Catharsis Lebanon

The discussions in class surrounding the topics of women and violence and the legal system reminded me of Zeina Daccache (a Lebanese actress, director and drama therapist) and the work she does with inmates in Lebanese prisons through her organization Catharsis: The Lebanese Center for Drama Therapy. Often working with those who have committed the most violent crimes, she works with inmates to deal with the emotions surrounding the crimes they’ve committed (or been accused of, as there are cases of corruption and wrongful imprisonment among those she’s worked with) and allowing them to assume roles that help them to work through the trauma they’ve experienced and to bring attention to the state of the Lebanese prison and justice system. The project is the first of its kind in Lebanon and only came about through Daccache’s tireless efforts to bring drama therapy to Lebanese prison’s that had previously been isolated from the public and the media.

The two most notable examples of her work have been in the Roumieh men’s prison and the Baabda women’s prison. In both, Daccache has implemented the same formula, but for very different audiences. In Roumieh, Daccache worked with twelve men to produce their own version of Reginald Rose’s play 12 Angry Men titled 12 Angry Lebanese. The play becomes a role reversal of sorts, where the men who had been judged all or most of their lives become the judges- debating and prosecuting the same society that played a role in their current circumstances. Many of the men had stated that the project was reinvigorating and had helped to restore a sense of humanity in themselves and others. For them, their identities were no longer just associated with being a prisoner or the crime they committed.

In the women’s prison of Baabda, the drama therapy takes on a very different context but has a similar end result. The women and the plays they perform are a discussion surrounding the gender disparities that still exist in Lebanese societies and the painful and damaging outcomes of these inequalities. Their plays often discuss the painful details of topics such as forced marriages, physical and sexual abuse, rape, and neglect and try to break the through the veil of shame and silence that these topics are often shrouded in. In the CNN interview (posted below), Daccache mentions that for many of these women, it was the first time that they had ever discussed what they experienced and lived through. But the result was the same as that of the men’s prison: many of the women walked away feeling empowered and like they had taken control of their histories and their stories. And a similar theme runs through all of their stories: the ability to tell stories that hadn’t been told before.

(Trigger warning for mentions of abuse and sexual violence)

Setting and Ways to use this resource

The two major stakeholders in a project like this could be either students in a peer mediating programs or even those living in communities affected by long histories of ethnic, racial, religious, etc. tensions and violence. Although Drama Therapy requires a certified drama therapist, aspects of it can be implemented in many schools and classrooms. I found that there had often been a strong emphasis on the idea of role-reversal and assuming new points of view, which is essential to resolving conflicts and disputes. By teaching students to reenact the dispute, but through another person’s point of view, students of all ages will learn to approach conflict creatively and while being open towards the experiences of others.

However, I think drama therapy would be most beneficial to communities and peoples where there is long history of trauma and conflict within and between communities. The dramatic and slightly fictionalized aspect of drama therapy offers a safe space to explore emotions that are often raw and too painful to deal with in the “real-world” setting of everyday life. It may also encourage participants to become active participants in the rebuilding process that occurs after prolonged conflicts, empower them to become more than victims of circumstance and begin to chronicle the origins of the conflict.

An advantage of programs centered on drama therapy is that it often employ multiple intelligences all at once. They require engaging our emotional intelligence and building analytical skills. It allows participants to build a small community with one another and create a safe space to explore sometimes-painful topics and subjects, while at the same time increasing participants’ self-esteem and pushing them to become active participants in their lives and communities. Because of the emphasis placed upon role-reversal, participants are able to reframe history not only for themselves but for their audience as well. Through drama therapy, participants are no longer just the subjects, but simultaneously become the creators, writers, and directors. They’re not just writing the beginning, but the resolution as well.

Sources:

Catharsis- Lebanese Center for Drama Therapy

BBC article on Roumieh

CNN article on Baabda

Peace Journalism

While searching for a topic to write about for this post, I stumbled upon the concept and field of peace journalism. With my interest piqued, I delved more into the subject of peace journalism and came across this video of young woman named Vanessa Bassi at the TEDxLAU (Lebanese American University) conference who gave a compelling talk on the use of peace journalism in Lebanon. Over the course of the talk Bassil discusses the nature of journalism in Lebanon (and the rest of the world) and questions why peaceful events receive less attention in the media than violent events.

Because of the complexity and nature of the subject, this video would be more suited for high school and college students. This video is more of starting point that would get students and teachers asking questions about the portrayal of conflict and peace in the media and how much air time and exposure each one receives. However, the video does not need to be show in its entirety and showing a small clip can be the starting point for a more general discussion in a middle school (12-14 years old) setting. This video could be used as a starting point and a supplementary material for beginning a discussion on the media and how it can affect our perception of others and the world around us.

Ways to Use this Resource

This video and the discussion that would follow would probably be best suited to an informal discussion or debate that would occur in a classroom setting. Because this video is on youtube and therefore available outside of the classroom, it can be watched before class and class time can be spent discussing questions like:

  • What information was presented in the video?
  • Is it applicable to our lives and how so?
  • Can conflict be a good thing?
  • What exactly is peace journalism? What do you think it involves?

This sort of a discussion would be part of a transformative learning process that would help students to question the world around them and the current status quo of conflict and peace in the media. It would be a good introduction to discussing what it means to live in a culture of violence versus a culture of peace and whether the media fosters one or the other.

With this video and subsequent discussion, students and teachers would touch upon the three of the seven pillars of peace education:

  • Reframing history: Students and teachers would discuss why peaceful movements have not received as much coverage in the media and whether this has impacted whether or not people view peaceful movements as being effective. It would also help them question their own perceptions of others and what impact has the media had on their own world views.
  • Exploring approaches to peace: Students would begin to realize that working towards peace does not necessarily mean having to work in a formal, government institution and that peace education can be applicable in any sort of work environment.
  • Skill building: The discussion in the classroom would hopefully help students improve and work with their critical thinking skills by looking at the information presented in the media and how it can affect our perceptions of the world. It would also encourage the use of intrapersonal skills and prompt students to look inwards and examine how their own views about conflict and peace have been affected by the media.

Students and teachers who use this resource can benefit from the ideas it presents and the subsequent discussion because it encourages everyone to examine the role of media in our lives and its effect on our opinions. Perhaps this resource can also be used by prospective journalism students who, understanding the effect of media on our daily lives, are looking to use their skills and potential careers in a way that has a positive effect on their communities- much like Vanessa Bassil did.