Caritas Bangladesh, relieving the pain of a people, Rohingyas refugees

The following collaboration was very special for us, not only it returned us to the field work and it meant collaborating with a new organization, but it was also for people who are now in a critical situation. This is the Rohingya refugees, expelled / escaped from Myanmar by the bloodthirsty repression suffered by the country’s military.

The Rohingya people are an ethnic group of Muslim religion living in the state of Rakhine, called Arkan by the Rohingyas, in Myanmar. Its antiquity in those lands is one of the main disputes between the Rohingyas and the government of Myanmar. Today the number of refugees amounts to 1.2 million people, crammed into very basic conditions, living in tents, without any internal security control, with a growing dominance of mafias and without the possibility of any solution or hope to short term.

In addition, the reluctance of the Bangladeshi government to invest in these fields and create a minimum infrastructure, with the idea of ​​ensuring that these refugees are only temporarily and do not settle on these lands permanently. Nor do they allow schools to be created, which is why Caritas has created Child Friendly Spaces (CFS).

These spaces provide a safe place where children, 60% of all refugees, can be safe and have minimal development, learn basic hygiene, eat properly and can develop minimally through complementary education.

Our collaboration was through the Jesuits Refugee Service (JRS) that operated through Caritas, so for practical purposes our work directly reported to the staff and facilitators of Caritas Bangladesh. Caritas is a huge international social service organization started in 1897 that is dedicated to providing worldwide support for the defense of the poor and disadvantaged.

We flew from Barcelona, ​​for about 14 hours. Once in Bangladesh, and after endless passport checks, we met our contact, Mr. Shishir, one of the Caritas managers in Dhaka, the capital of the country. With him we were visiting the surroundings of Dhaka to take a domestic plane to Cox’s Bazar, where we would carry out the workshop.

The organization of Caritas Bangladesh had everything ready. We were housed in a hotel and the workshop would take place in the conference room. Everything was ready so that the next day we would start 7 hours a day of workshop during the following 5 days.

At 5 minutes by 8:30 we were all in the workshop room, observing each other, curious, eager to start. You could see in the face the intrigue …: what is done in a Clown workshop …? Hahahahaha … shortly you were going to discover it!

We gave the start bell and Mr. Shishir was responsible for initiating the presentations … what nerves! We really wanted to start, to share together the following days of intense work, mutual knowledge, effort and a lot of truth.

In total there were 26 people, half Caritas staff, some senior and others junior, and the other half were facilitators, all women, who would be responsible for teaching CFS in the refugee camps.

At first the atmosphere was a bit more rigid, of shyness, there were some cultural barriers that we had to overcome, it was difficult to get used to our way of doing things, taking care of and looking for your own opinion, your own expression and each of them.

The facilitating girls, Muslim majority, at first cost them to integrate the exercises to their schemes, I do not blame them, jejejeje … but little by little we all merged into a fantastic and wonderful group of expression and play, learning and experimentation.

The dynamics raised more and more volunteers. Those and those who at first looked down to ask for collaboration, now shone their eyes with emotion, the need to say their opinion, to share with all of us the essence that they had inside. In the common bond: all for the children and learning to offer more, we all immerse ourselves in this trip that lasted 5 days.

And this feeling was palpable, the final opinions, the recognitions, the expressions of gratitude of the group left us on the verge of tears. Our different way of dealing with the concepts surprised them greatly, they told us that they had not been bored for a single moment, that the treatment of the concepts had been so simple, very clear … This is the prize for what we do … Happy people !!!

Through our technique, from us, leaving a memory and knowledge that will now reach the Rohingyas, their children, to a part of the world that needs to laugh and express, are limits or barriers, so we can say that the voice of the world is also yours.

   

After this experience, intense, emotional, with images that we will not forget, with looks, gestures, laughs and smiles that remain engraved on us forever … Good luck in your incredible mission, we will see each other again, without a doubt …

From Cox’s Bazar we fly to Dhaka to catch another plane to Chennai, India, where the next collaboration awaits us … Let’s go !!!

