Towards tolerance through theatre
By Mavliuda Dzhaparova
This is the beginning of a forum theater play in a border school in Andarak, a border village located in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Students of two schools – the Tajik "Andarak" school and the Kyrgyz "Manas" school are sitting in the hall together. On the stage, the actors of both schools act out a conflict situation and encourage their audience to solve it. Under the rules of the forum theater, the viewers can go up on stage and replace the characters to show other ways of solving the problem.
Among the viewers, there was UNICEF Representative Jonathan Veitch and the Ambassador of the UK Embassy H.E. Judith Farnworth. They came to the school to review the progress the joint Equity, which helps to promote tolerance and to prevent tension between students, especially those of different ethnic origins.
The School Forum Theater was created in order to discuss the cause of tension that could escalate into conflict and attempts to resolve them. Topics of the theater performance and discussion are different for each session: the non-attendance of school by children, border conflicts, incomplete education, illegal crossing of borders, migration, early marriages etc. Students choose a topic themselves and hold further discussions during and after the play to exchange their views. The actors play not only on the stage of their school, but also visit the communities and together with the residents of the village conduct a Forum Theater, trying to help look for peaceful and long-term solutions, trying to find a way out of seemingly dead-end situations.
The audience was so moved by Elbek’s story that everyone, young and old, wanted to go up on stage to talk with the bullies. There was a primary school teacher who wanted to play Elbek’s role and show that the school racket can be defeated only by force - by beating up the offenders. But the audience did not agree with this proposition. The audience finally recognized that the most appropriate solution was to talk to the school director to inform him about the bullying and to call the juvenile police if needed. All children agreed that while stealing was not good, the hero should not drop out of school. With no bullying in the school – he could resume classes and learn with all the other children.
Jahangir Hodjiev who played the role of a chief racketeer, who is a student of the Tajik school, tells us that he really felt ashamed to play a “bad guy”, "but we feel that it was necessary to show how wrong it looks seen from the outside and that it is very instructive for the other students as well our parents and communities".
Along with the Forum Theatre, the “school tolerance room” was opened where literature about peace, harmony, friendship of people, conflict prevention and the variety of cultures is available, as well as books about the development of the individual. The discussions on topics of the Forum Theatre are conducted with the participation of both students and teachers.
In reality, Elbek and Jahangir are good friends, and they both attend “tolerance class” that was opened in the Tajik school of the Andarak village with UNICEF support. In this class, children from different schools may hold joint lessons, dialogues on friendship, harmony and peace. The classroom is equipped with computers and Internet access is provided.
Two years ago, on 29 December 2011 tensions escalated in Andarak village resulting in fighting between the Kyrgyz and Tajik youth, which led to an open confrontation among villagers with the participation of more than 1,500 people. The property of Tajiks was damaged (arson, destroyed machines and shops). Thanks to the active work and action of security forces and law enforcement agencies as well as the participation of adults and the elderly a further escalation of the conflict was avoided.
"At present, the situation in the border area is fortunately calm. But in order to promote tolerance among children and adolescents, it is necessary to discuss all challenges that do exist in the communities. As an example, how can we solve the problem of school racketeering?”, - asks Suhrobzhan Ergashev, a facilitator of the Forum Theatre. “Theatre is needed to broaden the horizons of children to develop their critical thinking, and the forum theater helps to analyze situations and find ways of solving them ".
The Equity Programme provides an opportunity for active participation of young people in the area of peace-building through the development of their potential and enhancing a sense of civic duty. The Forum Theater, in accordance with studies conducted by UNICEF, is one of the most effective tools for enhancing awareness and responsibility of young people to maintain peace. It is not just a performance; it requires the participation of the audience and teaches the community-minded attitude and a desire to learn to live in unity, friendship and peace – a precondition of peace and development of the state as a whole.