Enlace: social cohesion through dialogic spaces

By Gabriela Silva Calle (Enlace’s Co-Founder)

My name is Gabriela Silva and I am a volunteer with a heart of a teacher and writer. I remember fondly the day when my volunteer path started. It was in Piura, Peru eight years ago. Since that day I have not stopped thinking about how we as a community can foster real social cohesion and genuine connection in order to work together to develop our society.

I have visited many different places- the jungle, the coast, and the mountains. The more I have traveled, the more inequalities I have discovered, and my desire has grown to bridge and promote spaces where our differences can be opportunities instead of a reason to segregate.

This last year I met the Comunidades de Aprendizaje, an educational NGO. They introduced me to dialogic learning and its principles like egalitarian dialogic and cultural intelligence. The information and methodologies allowed me to put Dialogic Literature Gatherings into practice with children from different public and private schools from Piura. It was an amazing experience because I realized that we usually share a neighborhood, but we do not necessarily know each other. The children told me that it was the first space where they were able to be heard and to listen to others. They enjoyed reading and sharing personal experiences instead of being evaluated with comprehension tests.

A Dialogic Literature Gathering is an interaction where participants read and choose phrases that connect with a personal experience. These phrases and personal experiences are shared in the gathering through a free dialogue. There is no chance to make mistakes because personal experiences are not graded. As a result, children develop social ties, self-knowledge and self-confidence.

For one hour, the children’s reflection and arguments are taken into account, inviting them to be protagonists in the interaction. The power of the moderator adult is eliminated by making people feel free to express themselves without fear of authority. This generates the opportunity to revalue the cultural intelligence of everyone involved.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started my plans have changed a lot. After my anxious and fearful stage, I saw an opportunity. I invited children from different regions and schools to participate in digital Dialogic Literature Gatherings. I have learned a lot from the children, likewise they have learned a lot from their friends. Although they call each other “friends”, they have never met in person. They live so far, but they feel so close. Through their personal experiences and points of view they share their lives, knowledge from those experiences, emotions and feelings, and most importantly they share culture. In one way or another they are strengthening their relationships with society. Here is an excerpt of one conversation:

Yanira: this phrase, “in the middle of a garden”, reminded me when my grandmother had a small garden, I loved it, I played too much and there were many flowers and now because of the quarantine I can not see it or go out. I felt joy because there I played with my cousins ​​and my friends; I loved this phrase because many beautiful memories came to me that I can no longer live.

Moderator: Does anyone have a comment or similar experience?

Gabriela: in the garden of my house a swing has been placed in which I sit and watch my dog ​​and play and it is very beautiful, it smells of grass and flowers.

Paul: I have an orchard, an orchard has things to harvest, food, I prefer an orchard because you take care of the plants, entertain yourself, give them food, water, compost

And another example about moving houses:

Gabriela: this phrase reminded me when we went to see my grandparents’ house but it was not there, I thought they had demolished it but in reality, they had moved to a house near the forest, it was difficult to accept because we had to said goodbye to the neighbors.

Joaquín: when we went to Tarapoto I thought it was going to be similar than Lima, I had to get used to it after a month, the first month I wanted to bathe all day, but I was surprised that there was a lot of plants, I remembered many friends

Ariana: my parents argued a lot, that’s why we moved from Apurímac to Lima, I had to get used to Lima little by little.

After six months of sharing with those children, I would like to expand this initiative because I really trust its cohesive impact. That is why some friends and I are working to launch Enlace as a social educational volunteer program that promotes social cohesion through gatherings for equal dialogue between Peruvian children. We would love to invite girls and boys from different regions to get to know each other, to connect with the expression of arts like literature, music, paintings, etc. and share their personal and important experience through digital gatherings.

Recently, I met Mari and Gabi of Nexos Comunitarios, and I would like to invite children from Cuncani to participate in these virtual gatherings. I am certain they are going to feel closer to their country when they meet children from different regions, continuing to share and learn. This will be the start of a wonderful alliance between people who want to promote the real social cohesion that we urgently need.

To finish this article, please, find below testimonials:

“The first day I thought they had gatherings with children from my school and when I saw that they weren’t my classmates, I was scared, but when the miss asked me if I had any comment, many things came to my head, things that I had not told before because I had not had the opportunity.” Urpi, Cusco

“I thought it was like a conversation, but it was better, it’s better because we read, we tell each other everything.” Carlos, Cusco

“I have learned to share moments with friends from other places that I have not known yet” Alexandra, Lima

“I have learned to feel a little more confidence to talk to more people other than my family because before I was a bit ashamed to talk to people who were not my family” Gabriela, Piura


Global Solidarity and Intercultural Engagement Narratives

By Marie-Eve Monette (NC Academic Program Coordinator)

On September 24th, I was invited by Nexos Comunitarios to give the first talk of its Strong Ideas for a Fair World series. The title of my talk was “Global Solidarity and Intercultural Engagement Narratives,” and since I define engagement as starting with an encounter, I want to start this post by referring to a comment made by one of the people in attendance. This person summed up my talk in the following manner: global solidarity and engagement have to be built on a foundation of human connections and the development of relationships. That is exactly what my talk was about. We can theorize all we want, share examples and information about people from other cultures, but if they are not linked to human connections, any solidarity is difficult to develop and sustain. 

Intercultural has become a buzz word in the past few decades, and its appearance has become common, if not expected, in any discussion about interactions between people from different backgrounds, or in the design of curriculum that involves service-learning, community engagement, global studies. Many refer to intercultural learning, but I prefer to talk about intercultural engagement. Let me tell you briefly why, before I link it back to the theme of global solidarity and narratives. 

In my opinion, intercultural learning is more detached. It implies acquisition, but exchange is not inherent to it. We as learners are often introduced to new cultures as the subjects of knowledge learning, and are often kept separate from the “object” of study, that is, the new cultures. The people who contribute and are involved in those cultures rarely participate in the process, at least not initially. What this teaches is a disconnect between the learner and the people from those cultures. How can we build solidarity on such a disconnect? 

Engagement, on the other hand, is much more encompassing. When I think about engagement, I think about relationships, involvement, of making a commitment. Intercultural engagement therefore requires immediate interaction of some kind between people of different backgrounds. Learning becomes relational, and the process has the potential of evolving around interconnectedness and exchange. This process fosters a much more fertile ground from which to grow solidarity.

Intercultural engagement narratives can be central in rethinking this solidarity, and in promoting intercultural development in our students. Whether these narratives are developed through podcasts, journals, vlogs, or other formats, they can help students establish connections between themselves and people from different cultures, practice self-reflexivity, and work through any challenges that inevitably arise during intercultural interactions. Before we even invite our students to engage in such narratives though, the journey needs to begin with us, as educators. We need to look at the ways in which we connect our identities, every day experience, and academic work. We need to understand what relationships inspired our continued engagement, and how we initiated and fostered these relationships. We can use this knowledge and these experiences to shape the ways in which we teach our students. This will help them develop their own practice of engagement based on joining relationships, experiential learning and academic knowledge, which will hopefully and naturally lead to a more sustainable global solidarity.