Writing on the eve of a new year, Global Arts Corps finds itself working on several fronts pursuing our goal of establishing an international network of radio programming where the content is conceived, created, developed, and performed by children. One of the countries where we are putting our efforts is Bangladesh, which we consider one of the most vital places for our project, and a powerful fulcrum of all of GAC’s work. This land is experiencing the cataclysmic impact of climate change due to its topography, population density, and location, making it that much more vulnerable. What does that mean for the youngest generation? Where is the child in all of this?
In a recent impassioned conversation between Michael Lessac at GAC and William Lebedel, the chair of Friendship France, an international NGO that is partnering with GAC on the project, Michael said of young people in Bangladesh, “theirs are voices that need to be heard by the other children we will be working with the world over, yes, but also by adults so that they realize that they must stop leaving children out of the equation because they think they are too fragile to understand the equation.”
“In Bangladesh,” he adds, the cataclysm “is not a series of political stands, nor is it about finding fault, but rather a practical attitude to find solutions.”
Bangladesh is a relatively young country, at the crossroads of the most significant global challenges of the moment—facing calamity from climate change first and foremost. Some 80 percent of its land is five meters below sea level; it is a delta country with over 200 rivers, meaning that when the monsoons come, 60-80 percent of the country is underwater. In the country’s north, some four million people live on silt and sand because there is no rock layer there, which means that the land shifts and breaks with extreme weather, and they must move their homes and schools. In previous decades, Bangladeshis had to move ten times in their lives, and now some 15 to 20 in a lifetime. Cyclones used to happen once a decade; now it is every other year.
“When you live in a country facing those challenges, it shapes a mindset that is as extreme as the conditions are,” says William. “As they have done in other regions, GAC is planning to work with young people in Bangladesh as part of their radio project, telling their stories and creating a network of communication across borders. This is where the power of theater comes in,” continues Lebedel. “Having GAC join us is a valuable asset and leverage for those children to stand up in their lives, to share and be recognized, and we know that by sharing you grow and can inspire others.”Among the estimated 200 million climate refugees in the coming decades, fully one fourth will be from Bangladesh. What is happening now, and the solutions found, could find resonance across borders where more children will face the same issues tomorrow.
When kids, from every language and culture, from every extreme, begin to exchange their stories of who they are, where they come from, and where they want to go, there will be listening. “Recent work has convinced me that kids have the accidental wisdom of the actors I most love to work with,” says Michael. “They take in everything and ignore nothing and they listen. Both are natural improvisers with imagination boldly uncensored. Political correctness is not an issue.”
As William points out, the youth in Bangladesh have no choice but to innovate. And they develop new perceptions suggesting solutions directly in front of their eyes. The rains come and they fold up their schools and move. They do not suffer in the same way as the more privileged among us. They do not indulge in blame; they just react to the moment. These kids deserve to meet each other and create stories as ensembles.
This Past Year’s Progress
Our pilot work began last year on an Indian reservation in Wyoming; in France in an industrial port city in the Normandy region; and in an isolated community on an island off the coast of Brittany. In this new year, that work continues as we reach out to the densely-populated Paris suburb of Saint-Denis to engage with its immigrant, refugee, and first-generation French residents in the area.
In February we will return to Kosovo and Albania, this time to create a children’s bridge between a rural village in Kosovo, and an urban center in the Albanian capital Tirana.
Later in the spring we are sending our documentary film The Journey Back to Now, about Cambodian street kids investigating their past, to Little Rock, Arkansas, home to the Celebrate! Maya Angelou project. Phounam Pin, one of the performers in the original production, will talk about her experience as a child performer developing See You Yesterday, the production that inspired the film. The intent on both sides is to expand the children’s radio network in the U.S., working with a diverse group of children in Little Rock and the larger region.
This past October, we brought on Freya Yost to work with GAC on organizational development, project strategy, management, and fundraising. In the upcoming months she will be exploring future collaborations with the contacts she has already made. In order to do this project, which we see happening over the next ten years, we will need considerable funding and Freya will be helping us raise those funds.
We started two decades ago working to understand how to affect violent conflict in adults. We learned that those who really listened were always the children. We are much more hopeful working in this direction. We leave you wishing you a holiday season of wonder and courage, along with the following questions:
What would be the impact if young people were given the opportunity to create stories incorporating their dreams of the future and react to the adult chaos that surrounds them?
Left alone, and working with each other, how would they create their own civil society?
What would happen if we reached children from indigenous cultures to powerful cities and allowed them the space and time to create stories among themselves?
We look forward to your support and enthusiasm and hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation to Global Arts Corps as we ramp up the Bangladesh plans and our Children’s Radio Project evolves.
Best wishes, and we thank you for your help over the years.
-The Global Arts Corps team
(PHOTO OF FULSORI GHAT, GAIBANDHA, BANGLADESH. TAKEN BY ABU MOMIN)