iChoose New Zealand took Auckland schools by storm, performing at 10 schools all over Auckland, in the last week of February. The program consisted of an approximately 10 to 15-minute performance followed by a 35-minute workshop, which I had the great privilege to be a part of. Previously, iChoose had successfully performed at schools in Hawaii, Southern California, the New York/New Jersey metro area, Oslo and even Norway. And now, thanks to ICAP (International Committee of Artists for Peace), iChoose was debuting in Auckland.
Being a part-time crew member/journalist and a full-time human being, I learned so much about the Bullying/Racism epidemic and the kind of impact it can have on high school students these days. Throughout the week, the schools we attended, ranged in school rankings. Here in Auckland, for a while now, the South Side has been reputed for its history in intensive gang-related activity, which has rubbed off on the schools within the area. Partially due to this reason, most students in the South are deprived of access to these “luxury items”- equipment and resources that would be useful in further enhancing their learning. However, despite all the ‘limitations’, I saw great potential in all the students. It seemed rather unfortunate that the students in these schools had almost allowed themselves to succumb to their violent backgrounds. And as a result, believed violence to be another name of survival in a society that thrived on what they believed was power. On the other hand, North side schools exposed a distinctly similar case. A lack of diversity and openness to difference had closed all doors for acceptance amongst the students. The usage of racial slurs and absurd profanities had reached its pinnacle, driving students of other ethnicities out of the school. And no doubt, Central Schools shared quite a similar story.
One thing seemed fairly obvious after attending all these schools, bullying, and racial targeting were indeed prevalent in ALL schools regardless of the schools ranking. A key point that I noticed while interacting with some of the students was that a lot of these “issues” usually begin at home. Circumstances can constitute for anything, financial, emotional – putting excessive pressure on the child by a way of put downs, physical as in assault/child battery and sometimes even sexual exploitation. And due to these ‘circumstances’ and lack of parental involvement, the child, often unknowingly, becomes subject to their environment. Schools, in such cases, also prefer to turn a blind eye for their own reasons. The all time popular one being low pays for teachers and other staff.
Growing up, we notice how important it is for one to look ‘good’. Teenagers, especially, pay a lot of attention towards the negative aspects of their features that they perceive exist on them physically. Girls and even now-a-days guys, as a result, resort to fake tans, rhinoplasty, liposuction and botox as their own way of fitting in with what is the current ‘in’ thing in their immediate environment. These methods of body modification or tweaking as I like to call it have their own separate ramifications. One of the major repercussion bullying has on teen girls especially is bulimia and anorexia. Where in the desire to “fit in” takes over the image of what constitutes a ‘healthy body’. A healthy body, for teen girls especially at that age, is the ‘size 0’ fad. But can you blame them for grooming such an obscured obsession? Today even Actors regardless of which film industry they belong to, give a lot of importance to the way they look. How often have you seen a plus size model walk the ramp or appear on famous teen magazines? Not often enough, I suppose. A teenage girl walking along the road walk past all the fashion outlets would be easily disappointed because she cannot wear a dress she likes because she doesn’t have the same size curves as the mannequin on the other side of the window screen. This same girl would be depressed if a guy she liked happened to reject her because she didn’t look a certain way or had a ‘strange/weird’ personality. Lack of acceptance, for boys or girls, by parents and/or the society (including other fellow students) can cause excessive fallouts. Where in teens usually rebel because they want positive attention or they want to be heard. In this aspect, it is important to consider the importance of a strong male figure in a girl’s life. And most importantly a strong, well balanced (in terms of power equality between Mom and Dad), healthy and united family. Making the child understand that they are worth much more than what they are told to be. It’s crucial for parents to understand, provide and protect their children in the times of their need.
One extremely fascinating approach that caught my eye was a school for both the disabled and able. The teachers within that school had instilled within all the students that respect should be given to all no matter what shape, size or what their abilities are. Students had a lot of respect for one another and to a large extent supported and motivated each other. Through such an approach each child grows and expands his/her horizon mentally and, therefore, is far more accepting of difference and is less tolerant towards disrespecting individuality and isolating the different.
One of the many great things about iChoose was the Victory Over Violence exhibition – a youth-led education and engagement initiative to help young people identify and counteract the root causes of violence.
Overall, iChoose was a real eye opener for me. The workshops that I was a part of were, in one sense, therapeutic for me to help me deal with the bullying and racism that I was exposed to. The iChoose performances and discussions saved so many young lives, all thanks to the hard work and dedication of the cast and crew. It just goes to show that no job in society is small or unvalued. Each position has a reason for its existence without which the functioning of the society is inevitable. I just want to say a HUGE thanks to the crew especially who tirelessly worked behind the scenes to bring this great cause into light. And especially to a small group of men and women who took time off work just to cook our morning tea and lunch – which by the way was delicious. In short, I felt truly blessed to be a part of this revolutionary journey.
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