Imagining a Different Future:
The Nicaraguan Youth Troupe for Community Transformation
Jennifer Elise Foerster
June 7, 2013
Imagining a Different Future: The Nicaraguan Youth Troupe for Community Transformation Jennifer Elise Foerster June 7, 2013 Theater and storytelling can allow communities to resolve conflict, reframe issues, and envision—and thereby determine—a different future. In one neighborhood in Managua in a small after-school educational center, more than 40 children are gathering every Saturday morning to imagine, through a children’s theater class, new and better futures for themselves and for their community. The community is Alemania Democratica, a sector of Barrio Acahualinca, which neighbors Managua’s municipal garbage dump, La Chureca. The youth of this community cope daily with the challenging environmental and volatile social conditions of extreme poverty. The plays being created by the youth of this community address these fundamental challenges, while emphasizing non-violence, respect for others, suicide and disease prevention, school retention, personal safety, and environmental and social justice.
The project, the Nicaraguan Youth Troupe for Community Transformation, is being offered by InnerCHANGE WORKS (ICW), a registered not-for-profit charitable organization working in Nicaragua. Partnering with ICW for the pilot project phase is Podcasts for Peace, a community-based organization in Acahualinca, Managua, that promotes youth leadership and community action. The Nicaraguan Youth Troupe for Community Transformation is a project designed and developed by ICW to employ theater and the performing arts as tools for creating healthy and empowered communities, and for communicating important educational and social messages.
The project is based on the belief that engaging today’s youth in this messaging, and in imagining solutions for a better future is critical to achieving systemic and sustainable change. This theater workshop is designed to provide for the children and young adults a creative and dynamic environment rooted in the experiences and skills of each participant. Working with university students as mentors, the children and young adults are creating stories from their life experiences, while learning acting, writing, movement and other techniques to develop these stories into plays. Throughout this series of workshops, participants explore the key messages of health, safety, and conflict topics and figure out how these messages can be woven into their stories. By coming up with different endings to the ones they know in their lives, they can gain the confidence to solve problems and build different outcomes. ICW operates with the principle that the most effective models of development are imagined from within communities, engage existing capacities, and are realized through partnerships and collaborations.
This new youth-mentorship theater project fully embodies these principles, being piloted this summer as a collaboration among the children and youth of Barrio Acahualinca, university students from Universidad Americana (UAM) and Universidad Catolica de Nicaragua (UNICA) serving as volunteer theater teachers, and Podcasts for Peace. The pilot play being developed through this theater class in Acahualinca will be performed within the community on Saturday, July 6, and will involve a full-day family celebration. Modeled after ICW’s Community Health Fairs, the performance will be followed by games, food, and health prevention workshops. ICW’s Community Health Fairs have been ongoing for the past eight years, and are well known for their integration of “animal mascots”: the Learn to Lead Lion, Super Safety Dog, and others have visited communities from Tola to the Matagalpa coffee highlands facilitating health and safety education workshops for children. The animal mascots will also make an appearance as featured characters in some of the plays being developed through the Nicaraguan Youth Troupe for Community Transformation.
Following ICW’s guiding principles, every aspect of this theater project engages existing capacities and works within partnerships and collaborations in Nicaragua. The costumes are being designed and sewn by local sewing groups, and the materials for the costumes and props are being donated by The Solid Rock Foundation. Community volunteers will be helping with stage design and special effects, and younger children will be working on festival and performance decorations. Original music is being composed by a local musician from Acahualinca. The workshops are being documented by youth from Podcasts for Peace and ICW staff. The final performance will be filmed by a younger filmmaker from a neighboring community. This film and documentary will support the ongoing development of this pilot into a replicable and sustainable model for youth mentorship through the performing arts.
To support the project production costs, ICW is currently running a campaign through Indiegogo, a global fundraising platform. The completion of this pilot phase will lay the foundation for the ongoing development of a “Youth Troupe for Community Transformation” representing young people from across Nicaragua. Future phases of this project will take place with other rural and urban impoverished communities in partnership with local schools and/or educational organizations and volunteer university students.
To learn more about this project, and to contribute to supporting the young people of Nicaragua as they provide hope for brighter futures, please visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/nicaraguan-youth-troupe-for-community-transformation. While the Indiegogo campaign is only running until June 15, the project is accepting donations through the InnerCHANGE WORKS website until the funding needs are met. Donations can be made through PayPal by visiting www.innerchangeworks.org/donations.html. InnerCHANGE WORKS is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization whose mission is to design, develop, and implement culturally congruent, sustainable, and community-based programs that meet the basic human needs of health, education, and economic opportunity. For more information about ICW projects and programs, please visit www.innerchangeworks.org. Founded in 2010 and supported by Casa Canadiense, Podcasts for Peace provides after-school classes and activities in digital arts and computer education to more than 130 youth, as well as offering reading hour, tutoring, and other activities to encourage critical thinking and healthy pastimes. You can learn more about Podcasts for Peace at www.podcastsforpeace.org .