Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lost and Found - A Celebration of Diversity

A few weeks ago I left the girl's school in tears.  

I had just witnessed the most powerful and honest artistic performance I had ever 
seen put on by a school.

It was hard to watch at times.

The performance was called "Lost and Found: A Celebration of Diversity".  It was the culmination of a year-long study and focus on diversity and inclusion.  Hannah's classroom teacher, Geetu Parmar, was the heart behind the project.   Geetu has a Master's degree in Education specifically focused on diversity and inclusion in the classroom.  This is her passion, and she brings it into the classroom every chance she gets.  She has worked with the students all year by encouraging them to tell their stories of experiencing oppression, racism, and stereotyping.   

You have to remember what the make-up of this school is.  Cultural diversity is the norm.  Caucasians are nearly the minority and there are students from an incredibly vast and varied amount of different faith communities, ethnic backgrounds, and skin colors.  It's part of what I'm most thankful for from this past year.  Our girls have been surrounded by the richness that makes Canada what it is.  The reality is - as this night's performance communicated- that it's not all moments of celebrating the Canadian mosaic when you're the one who's different.  

As the students shared their stories with Ms. Parmar, she compiled them and had a greater vision for them.  She received funding from the school's Parent Advisory Council to bring in an Artist in Residence, Vancouver actor and playwright Patti Allan, to work with the student's own stories to put together a performance which included dance, drama, and song.  

These stories were vulnerable.  They were gritty.  They were painful to listen to.  I was overwhelmed with the courage these students had on stage... for many of them, their oppressors from their stories were their classmates.  They were depicting their experiences as their oppressor presented alongside them.  It was an incredibly powerful image for me.  I was in awe of the bravery and honesty these kids were willing to give.

They spoke of sexism, racism and bullying.  They used uncomfortable words.  As a white, middle class woman, it made me squirm.

Here are some images from the evening...

Here is Hannah's teacher, Ms. Parmar on the left, and Patti Allan - the Artist in Residence - on the right.

Ms. Parmar put in hours and hours of  extra work on this project.  Patti generated and demanded performances that would have taken your breath away.  She got those kids to believe that they could do it with excellence - that their stories were worth telling, and they rose to the occasion.

Celebrating after all was said and done.  Here is Hannah with her special friend from the Philippines, Wesley.  As I've gotten to know Wesley's family since moving here I am amazed at the hard work and tenacity new immigrant families have to put out to make things work.   Wesley's parents brought their four children to Canada four years ago.  They wanted something great for their kids.  Their kids are kind, thoughtful, and dedicated.  It's been a gift for Hannah to sit around their kitchen table eating Filipino food and experiencing some of their story first-hand.

You can't buy an experience like this one.  

At the end of the night, I went to talk to the school principal.  We were both in tears and there really wasn't much we could say.  

We gave each other a hug, we found Hannah, and then our family went home... 

.... all of us more educated.
Hopefully more compassionate.
Hopefully with a spirit of more inclusion.

Squirming can do that to you sometimes.

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