What would happen if you brought a young Muslim, a Tamil Christian and a Sinhalese Bhuddist out from Sri Lanka and asked them to talk about peace and social justice in a Uniting Church school? For anyone who is familiar with the racial tensions in Sri Lanka post the civil war, this would seem unlikely. However, that’s just what happened at Aitken College on 1st March this year as part of the Interschool Social Justice Forum.
Ramzi Zain Deen (national director), Thevuni Kottigala (programs coordinator) and Manesh Christhumani (actor and youth trainer) are members of Sri Lanka Unites, part of the Youth Movement for Reconciliation and Hope in Sri Lanka. They engaged with about 70 Year 9 and 10 students through the use of a special form of interactive theatre called Forum Theatre.
Forum Theatre invites the audience to be part of the action by intervening to change the oppression evident in the short plays. The students witnessed two scenarios involving aspects of racism and sexism with a perpetrator, a victim and a bystander.
The first was a job interview. One of the characters was asked inappropriate questions about how often he prayed as a Muslim and the manager was unwilling to hire him despite his obvious skills and passion for the job. The second was where an unskilled woman was hired for the same job, with clear cases of harassment being displayed in the interview.
The students were then asked to explain what was unfair or unjust in what had transpired. And they were invited to intervene to change the situation. They could choose to play the role of the victim or the bystander and hence change the script and challenge the injustice themselves as the play is re-done.
At the end of the session, it was in fact a young Sri Lankan student who assertively stood her ground and challenged the oppressor. The bystander also became active in pointing out the inappropriateness of the questions to rousing applause. This is empowering theatre at its best.
For more information go to: http://srilankaunites.org/index.html