JRS Drop out girls from Sri Lankan refugees, generating a future

We continued through southern India, and from Bangalore we returned by train to Dindigul. Our next collaboration was again with JRS (Jesuits Refugee Service). JRS does an excellent job of providing assistance to Sri Lankan refugees who are based in South India.

These refugees are the Tamils, and they have been in the 107 refugee camps in the Tamil Nadu region for more than 25 years, without any solution, the government of India does not provide them with papers and the government of Sri Lanka does not return them the lands from which they were expelled, in addition to in some cases not having papers.

Governments have been promising solutions for years but they never come. Meanwhile JRS carries out mediation to improve what their living conditions may be, and if possible to accelerate the arrival of possible solutions with the help of the UNHCR.

While the solutions do not arrive, JRS asked us if we could share a little of ourselves with a group that they provide support so that they can have some option for the future.

This group is about the “Drop Out Girls”. They are girls who have left school prematurely and have not obtained any other training. The reasons for leaving school can be several, lack of attention from parents, discrimination in Indian schools, having to work … In any case, this situation condemns them to have great limitations for their economic development, with a single alternative , get marry.

JRS provides intensive training for six months in a row. They teach them sewing and all the necessary knowledge to make clothing, and can sell it to build a future. They also learn beauty salon skills, and other skills.

Father Alex came to pick us up at the train station, he explained the details of the availability of the girls to do the workshop. There were 25 girls, two of whom had been hired as teachers. The workshops would take place at the Shakthi residence. Shakthi Folk Cultural Center is a traditional Indian dance school for Dalit girls (the most denigrated caste, even if it is not considered chaste for being very inferior) who have no training and no way to develop economically.

This center teaches traditional dances from South India, more specifically from the Tamil Nadu area. The girls earn a salary touring in shows nearby (and sometimes internationally), they offer dances as a traditional show. We have seen them and they are really good.

So Sister Chandra, the head and founder of the Shakthi Folk Cultural Center, kindly agreed to house and feed the 25 JRS girls, as well as her 25 girls and us. There we all shared more than two weeks. In return, we would hold another two-day workshop for their girls. As you can imagine we have lived great experiences for more than 2 weeks there, we try to make a summary.

The place was very clean, it was nice to be there, surrounded by nature in a rural area in South India. The food was excellent, all made by them, with rice, coconut and vegetables. What we liked most were the idlys with coconut chudney, a sauce made with coconut … a delight! Also, we ate an excellent rice byriani …

The workshop was great! two weeks, four hours a day, so we had the opportunity to apply several techniques, many exercises. They enjoyed it, and a lot, you should see them playing, screaming, enjoying as girls, transported to carefree times, in a temporary parenthesis. There were 25 girls between 14 and 21 years old, in full adolescence.

At first, it cost them. When we met for the first time, nobody could stand beside me, they were frightened and made an empty space between me and any form of feminine life … Little by little I was gaining their confidence, they began to interact with me and everything was like silk.

It was very interesting the strong old beliefs that they had, differentiating tremendously the masculine and feminine gender.

In the end with many of the girls we had jokes that we were repeating until the end of the weeks. One of them called me big brother in Tamil every time he saw me, this girl was very funny, and we ended up being friends !!!

In the group there were several characters, as it usually happens in a group of people, which is heterogeneous, and separate groups were formed. We tried to break these groups, make them understand that differences are positive characteristics in the individuals that benefit the whole group.

It was very interesting to share, we taught them our arguments and principles and they taught us their culture, their customs, their expressions, their music and their dances … almost nothing! As the workshop progressed the girls were more and more motivated, we were already a group, that together we were creating something, expressing, developing one another.

The last day was sad, they returned to the residence of Trichy, and we continued our trip to other places. We took this experience very much in our hearts, the truth is that it was very intense, very close and we worked for many hours … Aaaaaish … we just hope that we have been able to change for the better, even if only a little, his life. We will see us again!!!!!

