Drawing Workshop in Ban Napia

After a longer break due to heavy rain (= bad roads) and my holidays in Europe, I finally conducted a 1-day drawing workshop with children in Ban Napia. The aim of this workshop was that villagers help with the design of the Visitor Centre – the drawings and some of the photos I took will become part of the exhibition. So it’s again about ownership but also about meeting and enhance trust and collaboration with the people of Ban Napia. And not to forget: it was mainly about inspiring children, give them a wonderful day and have fun together!

It takes around one hour from Phonsavan to Ban Napia on a dirty road and when we arrived in the village, no one seemed to be there – and I got stressed imagining that everyone was working in the fields and we had to drive back without having done anything. But within half an hour the room in the community meeting centre exploded with children of different ages as well as curious adults – instead of the expected ten or a maximum of fifteen children, there were around thirty to forty!

This was my schedule for the workshop. I would like to thank Lisa Nowlain for sharing her curricula which made it much easier for me to set up mine:

1. Introduction: First Thanongsone, Nattaya and me presented ourselves and explained why we were there with a small comic I prepared beforehand. When we asked the children if they had any questions and what they expected from the day they were too shy to answer – something that continued to happen during the whole day (even it improved towards the end)

2. Warm-up / Get-to-know: I asked the kids to split into teams of two and do blind drawings of each other – not watching the paper at all (10 min). After this, they had to present the person they were drawing to the rest of the group. The children were quite nervous when it came to presenting in front of everyone but there was a lot of laughter about the portraits (even though there was only one child who completely understood my briefing).

3. Warm-up / imagination: We then played the exquisite corpse game. Especially the younger children were confused at the beginning, so that Thanongsone, Nattaya and me drew one example together. Many students then just copied exactly what we were drawing but after two or three rounds, the students became more and more imaginative. And all of a sudden, everyone just started to draw whatever came to their minds, not following the rules of the game anymore. It was fantastic to see how much they enjoyed themselves and I was almost sad that I had to stop and direct them!

4. Self-portrait: As a next step, I asked the children to draw a “happy self-portrait” – a portrait of themselves doing something that makes them happy. To ensure that everyone understood the task, I asked some of them (the ones who paid less attention) to repeat what I asked them to do. Everyone put a lot of effort into their drawing – many “artists” even stayed to finish their drawings after we told them to go home for lunch. It was interesting to see that many children draw themselves at school (or on their way to school). But also nature and being in nature (hunting, fishing etc.) seems to make  them happy!

5. Meditation: After lunch (even more potential artists showed up!), we sat down in a circle and I told everyone to close their eyes. Nattaya and me took them on a 10 minutes dream travel into the future of Ban Napia. Everyone was very quite and when we asked them  the first time to open their eyes, no one did. I’m not sure if they didn’t understand or if they just enjoyed the dream travel so much (they told us later they enjoyed it a lot!).

6. The future of Ban Napia: We then split the children into 5 groups – my initial idea was that each group makes one big drawing of how they want Ban Napia to look like in future. But only the older ones (between 12 to 16 years old) actually grouped and drew together – the younger kids continued with individual drawings. One thing almost all drawings had in common was a big street with cars – so far, there is only a dirty road in Ban Napia and mostly motorbikes (I’m not sure if there is a car at all).

7. In-between games: To get some fresh air and get everyone together, we went outside to play some games together (running in a circle, imaginary toss, silent mail etc.). Even though this was great laughter, everyone was happy and excited when I told them to go back inside to continue with their drawing!

8. Presentation and ending: At the end of the day, we finished with sitting together in a circle, having some snacks and everyone was asked to present their drawings about Ban Napia in the future. I tried to encourage a discussion about the drawings, but I only got answers to yes or no questions (do you like the colors in this drawing? do you like the idea? did you have fun today?… ). Once I asked “Why?” the children struggled to find an answer.

It was a great day and I want to thank the artists of Ban Napia for their enthusiasm, creativity and beautiful smiles (and that you even sang songs for me!). Thank you to Thanongsone (working for Helvetas) for arranging everything with and in the village and joining us even during weekend! Thanks so much to Nattaya for your translations!!!

Lessons learnt

It was the first time that I organized a workshop with children and I’m very glad about the experience. Children are so fun to work with and you get direct and honest feedback (if they start climbing on your back, you can be sure that you did a good job, especially with the shy children in Laos :-)

Before I came to Ban Napia, I was afraid that the students will not enjoy drawing. Now I know that there was no need to worry. Everyone who participated loved to draw and no one was forced to participate or stay. Seeing this energy and enthusiasm, I wish that I had more time with them (focussing more on different drawing techniques, group-work, story-telling, encouraging critical thinking, discussion and presentation skills). Especially with having in mind how shy everyone was and how it started to change towards the end (in only the few hours we spent together). Furthermore, we didn’t have the time to interview everyone about their pictures – something that I would do next time. Some pictures speak for themselves but sometimes it’s quite difficult to understand the artist.

It was quite a challenge (and exhausting) though to work with so many children. I realized how difficult it must be for a teacher to give every student the same attention and also to get everyone’s attention. Students in Laos are quite disciplined but in our creative space (and with so many people) it was sometimes quite chaotic –  doing something unexpected helps in these situations (jump on a table and clap in your hands, throw a paper ball at the loudest child, asking a question etc.).

Some other things I’ve learnt include:

> always make sure that everyone understands the assignment
> girls copy each other more than boys and like to draw smaller and more detailed
> a teacher should never draw, otherwise the students just copy
> as a teacher: don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself but also mark your borders
> we have a limited amount of energy and have to use it wisely (have to find out when it is necessary to intervene, when i’m allowed to step back etc.);
> having a repertoire of different ideas for games is very useful
> stay flexible and go with the flow: don’t insist on an idea but be open to adapt to the needs of a situation (which you can’t predict); but also make sure that you will not forget half of the things you actually needed to do (as it happened to me :-)

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