Author Archives: Naing Thant Phyo

Antiprincesas Xalapa 2017: Art, Play, and Social Change by Chi Chi Chang

This summer, I collaborated with Colectivo Akelarre, a feminist collective, and local artists to organize an arts and feminism camp called Antiprincesas for girls 14-19 years old in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.  I studied abroad in Xalapa my spring semester, and thanks to funding from Midd’s Center for Careers and Internships, I was able to stay the summer and work with this collective.

From July 18th-22nd, 22 girls participated in this week-long camp of discussion, reflection, art, and community-building.  I opened each day with a warm-up, meditation, and interactive activities to cover the theme of the program How do we learn gender, Body, Representation, and Social Problems.  In the afternoons, there were workshops from local artists (Voice/Body/Improvisation, Theater of the Oppressed, Film and Intersectionality through Drag Culture, etc.) and guest speakers (a sexologist, the director of the Institute of Women of Xalapa, a feminist human rights lawyer).  We also included free time for the girls to read, collage, make zines, and hang out with each other.  The final day, the group self-organized a final presentation for friends and family.

 

We started each day with a warmup, meditation, and breathing techniques for stress/anxiety. Here we are practicing belly-breathing

 

In Abril’s theater workshop, the girls improvised scenes from the perspective of gender.

 

 

In Jimena’s workshop, the girls talked about self-care (auto-cuidado), self-defense, and self-esteem and worked in breakout groups to present on their topic.

 

Fatima (on the harp) and Juana Itzel (reciting her feminist “decimas”, or poems) practicing for the final presentation the group self-organized and directed.

 

From the beginning, we had five principal intentions for this project.

  • Definition of Feminism. Rather than impose our own ideologies, we wanted to create a space for the girls to share their experiences to reflect and learn from each other–to draw from the collective wisdom in the room.
  • Collaboration and Diversity. The team of organizers and artists that worked on this project hold different political views and facilitation styles.  The girls as well were a group of different ages, interests, and cultural backgrounds.  This diversity and acceptance of difference allowed for deeper understanding.
  • Corporal Understanding. We wanted to place importance on the body and on emotions as ways of connection and understanding.
  • Art as Fundamental to Social Change. We believe art allows us to question our surroundings, gives us a voice to express ourselves, and invites collaboration and co-creation.
  • Community Building. More than anything, we wanted to create an intentional community of acceptance of difference, of care, and of love.

When I proposed the camp to the collective, I had a vision for the project based on the above intentions and my experience with JusTalks, MiddSafe, Raisins (Radical Asians), Stairs n Stares (performance dance installation on sexual assault), and various dance projects at Middlebury.  These experiences at Midd gave me practice building spaces of open and honest dialogue, self and communal reflection on power, privilege, and identity, and of using art as a form of social change.

But what makes this camp special was that it was a collaborative project.  The distinct artistic/feminist backgrounds of the local artists and women of Colectivo Akelarre allowed us to share our knowledge and co-create this project. This means that even after I left, the structure and vision of the camp remained, as well as the personal connections formed among the organizers and the first generation of antiprincesas.  I look forward to hearing about future iterations of this camp, even if I will not be able to be part of the planning process.

It was an honor and a joy to grow with and from my fellow collaborators and the group of girls.  From this project, I realized the importance of care and open and honest communication during the process of creation.  I learned that spaces of play allow for greater trust, vulnerability, and togetherness.  This project also reaffirmed my belief in the power of empathic listening to open spaces of connection and of acceptance of multiple truths.  And finally, witnessing the transformation of the girls from timid individuals to a united, loving, and empowered group of young women re-ignited a hope, an energy, and a revolutionary spirit in me sometimes stifled in the world of academia.

 

The first generation of anti-princesas.

 

I want to thank Community Engagement and the Cross Cultural Community Service Fund that made this project possible.  The funding not only allowed for the girls to participate for free, it also paid for transportation and meals for three girls who came from outside Xalapa (their housing was taken care of by Colectivo Akelarre).

