Breaking down the barriers

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Making digital films about each other has helped to bridge the gap between warring cultures in schools, says Vivi Lachs

How do you transform stereotypes and fear into communication? In a world of conflict, local and global, it is a question that teachers have to find solutions to every day in classrooms and playgrounds around the UK. Young people who study together and play together also have views and ideas about each other that create barriers to study, friendship and communication.

A new project, "Talking About Barriers", is trying to find a way to address these issues using ICT as a tool to motivate and encourage thoughtful engagement in debate and communication. Describing their cultures using digital video and responding to the films of others, within a calm and safe environment, could be tentative steps for young people in conflict situations to talk and begin to understand each other.

It was during a digital video-making project with young Turkish speakers at Highwire: Hackney City Learning Centre that these issues came into stark relief. In the project "Turkish-Speaking Voices" 11 to 16-year-old students made digital documentaries about peer pressure, translating and attitudes to women. During this project, two incidents occurred. In one session, students were late because of an incident outside a local school ,where two groups of students from different cultural groups clashed. In another session, there was a visit from Ruti and Fahmi from Windows for Peace, Israel, who were wide-eyed about the subtle aspects of culture being presented, researched, filmed and edited entirely by the young people.

Ruti Atzmon, director of Windows for Peace, explained how in Israel and Palestine they run projects dedicated to creating dialogue through joint magazines in Hebrew and Arabic, and arts projects. One major impression young people in the Middle East have is that their conflict is the only one, and the most urgent. She felt it would be useful and interesting for Palestinian and Israeli young people to share experiences with youngsters in very different areas of conflict. She was excited by the possibilities that digital video could offer.

The "Turkish-Speaking Voices" project worker Mahmut Kunter of Fatal (For the Advancement of Turkish-speakers Arts and Literature), in Cyprus, explained the urgent need for as much conflict resolution work as possible in Cyprus, and that collaborating in small groups while focusing on filming and editing at computers, had very positive results.

In "Talking about Barriers", small groups of young people in conflict situations in London, IsraelPalestine and Cyprus will make short digital films about the barriers they perceive - physical, emotional and spiritual - between them and the other group. They will share these, listening, asking and attempting to understand each other's description, before collaborating (with interpreters, if necessary) to edit footage of their responses.

The completed films will be made into web pages and sent internationally through email and webcam. Students will have the opportunity to widen their experience through talking further afield.

Will this be transformative? Well, that is the hope. Just as education is changing things, slowly and through hard work, perhaps the use of ITC will also help.

For more information about the project, or to contribute, Contact Vivi Lachs at vivi@highwire.org.uk

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