Youth empowerment through the arts — easy as PYE

Posted in Feature

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
June 12, 2013

Kampala, Uganda. A youth worker arrives at “In Movement, Art for Social Change” to lead a dance workshop with orphaned teens. She welcomes her students with a smile and leads a group rhythm. The students, shy at first, take interest in this new way of beginning class and quickly get curious about how to make a harmonious rhythm together.

Sao Paulo, Brazil. An arts educator has been teaching art to a group of teens in an after-school program when conflict arises between two students. He stops the class and takes a creative approach to solving the problem. Using theatre improvisation, he sets the scene for a role-play where the students can explore the conflict creatively.

PYE Global trainees meet for a session in London, England. (Photo courtesy of PYE Global)

PYE Global trainees meet for a session in London, England. (Photos courtesy of PYE Global)

Bangalore, India. A group of educators and mentors of “Dream A Dream,” a program that empowers youths through life skills and sports, sings a selection of songs from around the world as they finish up a weeklong summer camp using an approach called “The Creative Community Model.”

What these artists, educators and youth workers have in common is they have all been trained by facilitators from Partners for Youth Empowerment (PYE Global), co-founded by Langley residents Peggy Taylor, its director of training, and Charlie Murphy, the executive director. This summer, South Whidbey will see an influx of more than 80 of these social artists from around the world, all here to attend PYE Global’s first international gathering of arts/empowerment facilitators. The event, called “Catch the Fire,” will be held at the Whidbey Institute in Clinton from July 2 through July 7.

“We find that people everywhere have a hard time connecting with teens,” Taylor said. “Creativity-based programs infused with the multi-arts are like a secret sauce that pulls young people in and creates connections across cultural and generational divides.”

Taylor and Murphy have been working in Uganda, South Africa, India, the UK and Brazil for the past several years, training people in leading creativity-based transformational programs for youth.

“It was time for these amazing leaders to meet one another in person, and what better place to do so than on Whidbey Island where this work began,” Murphy said.

The Work at Home

The seeds were planted in the summer of 1996, when a diverse group of young people and a handful of caring adults gathered at the Whidbey Institute for the first ever weeklong summer camp for a program that was then called, Power of Hope: Youth Empowerment through the Arts.

“We had to beat the bushes to get kids to sign up for that first camp,” Taylor said.

“At that time, people weren’t working with teens the way we wanted to. We felt it was important to create a non-judgmental, inclusive learning community in collaboration with adults.” Fortunately for Taylor and Murphy, they managed to gather 35 young people between the ages of 14 and 18 and half as many adult volunteers, and together they co-created a magical week of self-expression through the arts.

“You never know what you’re going to get when you call together a group of teens and adults all coming from different walks of life,” Taylor said.

“We had some basic operating principles like ‘We are all creative’ and ‘Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.’” It worked.

The camp was a huge success and sent positive waves out into the youth development field. Within a few years, Power of Hope was offering multiple camps in the northwest region, including a successful training program for youth workers and facilitators. Today, the program provides arts/empowerment programs for teens from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds throughout Washington and British Columbia.

The Creative Community Model

After years of honing the program to become the leading youth development organization in the Northwest, Taylor and Murphy have developed what they call the Creative Community Model.

Its premise: That humans are essentially creative and wired for connection; the idea that being seen and heard in a safe environment leads to the ability to fully express oneself. The Creative Community Model is based on a give and take. Adults empower young people, and in turn, the youths awaken the potential of their adult mentors. Creative communities, say Taylor and Murphy, are about giving space and encouragement to people so that they may be authentically themselves. Creative limits are pushed, adults and youths participate together and everyone is engaged, setting the stage for authentic relationships across generations and cultures.

After 17 years, Taylor and Murphy know it works.

“Adults who participate come away feeling as excited and empowered as the youths, because they have learned how to take creative risks and to support others to do the same,” Murphy said.

Young people gather for training at a PYE Global training session.

Young people gather for training at a PYE Global training session.

The Work Abroad

After several successful years in the Northwest, it came time to test the efficacy of the program abroad. In 2005, Taylor was invited to visit friends in Kampala, Uganda, who were working at the Pediatric Infectious Disease Clinic (PIDC), and to offer an initial training to youth workers there.

“I could see almost immediately that the Creative Community Model connected with people in different parts of the world,” she said.

Taylor led group-building exercises and song circles for women, who were learning how to develop their entrepreneurial skills at “Bead For Life,’ a poverty eradication program in Kampala. Building on the success of this first encounter, Murphy and three facilitators traveled back to Uganda in 2006 and offered an in-depth training for multiple youth-serving organizations, including nurses and youth workers at PIDC that ultimately led to a camp for teens living with HIV/AIDS.

“The results were amazing,” Murphy said.

“By the end of the five-day camp, the youths left feeling like they didn’t have to live with the stigma of being HIV positive, and the youth workers left with new tools to keep the young people feeling empowered.”

Murphy has returned to Kampala often to continue working with various organizations, including PIDC, In Movement, Arts for Social Change and MLISADA (which stands for Music, Life Skills and Destitution Alleviation), programs that serve orphaned youths in Uganda by providing arts/performance workshops in theatre, arts and crafts, music, movement and storytelling.

Now, through PYE Global and their work beyond Uganda to South Africa, India, the United Kingdom and Brazil, Taylor and Murphy have estimated that they have touched more than 250,000 young people worldwide with their work.

The PYE International Gathering

At the upcoming Whidbey Institute gathering, global participants will come together to meet, share stories and best practices. Needless to say, the organizers are excited.

“It’s going to be incredible,” Taylor said.

The gathering will include interactive group sessions, small group workshops, opportunities to collaborate and learn about different cultures, and time to network and share ideas.

Visitors will include the South African-based “ASAP” (African Solutions to African Problems); LIFEbeat, a UK youth program; In Movement – Art for Social Change from Uganda; and Dream a Dream of India; as well as participants from Brazil, Canada and the United States.

“I expect there is going to be a lot of joy at this event, kind of like a family reunion. Only this is a global family reunion of people who have never met!”

“Catch The Fire,” the theme for the event, is named after a book by Taylor and Murphy to be released later this year. The book is a collection of stories from various programs at home and abroad, as well as a detailed look at the exercises used in the Creative Community Model.

Volunteers are needed

PYE Global needs Whidbey community volunteers to help host the event. Tasks include: Transportation, kitchen duty and hosting of participants. Donations are also needed to help cover expenses. To learn more about the PYE Global International gathering, and/or if you would like to help in any way, visit the website at Vist the Whidbey Institute website here.

Eric Mulholland is an actor, teacher and writer living on Whidbey Island. 

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