Talking about barriers

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Vivi Lachs explains how a Hackney project is helping children from different ethnic backgrounds to discuss differences and share their hopes and fears

Passing a microphone from person to person, two groups of young people from two communities in Hackney spoke intensely, discussing and exploring the issues brought up by short digital films they had just watched - films they had made themselves.

Lanesha spoke about fear of violence and the portrayal in her group's movie of how a gathering of kids, chatting on the streets, instilled fear in a teenager. Seyda described how "eyeballing" causes problems, and Hasan suggested that, when walking, you should look down so you don't offend anyone. They all recalled incidents in school where violence erupted from something small, and became a stand-off between cultural groups.

The youths from African-Caribbean and Turkish-speaking backgrounds spent the past two months separately, thinking, discussing, planning and making a collaborative film about barriers that exist between them.

The short, wordless digital films used music and sounds to convey the feelings of violence and fear, of stereotyping, of feeling excluded and of language barriers.

The discussion, recorded to be edited later, covered not only living in a multicultural society but a multilingual society. The Turkish-speakers'

film focused on how speaking Turkish effusively made a group of African-Caribbean teenagers feel excluded, by misinterpreting what they were saying. Furious discussion ensued about the use of language to feel a part, to exclude, to wield power.

The project, Talking About Barriers, was not intended to break down any barriers, but to provide space, first to identify and then discuss them.

Aydin Mehmet Ali, international education consultant, and the Barriers project's Turkish-speaking worker, said: "People try to sanitise the real hard issues about trying to create multicultural societies, so equalities are taught, but it's a sort of veneer. Multicultural policies intended to promote understanding, if not implemented sensitively, can drive the real discussions underground. Sometimes these issues then come up in brutal fights on racial grounds outside school gates as a desperate way of trying to draw attention to the issues. This project allowed them to talk about taboo subjects in a safe environment and be creative."

Making movies using digital video is becoming more visible within curriculum work, as technology has become accessible. The challenge is to use the medium as a learning process for developing young people's ideas and skills. Discussing sensitive ideas is hard enough, but these ideas were communicated without language to precisely describe the ideas. The young people had to consider how images tell part of a story, and how sounds change how those images are viewed. Canon digital cameras were used to film roleplays, communities and collect sounds on the streets of Hackney. iMovie on iMacs was used to edit footage, and add layers of sound to get the effect they wanted - collaboratively with detailed discussion about the best way to communicate their ideas.

The wordless quality of the films was creative and encouraged symbolic thinking, but also made the films accessible to young people who do not share the same language.

Running concurrently with the British project is one involving Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, and with Greek and Turkish young people in Cyprus. During a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian workers in Tel Aviv, Shimrit shook her head as she shed tears about the content of the films by Palestinian and Israeli youth: "It's sad, it really reflects the differences. And how the different languages and cultures are."

The final film will include all locations, discussions subtitled into the native languages of participants. This will be taken around schools in Hackney. The Barriers participants were earnest. Gulsen said "This film will make Turkish and African-Caribbean come together and argue about their opinions. If you argue, you'll understand other people's ideas." Abakar added, "This film will show people about what really goes on in Hackney between these two racial groups." Chanel continued: "We're hoping this film will make people see how things are and change them. They may think it's best for everyone to get on instead of conflict between them."

Vivi Lachs is curriculum director at Hackney City Learning Centres: Highwire and Portico

International perspective

In the next issue of Online (June 23), Vivi Lachs will be looking at barriers from an international perspective. Here's what some of the students had to say:

"We've come across a barrier - a curfew in the West Bank until the end of April. But there is an option: make a discussion with a webcam filming the movie simultaneously in Tel Aviv and Tulkarem."

Shirit - Tel Aviv

"It feels claustrophobic in North Cyprus, like trapped in and I just want to connect with other young people in other places. Focusing on music, we believe we expressed fear, tenderness, feeling small and powerlessness and anger."

Yunus - N Cyprus

"When we said barriers, they immediately said - borders, barricades. Using video is their medium, they are TV kids. It makes it possible to change the way we interact with things, with ourselves, be creative. It's lazy to blame the Cyprus issue for everything."

Mahmut - project worker N Cyprus

"They feel in between, like they're walking on the wall."

Zahiys - N Israel

For more information

Contact Vivi Lachs, curriculum director, Hackney CLC's: Highwire and Portico -

Talking about Barriers is co-ordinated by Highwire City Learning Centre in Hackney, London, and supported by Windows Channels for Communications, (Israel), 2simple Software, The Learning Trust, London Metropolitan University, Windows for Peace UK, FATAL (For the Advancement of Turkish-speakers Arts and Literature) and the Esmee Fairbain Foundation.

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