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Excerpted from Schools the Learn, by Peter Senge et.al. (Doubleday 2000, 1st Edition)

Every weekday in the Colombian cities of Bogotá, Medellín and Cali, the Rafael Pombo Foundation holds creative workshops in literacy, video, fine art and drama for hundreds of disadvantaged children. In addition to expanding the horizons of the children, the institute works with teachers in order to influence the otherwise formal atmosphere of most Colombian classrooms. Most recently Rafael Pombo staff have also been running workshops in guerrilla-controlled territory and their activities have had a stronger focus on conflict resolution and peace building.

The following exercise is based on the belief that in order for Colombians to achieve peace, they first need to imagine it, and that there is no better place to begin than with children. The exercise works well with many different age groups and with mixed age groups.

First, a series of warm-up exercises aim to make the students feel comfortable with each other and act as a link to a new way of working/learning. These may include movement and mirroring exercises, trust exercises, bridge building and so on. In bridge-building, for example, the students work in groups and using their bodies try to construct the strongest bridge they can. They are then asked to decide whether they could improve the design and make appropriate changes. Afterwards the students are asked to comment on how they changed their minds about the design. How easy or hard was it for one or two members of the group to persuade the others to change, how did they feel about it, was the result an improvement, what was the best way to work, and so on.

Next the students work in groups of five or six to create their own community or town. To support the task they have paper, pens, felt-tips, cardboard boxes, rolls of paper, tape, glue and any scrap materials useful for creating the physical buildings of the community. They are also asked to work together to decide all or some of the following :

After about an hour the groups present their towns or communities to each other. The whole group discuss what ideas have come up that seem especially useful and interesting. The exercise could be extended over a longer period but the rapidity with which the children have to work often increases the spontaneity and fun. The exercise also bears repetition and can be set in specific time periods or with certain geographical or political limitations.

A group of us constructed a town during one of the Rafael Pombo workshops. We decided we needed a church, but what kind of church? How could we choose? In the end we decided on a multi-purpose building where anyone could worship any God and we had priestesses as well as priests. We said that everyone had the right to freedom of religious belief and this should never be a source of conflict. Marcela, 17 years

Child’s play