Blog post

Visualising peace in the face of shared suffering

10th June 2024


International Advisory Board

For the past four years, I’ve been privileged to be a member of MAP’s international advisory group, following the process of this wonderful, complicated, visually-dazzling project. On 22nd – 26th May 2024, an international group of attendees came together in person and online in the Lincoln Arts Centre, to celebrate MAP – to hear about, and more importantly, see in reality (not mediated via a screen), what MAP has achieved  – paintings, films, drama – all linking culture to education, finding ways to incorporate valuable local knowledge into school curricula.

Project exhibition during the MAP ‘Celebration’ International Conference at the University of Lincoln / William Ball

The conference linked MAP and the SDGs —focusing on (mental) health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5) peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16) and partnership (SDG 17).

The conference launched MAP’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) report. These included an excellent video summarizing MEL with presentations from members of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB). They so eloquently described what their involvement in MAP meant to them. They all described how using art was a different way to share feelings and thoughts, instead of complex language and speech. For their evaluation sessions, simple exercises, like a ‘Well-being thermometer’ checking participants’ feeling before and after workshops, or the ‘River journey’, looking at past-present-future, these methods emphasise shared experiences and friendship. I was struck by the words of a young female member from Rwanda, who said how in the beginning, she felt no trust, but the trust-building games meant that trust was quickly established (and looked a lot of fun). Their eagerness to learn about each others’ situations came across very clearly.

A Youth Advisory Board (YAB) from Nepal sharing her experience with the MAP project / William Ball

Already, the impacts of MAP are being seen in each country. It is exciting to see how MAP has enabled young people and policy-makers to have conversations that simply were not possible earlier, and to see how arts can link culture to education, finding ways to incorporate valuable local knowledge into school curricula.

Policy-makers clearly need a range of forms of communication to catch their attention, and MAP tools provides exciting and engaging ways to do this – creating safe spaces for young people to share experiences they may never have talked about before, and enabling the reduction of power differentials between young people and adults. Most importantly, these spaces and methods and grounded in local contexts, and traditions – valued and trusted means of expression and communication.

MAP can become a pillar to rely on – a set of tools to be used flexibly, and adaptable to local contexts, enabling discussion of difficult topics and personal experiences.  In Kyrgystan, for example, body mapping was used as a form of art therapy to enable young people to describe difficulties in their lives: the image that stood out for me, was this one:

A painting by Nazgul Kalykova / Foundation of Tolerance International (FTI)

Ultimately, MAP tools will hopefully reduce power differentials between children, young people, and adults.

What struck me was that children and young people have been telling us about the problems they face for years, since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 35 years ago –  with more or less success in differing contexts. The thing that has changed so profoundly over the course of that time, is the technology for communication. MAP young people (and the MAP team) were all highly competent and unfazed by the technology now available. And this has enabled the production of high-quality outputs of video, art, song, dance, etc, – so valuable for engaging with a range of actors – as well as the potential for international dialogue and debate.

Right at the start of the conference, I met Olga Ovcharuk, a visiting Professor from Ukraine – as I left, she was the last person I said goodbye to. We were both very moved by the presentations at the conference. Uppermost in my mind was the situation of children in Ukraine, their lives interrupted by the sounds of sirens and bombing, trying to learn through schooling that has to take place in bunkers underground, trying to keep safe. An arts and humanities approach to violent conflict like MAP will undoubtedly be helpful as peace is navigated, and peace cannot come too soon.

We must hold in our heads and hearts the context of ongoing conflict, and structural violence, and learn from each other. We need the best possible means to minimise the gap between policy – which is about systems – and art, which in its many forms, is about human expression and communication. MAP now has the tools, resources and experience – so I’m looking forward to seeing what evolves as the project moves forward to the future.

Dr Virginia Morrow

Visiting Professor, UCL Social Research Institute, University College London, UK

Academic Visitor, Young Lives, Department of International Development, University of Oxford 

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