JRS Sri Lanka Refugees, sowing the future of the people

After the experience with Chin refugees in Delhi, JRS asked us to give another workshop, this time to refugees from Sri Lanka. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu there are 107 refugee camps in Sri Lanka. These are refugees who mostly left Sri Lanka because of the civil war.

Durante la colonización inglesa, se trasladaron gran número de trabajadores indios, principalmente del estado de Tamil Nadú, para trabajar en las plantaciones de té de Ceylan (nombre inglés de Sri Lanka). Una vez los colonizadores se fueron, el gobierno de Sri Lanka negó la nacionalidad a toda la gente de origen indio, llamados Tamils, y ordenó su regreso a la India.

A process of repression began that led in 1983 to Black July, a national revolt against the Tamil minority. Since then, a civil war that lasted 25 years has begun, the Tamils ​​claimed the north of Sri Lanka while the government did not grant them citizenship. In 2009 the Tamils ​​admitted defeat and the war ended. During the entire civil war the majority of the population moved as refugees to the state of Tamil Nadu in India, where they reside since then awaiting a solution, without nationality of Sri Lanka or India, they are exempt from any rights as citizens.

JRS is responsible for training refugees to be teachers of personal and professional development within the refugee camps. These promote and teach skills to young people and adults in refugee camps to facilitate their integration into employment wherever they reside.

We were going to do a training for these teachers in the first edition of the teachers’ meeting of all refugee camps of Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu, which would be held for two days in Tiruchirapally, or Trichy.

The objective of this meeting was to unite all the professors of the different refugee camps to get to know each other and share experiences. With the JRS staff that manages them, it was a total of 250 people. Our contact was the director of JRS Tamil Nadu, Father Alex, director of JRS Tamil Nadu, a very nice man.

We arrived at Trichy by plane from Delhi. The lack of time and the enormous distance between Delhi and Trichy meant that we could not go by train. There we were welcomed by Father Alex, who took us to our accommodation, located in the center of personal development, TMSS de Trichy, where the meeting would begin the following day.

We went to the room to review the plan a bit for the next two days. We would do 4 sessions of 2 hours to groups of 60 people between 20 and 30 years old. Two people for 60 person was a challenge … but we were sure it would not be difficult.

And it dawned on Trichy !!!! Breakfast started at 7:30, but the sessions would not start until 10 a.m. First there was a ceremony to present the event with guests such as the United Nations representative of India for refugees (UNHCR), the chief of the Tamil Nadu police, a very powerful person, or the superior father of the Jesuits of Tamil Nadu. Between typical dances and speeches that we did not understand we spent an entertaining time …

And time of truth arrived. In a huge room we had almost 60 people. they had placed the chairs as a conference room and they were all sitting waiting for the speech … in India they love the speeches … Well, not this time … we made everyone get up and put the chairs stacked at the end of the room. Everyone did it with a face between shock and amazement … hehehe …

We started with the warm-up, a fun and casual tone, then the typical exercises of concentration to unite and focus the group, and we are already in the field. We had prepared communication exercises and group work. Everything was great, communication, coordination, everyone had a great time. They were surprised to perform practical exercises !!

The faces of concentration and fun were great! Every moment they discovered concepts by themselves, shared them, played with them. They discovered different realities besides simple and obvious …

The content of the workshops was the same for the 4 groups. Although we lacked time to perform the last exercise in all cases, the sequence of exercises was great, for the enjoyment and enrichment of all.

Group to group concluded with different comments but oriented in the same direction, and above all praised the teaching techniques … we are clowns! what did you expect? For good or bad this fact could not go unnoticed … hahahaha …

And the night came. In the program I had prepared a kind of Christmas gala, where different groups showed dances they had prepared, reading poems, skits, songs … Until it was our turn … They asked us to do something … they left us frozen, what were we going to do!!!!!

