By Aerin Dunford, 2013
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
– Victor Hugo
Sixty youth from sixteen countries stand in a river in Southeast Brazil slapping their hands on the water, chanting, “HE-áh-na-na-na, HEáh-na-na-na, HE-áh-nah-nah- HE!” In a fraccionamiento (housing subdivision) outside Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico, anarchist activists work side-by-side with elderly housewives to build an altar for the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the neighborhood of Shivaji Nagar, India, a group of local children and youth from far-flung Indian provinces belt out songs as they clear rubbish to create space for an earthen bench. University students across Brazil send messages via Twitter to organize the delivery of a hundred square meters of grass to Santa Catarina, a region devastated by flooding. In Toronto, participants in a nationwide youth conference pile on top of one another in a cooperative version of musical chairs.
These scenes appear entirely unrelated on the surface. Each one occurs in a unique setting; places with distinct histories, cultures, characters and contexts. Yet something profound and synergistic underlies these moments: Warriors Without Weapons and the Oasis Game.
Warriors Without Weapons is a program dreamt up by four young architects who shared a vision to use their training and skills to build a better world. Elos Institute founders Edgard Gouveia Júnior, Rodrigo Rubido Alonso, Mariana Gauche-Motta and Natasha Mendes Gabriel co-created this ingenious youth program that combines indigenous ways of knowing, a unique methodology for rethinking community engagement, transformative group processes and a hands-on construction project. For one month, 20 to 60 youth immerse themselves in the daily lives of a local community, oftentimes slums, ghettos or marginalized migrant neighborhoods. Participants work hand-in-hand with the community to plan, design and build something tangible like a park, cultural center, daycare or playground. The methodology is based on the belief that every community is rich with resources that, when recognized, encourage self-reliance and build confidence. By sharing stories of the community’s history, exploring their gifts and their potential and dreaming together, people begin to reimagine what’s possible, starting with what they already have.
The Oasis Game is a 2-4 day event that invites a community to come together to identify a shared dream, co-create a plan to bring that dream to life and cooperatively realize it with a spirit of joy and playfulness. The goal is to awaken a creative, cooperative spirit in community members, strengthening relationships and cultivating a sense of opportunity and responsibility to take care of their neighborhood and each other.
From the beginning, the innovators of Warriors Without Weapons envisioned it spreading like wildfire. In 1999 Elos Institute facilitated the first program for Latin American architecture students in Brazil. They thought that the following year participants from another country would run Warriors Without Weapons on their own. They all believed it was possible. The conditions seemed favorable: an established network of students, small groups of former participants in the same geographic areas, support and encouragement from the founders and strong relationships forged via the shared transformative experience of the program. They were motivated, inspired and committed.
However, when the year 2000 rolled around, the Warriors of South America responded saying they wanted to co-facilitate the program before attempting it at home. So Elos created the second edition. It became clear to program founders that they held implicit knowledge about the process that they had never before shared. The former Warriors wanted to know how to work as a team, talk with people in the community, fundraise and host cooperative games. There was so much to learn. During the early years, Elos noticed that how the program was facilitated designed was as important as the outcome. They begin to realize that play, trust and openness to chaos were all key ingredients of the program’s magic. Plans were laid for Warriors Without Weapons Paraguay and Argentina, but the first few sparks didn’t ignite the great blaze they had hoped for. At the last minute, the organizing teams in both places decided to cancel.