Here is a 5-minute video documenting the week:

 

 

Here is our Mannequin Challenge Activity from Day 4:

Here are links to some press from when we were accepting applications pre-camp:

You can follow Colectivo Akelarre on Facebook.

Buddhism and Mindfulness by Michaela Maxwell

“This summer, thanks to a generous CCCS grant, I was able to put the theoretical knowledge of Buddhism that I acquired at Middlebury, and apply it to help people solve concrete challenges in their personal and professional lives.” – Michaela Maxwell

 

This summer, thanks to a CCCS grant, I had the incredible opportunity to work remotely for a mindfulness startup based out of Mumbai, called BeyondMind. During the first half of the summer, I worked remotely from Berkeley, and I attended a conference on Buddhism and Science co-organized by William Waldron (Professor of Religion at Middlebury) and neuroscientist Clifford Saron that allowed me to better understand both the breakthroughs and limitations in the popular study of mindfulness. As someone who wishes to pursue Buddhist Studies at a graduate level after Middlebury, I am very interested in how we might appropriately secularize Buddhist teachings to bring mindfulness practices to a larger group of people. Equally weary of diluting the teachings in the process, my engagement this summer with the topic through research, mindfulness and emotional intelligence workshops, and participant interviews has allowed me to better understand how individuals with no background in Buddhism or science interact with the lessons being taught.

This summer was the first step in what I believe will be a lifetime of attempting to understand how religion and science can work together to help us understand how humans can flourish in our rapidly changing environments, and I am thankful to the Center for Community Engagement for helping to make this possible.

Exploring West African Spiritual Traditions in Puerto Rico by Pele Voncujovi

 

“Through the CCCS grant, we have been able to spread our network of Santeria practitioners in both Cuba and in Puerto Rico. We have maintained these valuable connections till this day and are still in frequent contact, sharing information and learning from each other.”

 

My Brother Sena and I went to Puerto Rico during Spring break 2017 to explore how West African spiritual traditions are conducted there. We stayed at an AirBnb in San Juan and visited the house of Edward Craig. Edward and his wife Judy are both practitioners of Ifa spirituality in Puerto Rico, and we had the privilege of touring their shrine and getting to pray at the various different Orishas he worked with. We went in hopes to learn and compare the ways in which Orisha practices were conducted in Puerto Rico and compare them to the practices in Cuba and in Ghana. We found that Edwards practices were very similar to those done in Cuba and had many practices that somehow resembled some spiritual practices in Ghana as well. During our time in Puerto Rico, we were able to conduct rituals for our Vodus from Ghana, and in the process, we were able to show and educate the Santeria spiritualists in Puerto Rico on how Vodu rituals in Ghana are conducted. It was a great cultural exchange.

They were extremely interested and excited to learn about Vodu spirituality in Ghana and were very grateful when we shared various traditional songs with them. We also had the privilege of engaging in an hour-long interview with a Puerto Rican Masters Degree student doing research on African Spirituality and were able to give him some valuable information. During an interview with Judy, I learned a lot about the role of women in Santeria and some of the challenges and benefits they gain from it.  I personally really enjoyed going to the store to buy chickens and doves for the rituals because it greatly reminded of how we go shopping for spiritual items and animals at the end of the year at home. It was also a great learning experience to pick up various herbs and learn the various different medicinal and spiritual uses for the different herbs. This experience made me realize the resilience of Afro-Caribbeans and their determination to keep Afroculture alive and relevant. Although the prevalence of Afro-spiritual practices weren’t as high as in Cuba, the burning passion and the eagerness to learn more about African spirituality as practiced in today’s world showed me how relevant and important our documentation project is.

 

“This experience broadened my perspective and understanding of Santeria and how it is practiced in the Caribbean.”

 

 

I would like to extend my deep appreciation towards the CCE for the continued support for our project and for helping us achieve new limits we never imagined reaching.