So dead of shame in front of about 250 people we started singing a song … without music! Well, that “we” is not completely true … Mayra very boldly stepped aside and left the brown in my hands … Anyway, we have the video but we will not be able to see it because we do not remember the moment … hahahahaha … In addition, of all this, two Santa Claus appeared, with masks of shrunken face that was scary … But everyone had a great time, we spent some time together enjoying and sharing … Good organization!

The next day we did the last workshop, with the same exercises. It came out great, and at the end I played the routine session of selfies … an endless round of selfies with everyone, alone or / and in a group … hehehe ..

And the day ended between greetings, hugs and talks about the workshops. A very interesting shared experience that has taught us a lot. Especially about the kindness of these people and the great work that JRS does for the refugees from Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu. We will see each other again !!!!

JRS Chin Refugees, the daily routine of saving lives

In New Delhi we contacted Jesuits Refugees Service (JRS), an NGO started in 1980 that comes from the order of the Jesuits. They have been dedicated for decades to the attention of vulnerable people, the result of armed conflict or natural disaster, sometimes running many risks. Above all, they are dedicated to assisting people in refugee or displaced camps throughout the world, to assure them a life as dignified as possible, to defend their rights in the countries where they are refugees and to implement development programs for individuals and communities so that they can re-enter society as soon as possible.

  

JRS covers several areas of attention. They work in education, personal and professional development, economic development programs, health, psychological support, functional diversity centers, emergency assistance, nutrition, and also provide legal and human rights assistance. With 1400 workers, not counting the refugees who train to be teachers, they have helped millions of people around the world, in 60 countries … almost nothing … from the first moment we were surprised by the incredible social and help work what they do, giving hope to thousands of people around the world …

We had already worked indirectly with them in Myitkyina, through Sister Rose Mary of the Sisters of Jesus. We sent an email and we did not take long to receive an answer, Father Stan, director of JRS India, summoned us to speak with us. He suggested that we take a workshop for Myanmar refugees from the Chin ethnic group in Delhi. We accept without hesitation, and agree that it could be the following Monday. In Delhi there are about 2000 refugees of the Myanmar Chin ethnic group, one of the 7 most important ethnic groups in this country.

Chin is one of the 7 ethnic states of Myanmar. It is considered the poorest region with a poverty rate of 73%. 50% of the economic activity in this state is agrarian. In 1962 General Ne Win gave a coup in Myanmar and has ruled the country for 26 years. During this period the government carried out a birmanization of the country for various interests, persecuting all ethnic groups other than Burmese. The Chin ethnic group has been escaping to the Indian state of Mizoram, bordering the Chin state, where they are not recognized as citizens. More than 12,000 of these refugees moved to Delhi, a large city where finding a decent job can be an impossible task.

So the following Monday we went to the place where we had been quoted, a JRS development center where the Chin refugees learn English, basic informatics, sewing, and other activities to give work to people from the refugee camp. We remind that the main objective of a refugee camp is its disappearance, due to the reintegration of its people in a society without violence and that allows them a normal development. However, there are many refugee camps that have been in operation for decades. For this reason, JRS provides resources for personal and professional development, to enable them to earn a living independently.

At the development center we prepared what we had been asked for, a relaxed and fun workshop for the women who attend there … that is, a Clown workshop! Hahaha … We greet Steffi, Jovin and Morning, part of the JRS staff. We entered the room, and there they were, all women. A group of about 20 women between the ages of 20 and 60, sitting on the floor, some with children around their necks. They had no idea what we were going to do, their faces were of extreme shyness !!!! hahahaha … no problem, that’s normal … Hands to work!

We started with warm-up, fun, all motivated and willing, laughing at the sight of their partners. At first it was noticeable that they were not very trained in attention exercises, but little by little the concentration was increasing, getting them to give everything … The timid ones were very shy !!! hahaha … but others pulled the car dragging the group. There was a sense of community, of support among them, and it was evident that they went to the development center to learn.

