Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mondays and Fridays

The children smile as they come through the door. Their eyes are alive, and as they look around for one of their pictures from last week on the walls, they ask the animators about the evening’s program, they move to the table where paper and markers are out, waiting for their hands and minds. They feel safe, they are among friends, they are ready and willing to put themselves to the work of creating.

Most of the children come and go on a bus that they city of Elefsina has chartered for the Center. They arrive with a rush of energy, and suddenly the Center is buzzing with their movement and voices. The teachers swirl between one child and another, giving instruction, listening to questions, explaining, and negotiating. The children inspect at each other’s work as they go, offer suggestions, and sometimes work two or three on one image, each adding what they think the composition needs with color and imagination. Everyone is involved with everyone else, moving between their own work and that of those around them. Everyone has comments to make, and if they are not heard, they make them louder.

The task of working with so many small individuals is not easy. Many of them are not Greek, and even as children, they face stigma in the greater society. It is the oldest story. Historic cultural and religious differences are born again with each new generation, and children are the ones upon whom the burden is most fresh, and often most heavy. In the Center, Greek, Turkish, and Albanian children work together on art and theater projects. At its best, they are able to collaborate, putting their minds together in the creation something new. They work together, sharing responsibility and praise. When this happens, it seems that projects of this kind are the ultimate way to overcome preconceptions of other. However, the program can also spiral out of control, as the children arrive carrying the weight of their lives outside, they sometimes act out societies conceptions of them. I have seen both of these situations, and have re-affirmed to know that even in the midst of a crisis, there are moments of beauty, perhaps just beside a fight, or perhaps in the dealing of it afterward. Many of the children walk a dangerous line between going too far, and working within the group for everyone’s benefit. It is clear that many of the children are hauling enormous burdens, and at times everything comes out. Dealing with behavioral issues is especially difficult when there are so many children involved, each with their own needs and expecting a different kind of adult attention. The staff at the center are expert at diffusing potentially riotous situations, and during the classes, it seems that they have boundless energy. However, after the children leave, the price of the evening can be seen on their faces. They are tired, and no one one knows exactly how to take the events of the evening home with them, or where the boundary of their responsibility lies.

As an observer, I am caught between many things. Trying to grab ahold of what is happening both with my camera and with my mind, I often don’t know where to place myself. It has been two weeks since I began attending these sessions, and slowly I am finding my place among the children and the adults, although it is clear that I am not fully a member of either group. Sometimes I join in the activity, espically when I can hold the hand of a child who has come to inspect my camera rather than participate in the program. Ususally, however, I am to the side, watching and learning as the personalities of the children emerge.


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