The city of Calcutta in India is 10,961 miles from the community of Unocolla in the Andean highlands of Peru. But the distance did not prevent a group of Peruvian teachers at Unocolla’s Mariano Melgar High School from connecting with the story of Amlan Ganguly, the founder of a youth leadership organization called Prayasam in India.
At a recent screening of a film called The Revolutionary Optimists, secondary school teachers in Unocolla were inspired by the way in which Ganguly, a lead character in the film, has planted hope in the poorest neighborhoods of Calcutta by empowering children to become leaders in their communities. A teacher named Alejandro Ruelas Verástegui was particularly impressed by an exercise Ganguly leads called, “The River of Life”, which asks children to draw a river that charts the high and low points of their life experiences. He decided to use it, and other colleagues supported his idea.
“The method used by Amlan Ganguly is very good,” said Margot Ingaluque Aquino, a fellow teacher at the high school. “With dance, he guides students to express themselves and release tensions. Then, little by little, he asks the children to draw their stories, the hard things that happened to them on the River of Life. We need young people to tell us these difficult things; we need to understand.”
Resources at Mariano Melgar High School are scarce, but the enthusiasm for teaching and learning is palpable. Excited by the prospect of introducing engaging new teaching tools into their classrooms, six teachers of this institution, and 17 colleagues from the nearby school Peru BIRF, volunteered to be part of the Training Program for Young Leaders, conducted by CARE, as part of the Women and Girls Lead Global initiative in Peru.
The program uses films from the Women of the World series, which highlights girls and women who are overcoming challenges globally, to promote discussions about challenging issues facing young people – girls in particular. The conversations are intense, the students’ testimonies raw and the silences understandable. Teenagers are being prepared to become leaders; teachers to become facilitators.
In discussing Ganguly of The Revolutionary Optimists, a teacher named Andres Apaza Apaza noted, “He suffered a lot of damage in his childhood. He was raped when he was six. He went through a traumatic experience, but thanks to the influence of his mother, he used it to do good things.”
And though Ganguly might not know it, he has sparked a passionate response on the other side of the globe among the teachers at these two schools in the Andean highlands, who are now using The River of Life as a tool for approaching their students and encouraging them to talk about their pain and their optimism.
“Colleagues: let´s share our story with our students, they will do the same, which will bring about change in our society,” said a teacher named Humberto Salazar Mamani. “In the movie, the teacher has turned kids into leaders; they have solved problems in their communities. We are trying something similar. How important are we! “