those priceless moments (that seem to be quite frequent in our experience) where things don’t go as planned at all- but they just randomly (?) end up being even more epic than you could have ever anticipated. The most precious moments are those hidden in the pocket of your projects. For me, for example, they tend to be the powerful side conversations that start from unexpectedly insightful and ‘on point’ questions by participant.

Delivering RecrearParticipacion, we have been listing to and developing people’s project ideas. Thinking about other’s opportunities is like feeding coins in a vending machine of ideas; your entrepreneurial side risks getting an overdose of creativity. For us in this past week the rule of thumb to decide what can we discuss, think about and explore has been one: ‘how much energy do you have before you pass out with your flipcharts on the bed and your hands still on your laptop?’ This strategy might now be the most efficient; we are yet to learn all the tricks. I am aware I need to manage my frustration when I feel I cannot do as much as I would like to. Yet, this does not mean I will be less excited and willing to celebrate every little success we have, whether it is expected or not.

So to sum up, manage your expectation carefully- but take celebration seriously.

2)     Be flexible

This lesson alone is basically the ABC of any project (life included). Again, things get messy at times. The people you work with and for should be the compass of your flexibility. At times, you will look at who is in front of you and realize that you need to throw all what you have planned out the window and play by ear. Other times, you might see great opportunities and you just need to embrace it and try doing a lot more than you expected. For me it is important to step into a session and ask: ‘how can we make the most out of today considering the group, our resources, the energy level, the space we are working in etc. etc.?’. Of course, this is easier said than  done…

Flexibility is not only essential during sessions, it is basically a 24/7 mantra. It entails resourcefulness and patience. For example, we prepared power point and prezi presentations to deliver during Recrear Partecipacion- in English. Today, we managed a session with no projector, no flipcharts or markers and… in French! Post freak out, resourcefulness is a natural instinctive reaction. Basically, the trick is just to avoid the freak out directly- or at least, to reduce it to bare minimum.

Patience, at least for me, is a tougher component of flexibility. Frustration, says my dictionary, is caused by the ‘inability to change or achieve something’. Basically, under stress and unpredictable circumstances a little of frustration is a natural body function. When you are working as closely as we are with a group of people, there is little you can do without coordination. The sense of codependency and lack of control for the dynamics that dictate your work and your day can make one feel very fragile. Yet, being impatient brings only more impatience. Instead, the willingness to play along, compromise and follow the flow is a wise investment.

Oh well, I guess these 12 lessons are not a quick deal. Kirsten and Kevin have been snoring for a while, the remaining ten will be posted daily.  Check back to learn all 12.

Gioel Gioacchino

Since our time here, we have spoken much of what is in an ‘idea’ and by extension a ‘project’. The misconception is that projects are resource exhaustive and grandiose. In truth they can be – but those projects do not often become the sustainable ones nor the type of projects that in fact promote capacity building. One of the single most important messages we can communicate is that projects are exactly what you make of them. There is so much you can do with so little. They will never become that overarching vision until you take the decision to stick to your idea through thick and thin.

In theory just as much as in practice, projects are for anyone and everyone – there are no conditions. Projects after all stem from ideas – and if ideas are in fact “free” as our colleague Gioel would say, then who can be stopped from realizing those ideas into projects? Our ideas are truly a gift when you view them as the basis to your individual development tool kit.

Yet there is another side to this discussion of project realization – that is breaking a culture of dependency and expectations particularly rampant in developing countries. This idea that projects are so vulnerable to being stopped or diminished because they are illogically tied to external donors is dangerous. The external funds we receive today we cannot count on tomorrow. International Development is one of the most volatile industries (oh yes, industries) and so we ought to think about how to break the culture of dependency by promoting local capacity development and not dependence. I say this not to imply that developing countries should not knock on doors outside of their borders – but rather to encourage that they explore resources, potential collaboration within their own communities first. We may not all be in agreement about the governments that run each nation however we ought to recognize that they do in fact have a role to play. The Paris Declaration in favour of vesting power principally with the government is interesting but that idea cannot stand alone. We need to be far more welcoming towards the idea of collaboration between NGO’s, governments and private sector actors. That way certain ideals can ring truer and we can begin to “Speak of freedom as an overall good and leave to each nation the task of selecting the specific capabilities its constitutional structure will protect” (Amartya Sen)

 

Kirsten Williams

 

Only my second blog since being in Esperanza – I think that is testament to the lack of time we have had to really reflect on our experience here with the projects. Otherwise, trust me; you would have a novel in your hand rather than these few others. All digressions aside; wow!

Since we first landed in Esperanza, it has been nothing but mental picture moments. Whether riding the motoconchos to the Batey Libertad, touring and learning more about the community, walking through the fields of all things natural on a fair weathered road or taking my laptop to work on a rocking chair while a familiar breeze blew by. Most awe- inspiring of all however is being an observer to how youth from the community in Esperanza and the Batey Libertad were actively working together to reach common goals. Besides the more talked about distinction between Haitians and Dominicans – there is a difference between recent Haitian immigrants and those who have called theDominican Republictheir home for a few generations. Learning to see beyond the surface is never a simple exercise but the most practical thing we can attempt to do while we are here.

Working with these groups have re-energized my pursuit for finding innovative ways to do development. I strongly believe in mechanism such as sports for development (as done by world street football, right to play, etc), development theatre, and music for development. The football group we have worked with has afforded me some wonderful perspective on why this sport plays such a key role in their lives. The symbolism of the sport is far reaching and aims to address the neglect that could lead to the detriment of a young and bright individual’s future. Seeing the small instance of young Dominicans and Haitians working together to promote the project’s objective was a welcomed dynamic and certainly touched a smile to my face.

Equally inspiring – the music group also demonstrated how music has and continues to be a powerful tool for unity. By creating music ‘without discrimination’ they intend to include rather than divide the different cultures. By employing Spanish and Creole they are evoking the kind of multicultural society they very much want to feel a part of, but for whatever reason, have not been able to connect to.

I have thought a lot about the notion of ‘home’, ‘identity’, and what it means to belong my whole life. Many of those who I have met since my short stay here feel neither here nor there. As if in some of limbo – they are stuck feeling not a part of the country they were born into as much as they feel disconnected to their country of origin. Despite everything – I am not here to judge but simply to observe and learn from what life has taught every individual I meet.

 

Kirsten Williams