Among laughter they motivated each other and challenged each other, pushed each other out and laughed together with each other … The improvisation exercises went very well. They were very funny with the nose of clown … that cute … at first they were all super tense, but little by little they relaxed and allowed themselves to enjoy the moment, laughing and commenting, amazed that they could be acting in front of a public …

We all parted with laughter, it was really fun and tender to see them there, enjoying as little girls, offering generously to their companions those scenes of their lives …

It was a great experience, they made a great effort, we had taken them far away from their comfort zone, and they had responded very very well, with value and understanding the proposal perfectly, two very important values to take a step forward, to be willing to enter a society very different from yours … We wish you the best of heart, you have everything for to get it!!!!

Tibetan School in Hemja, nice people to share ourselves

In Hemja, a village next to Pokhara, is the Tashi Palkhiel Tibetan Camp, a Tibetan refugee camp that has been established for more than 50 years and currently houses more than 800 people.

IMG_20171120_082818

This field was started by the Swiss Red Cross with the authorization of the Nepalese government. Within the camp is the Mount Kailash School Tibetan school.

IMG_20171120_082940

Through the Tibetan school in Kathmandu we contacted the school’s head of studies, Mr. Tenzin. With him we agreed to hold 3 theater workshops for the 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes, equivalent to 12, 13 and 14 years, and a performance for the whole school.

On the appointed day we headed to Hemja in the morning on the local bus, surrounded by Nepalese observing us with sleep and curiosity. This bus goes to the mountains, and crosses villages that do not see many tourists or travelers like us … Once there, we asked the locals to go to school.

As usual, the school consisted of a large esplanade with nothing, and two elongated one-story buildings composed of several rooms that were classrooms. We were pleasantly surprised by the science classroom with a showcase with chemical reagents, a skeleton and some microscopes.

IMG_20171120_085714

We would act after the traditional morning assembly, where some prayers were recited, the Tibetan hymn was sung and then the Nepalese anthem, which is familiar to us, we even found it catchy. We assigned the captain of the students the work of sound technician, and his partner in charge of the camera … the two took it very seriously … hehehe.

IMG_20171120_093021

Once prepared, dressed and made up, we started the show … there were about 100 students, waiting for us, eager to see the clowns … Only appear and the first laughs appeared, they were very motivated!

IMG_20171120_092603IMG_20171120_092715IMG_20171120_092950IMG_20171120_094426IMG_20171120_095152IMG_20171120_095758

The number was great, everyone laughed, they died of laughter, and of fear when we interacted with them, the volunteers crowded, they wanted to play with us !!!

IMG_20171120_100740

It was a pleasure for the public, a gift to be able to share this experience with them. Once finished, they rushed to shake hands, to play with us, to talk, to share more! But we had to go to change, soon we started the workshops.

IMG_20171121_204021

The workshops we did in the library. A classroom full of books for all ages with messages on the wall that encouraged reading. Before the students arrived, we cleared the room a bit so that it was free of obstacles. They chopped the first ones, they took off their shoes before entering the room, as is customary throughout Asia.

IMG_20171120_115041

We introduced ourselves and explained a little about clown, the questions rained, they were very interested. The workshop passed fantastically, they loved to go out and experiment and see their colleagues expose themselves, surrender to the group.

IMG_20171121_203858

The truth is that it was a very motivated class. To our surprise, the next two groups were the same or more motivated. After the workshop, more than one student told us that he wanted to be an actor and that he liked the exercises a lot …

IMG_20171120_113144

It was a pleasure to share the experience with students so motivated, dedicated and generous. A love of people who did not stop asking questions, about our training, about our experiences throughout our trip, and about clown … a pleasure to share with such generous people.

Tibetans have something that makes them more innocent, more tender, perhaps an apparent lack of evil … So we will remember them and try to keep in touch with the students who write to us.