A project to push Canterbury towards social change
Educator Tyane Robinson (centre) poses with participants and stakeholders of his first Theatre for Social Change - The Community Edition in Canterbury, St James.

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Educator Tyane Robinson could not have imagined how inspired he would have felt after completing a week of activities in the inner-city community of Canterbury here.

Robinson, a lecturer in language, linguistics, and literature at Sam Sharpe Teachers' College in this western city, and an adjunct lecturer at The University of the West Indies, recently introduced his project called Theatre for Social Change – The Community Edition, in Canterbury.

Born out of Robinson's love for theatre and arts, the initiative saw approximately 30 community members between ages three and 20 engaging in activities geared towards social change and development. The week of activities was carried out with the support of the Social Development Commission and the Sweetwater Blossom Foundation.

"We had sessions looking at self-respect, self-identity, ways in which we can use our talents and what we can do to change…how people see us," Robinson explained.

Educator Tyane Robinson

Though rewarding, the educator stated that the week was not without its fair share of hiccups. He noted that due to their experiences with stigmatisation a lot of the young people were "stand-offish" and sceptical of the activities that were being brought before them.

"It was a slight challenge at the beginning because the young people were not receptive. They would just be there sitting down and looking at me. I had to dig deep and start some collaborative activities that got them to talk, and they started to express themselves," said Robinson.

"The second day was the same thing. I thought we would have moved past that, but they were so closeted again, and I had to change my programme to get them to move around and interact," he added.

However, he told the Jamaica Observer that by the third day things started to run smoothly and the youth began to voice their concerns about how they are treated based on the community in which they live.

Participant in the Theatre for Social Change - The Community Edition Howard Baker (right) is all smiles as he collects a certificate from educator Tyane Robinson.

"They started to talk and discuss their disgruntlement with their community and the mindset of people…but most of it was about how they felt people look at them," Robinson said.

The educator continued, "One of the biggest issues came out when I asked them what is one of their deepest mental fears and collectively they said failure."

Robinson said that the older participants all explained that this shared fear of failure causes much anxiety as they believe the odds are already stacked against them because they hail from an inner-city community.

"When I asked why, they said that when you come from where they come from, to fail is like death. They want to succeed and they have to succeed. It is not a choice for them, so they work twice as hard to be recognised. But even when they do that they feel as though they still do not receive the recognition because, at the end of the day, what is at the forefront is where they are from. So we had to work our way through that," Robinson said.

Additionally, Robinson stated that he recognised that as a deeper issue due to the participants' attempts to leave out their home addresses when filling out a form to become a part of his project.

"I pointed out to them that I realised that…on the Google form that I sent out only two people put Canterbury as their address. The rest of them listed their address as Upper King Street, Montego Bay. When I asked why, they said that if they want to be a part of something and not be judged, they are not going to put Canterbury…because they know what everybody has to say about Canterbury," he told the Sunday Observer.

The educator stated that he was drawn to tears after hearing that one of the participants purposely misspelled the community's name on his university application.

"I cried because they are not supposed to be going through this…they are brilliant children," said Robinson.

He noted that at the end of the project, the youth participated in a showcase, with the other community members being their audience. Robinson said that the activity was successful as, with the community's help, the youth were introduced to forum theatre.

"They were able to come together in the end to perform because we had a showcase on Friday where, from the sessions, I wrote a piece called Address Me Right which looked at people addressing them properly, not because of where they are from but based on who they are," said Robinson.

"I used all that was discussed in the session and I wrote a poem, and we also did an improvisation on how to handle situations surrounding bullying. The community was there on Friday to help them solve the issue of bullying because of their address. In theatre we call that forum theatre," he added.

Robinson has vowed to continue working with the youth of Canterbury and is looking forward to extending his reach across Montego Bay.

"I have other things to do with them, so I am just waiting for some things to come through and as soon as things start looking good again, they are the first set of people to benefit. This is going to be a community-based activity…we plan to go into communities and use this same approach to help them build themselves as an individual and a community, which in turn will help our society," the educator said.

BY ROCHELLE CLAYTON Staff reporter claytonr@jamaicaobserver.com

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