Sunday, November 11, 2007

Day of Hope

Our project here in Leuven, Belgium, was to participate in a “Day of Hope.” We partnered with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sister Jeanne Devos, and the proceeds of our show went to her foundation, which serves child domestic laborers in India. She headed up the first Day of Hope in India in 2005, and it centered around a statue of a golem that stands four meters tall and has a small door at its heart. The children could write or draw their hopes & wishes, and put them into the golem where they would be kept safe. Sister Jeanne explained to our cast how she had been skeptical that this symbolic gesture would be helpful for the children that she works with in India, and was overwhelmed by the positive effect it had on them. She brought the idea of the project back to her home country of Belgium, and over the past week, our cast helped implement it. We worked with local students to finish building the golem statue, and performed a mini-show at a hospital where we collected the hopes of kids in the hospital to put in the golem. (A golem, I learned, is a creature that visits children in their dreams to play with them and keep their secrets. It was an imaginary friend/toy that couldn’t be taken away from kids, no matter how little belongings or resources they had. The existence of golems was a popular legend for Jewish children during WWI, but existed long before that.)
On the Day of Hope, which was Wednesday, the cast performed in the large Oude Markt square, the golem was unveiled, and children were encouraged to put their hopes inside the door at its heart. The cast also got to be creative, painting the sheets that hung in front of the golem statue before it was revealed, and making sculptures that symbolized hope. On the first day we worked with the artist that designed the statue, Koen van Mechelen, which was my favorite part of the project. We have many gifted artists and creative people in this cast.

Though the “Day of Hope” was a cool experience, the project was a little disappointing for me… our cast wasn’t utilized as well as they could have been, and the whole event was very hyped. We had lots of media coverage and mayor visits and things that felt like we were putting on a show of the event more than we were really impacting anything. The students that performed at the hospital and took those kids’ hopes to the golem were the only ones who had any direct contact with the children that were affected by the project, which was great for them, but disappointing for those who didn’t participate in that element of the project. Also, the weather on the Day of Hope was typical November in Europe: blustery, rainy, gray and cold. Consequently, not as many children & schools turned out for the event as I was expecting. BUT it was positive for many reasons, and the concept of the project, which includes a curriculum for schools designed by a child psychology professor here in Leuven, has the potential to really be a powerful experience for youth. Also, the golem that we made here this week is being shipped to an indigenous tribe in Chile. The artist’s dream is to have these golem statues built and hold “Day of Hope” celebrations in different corners of the world. Up with People is a natural partner for something like that, so it may be something that a future cast will do again.

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