July 2021: From Beth Fisher-Yoshida

Dear SPS Faculty,

Seems like this past year and a half we have been operating in the mode of “the next best thing to being there is being there virtually” and this is the way we are conducting our fieldwork practicum this summer. We have been working with youth and community leaders in Colombia on peacebuilding initiatives through the arts. In 2015 we brought students to Medellin and it was a wonderful visceral experience that we tried to replicate virtually.

We were able to video chat with two different groups we are working with on the ground who have been working on peacebuilding initiatives in their communities. Their vibrancy, personal warmth and outreach, and the dedication and creativity came through on so many levels. One group is Son Batá and we have been working with them for several years. They are an Afro-Colombian arts group that works in the areas of hip-hop, dance, and graffiti, in one of the more violent areas of Medellin. We are working with them now on a research project with the question, “What does security mean to you?” asked to different stakeholder groups in their community to have a deeper understanding of how the local population understands security. This information will be used to strengthen their approach to the peacebuilding work they are doing, in addition to, enhancing their skills and marketability as researchers.

The second group are graffiti artists who are working in a city called San Carlos, where there were high levels of violence between guerrillas, FARC, and military during the civil war. The lead artists have been working with the Fundacion Pintuco who is providing paints from their paint company Pintuco, with whom we are also working, and they have been painting homes with vibrant images depicting historical and cultural images. People pose for pictures outside their homes, filled with pride because their run down houses have been turned into beautiful and colorful places to live.

The students in our class have a chance to hear these presentations, look at visuals, and interact with them asking questions, reflecting on what they are hearing and then seeing how they can integrate this information into their final projects. They will be using Son Batá as the case study to design workshop modules based on a PAR approach to enhance the methodology Son Batá uses. Students will be able to implement these modules in their own work as well. It is a very interactive process applying skills and content to real-world situations that can be used immediately. We are trying to mirror the PAR process and considerations we highlighted in our book, Redefining Theory and Praxis, that was also created in close collaboration with our partners on the ground.

It is the next best thing to being there, while balancing maintaining the spirit of the engagement and upholding all the characteristics of learning to which we ascribe. What are some of the ways in which you have had to be creative in how you made do without travel and being there in-person that you have had to hold virtually? If you could share these ideas in this site that would be great and many will benefit from hearing your ideas.

Thank you,