Warriors Without Weapons: How Learning Moves Trans-locally

The Warriors Without Weapons selection process in Brazil has been refined over the course of 12 years. Instead of only accepting architectural students or solely focusing on geographic diversity, Elos now seeks out impassioned, entrepreneurial youth that are ready to catalyze change in their community now. They’ve made the application process (an incredible virtual game) more challenging and more specific. At the end of the program, partly as a result of learnings from Oaxaca, Elos now incorporates space for analysis into Warriors Without Weapons. The month used to close with the completion of the construction project. They now include nearly a week of reflection, giving Warriors the chance to assimilate what they have learned and identify next steps for when they return home.

It’s fascinating to witness how learning in one place accumulates and combines with experiences and lessons from other contexts. When Edgard co-hosted the Oasis Game with Vishal in India, team members noticed the way his hosting and use of process had been influenced by Warriors Without Weapons Oaxaca and involvement with the Berkana Exchange. His language had become much more powerful and precise. The beauty of the trans-local concept is that there really is no limit to the ways learning and inspiration can move, morph, combined and expand.

Adapting to Local Realities

Once clear on essence, we need to understand how a process, program or idea can be adapted to fit local realities. Stories from Warriors Without Weapons Oaxaca and Oasis Games around the world illuminate modifications that have helped these programs succeed in new contexts. We also learn from friends in Pakistan and Canada that have never hosted a program, but have woven aspects of the methodology into their work or considered how they might need to adapt the program to their place.

In 2007 Melissa was a Warrior in Brazil. She said, “As soon as I made the decision to go, I knew I was committing to host the program in Mexico in the best way possible.” The political context in Oaxaca in the wake of the 2006 people’s movement was a significant motivator for bringing the program north. Though the uprising was a powerful example of community self-organization, the brutal repression of the movement meant that most people were only focused on fighting the current political regime. Melissa went to Brazil with the hope of finding more creative and positive alternatives to protests and marches. She said, “The conditions in Oaxaca seemed perfectly ripe for the program at this time as people were looking for and open to new ways of working and struggling.”

As Melissa journeyed the Warrior’s path, she realized that there was a missing element in her experience: an in-depth analysis of the social, cultural and political context. Without this, she thought, the program would never fly in Mexico. Current political and social realities were more than just the backdrop; they played a principle role. The design of the Oaxaca program contained more critical analysis, including not only a theoretical basis for reflection, but also hands-on training in constructive practices (like natural building and community media). These kinds of workshops grounded the experience firmly in place and offered the Warriors useful tools when it came time to take action.

There were some surprises in the process, too. From the beginning, Member of the Warriors Without Weapons Oaxaca organizers thought there was no way people in Oaxaca would join in the circular dances that are a big part of the group building process in Brazil. But Edgard persuaded the team to give it a try. Everyone was shocked when they saw the leaders of large NGO’s and government officials dancing in circles in the abandoned lot in the neighborhood where the Warriors gathered daily.

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