Interview with Ms. Cecile Guidote-Alvarez Director, UNESCO DREAM Center, Philippines
Javier Collado Ruano: Dear readers, today we have the opportunity to learn from a big activist and a distinguished theatre artists in drama, music, literacy, arts, dance, visual and martial arts. Her name is Cecile Guidote-Alvarez and she is the Director of the Philippine Center of International Theater Institute/Earthsavers UNESCO DREAM Center. I met her in Rio+20 and since then we have exchanged reflections about how to achieve sustainable development, between many other issues. Ms. Guidote-Alvarez, thank you very much to attend us today, for our special edition of Global Education Magazine: International Women´s Day.
Cecile Guidote-Alvarez: Thank you for allowing us the golden opportunity to share the Bohol Declaration that launched interdisciplinary, interfaith, the RAINBOW CROSS Movement of healing trauma through the arts.
JCR: I would like to start the interview saying “thank you very much” for invite us to attend the Workshop-Forum entitled “the Inter-disciplinary Cultural Roadmap to Healing Trauma and Building climate Solutions”, which took place two weeks ago in Bohol, the area affected by earthquake/ Super Typhoon Haiyan. Unfortunately, our academical obligations did not allow us to visit the Philippine that time, but I hope to have new opportunities in the closed future. In the letter you sent me, you said “the forum and workshop will orient and engage teachers, artists, social workers, medical practitioners, policymakers, industry representatives, scientists, and other stakeholders in a lively discussion and demonstration of the realistic options at hand for restoring and nurturing the mental health of survivors with skills training for employment or entrepreneurship while engendering fortitude, faith and the strength of spirit to triumph over adversity”. Could you please let us know what the results of such dialogue and effort were? Did you achieve the goal to build the “Interdisciplinary Creative Arts Therapeutic Emergency Response”?
CGA: Yes, the demonstration workshop with disaster survivors was an effective theatre experience. Artists from different parts of our country worked together and collectively created scenarios that reflected the angst, the fears, and hopes through the coordination of the NCCA- National Committee of Dramatic Arts (NCDA) chaired by Luthgardo Labad. I think it is noteworthy to underscore the observation of Dr. Hubert Gijzen who witnessed the workshop and the vignettes created by different teams from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and teachers from Bohol that had theatre healing orientation through the support of “Save the Children” This was complemented by the Earthsavers ‘handicapable’ artists synergized with indigenous and out-of-school youth working with deaf children and survivors for 3 hours which they joined the showcase performance.
The Earthsavers within the Philippine Center of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) were honored by UNESCO as Artists for Peace in 2003 and in 2011, the Earthsavers Academy with its inclusive and transformative teaching module for persons in difficult circumstances was designated the 6th in the world as a UNESCO DREAM Center. It was personally inaugurated in the Philippines by Director-General, Dr. Irina Bokova.
Speaking in Bohol, Dr. Gijzen, Diector of the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Science Bureau stated: “With the Theatre on the Edge Festival, I also saw that building back better for you is not only related to the infrastructure, but also to the ‘software’, to the society at large. You, the performers and artists showcased today the power of culture, the power of arts and music, which can be applied in so many areas.
Whether it is to raise awareness on MDGs, on political or societal issues, on the MDGs, or on complex issues such as climate change, the performing arts and music play a very special role in conveying sometimes difficult and complex messages.
Via this Theatre on the Edge Festival you focused on the specific theme of natural disasters, and I could recognize at least three key functions:
a) To raise awareness on the origins and causes of natural disasters.
b) To contribute to community preparedness, so that we know how to respond when disaster strikes.
c) To mobilize arts for healing of trauma inflicted by natural disasters
We all learned a lot from this. I personally learned also something else, namely that the performing arts and music is a very powerful way of conveying complex messages. Politicians and organizations like the United Nations, including myself, we all use words to convey our messages. The power of words indeed is strong, and if words are chosen right, the message goes straight to your head. But arts is much more powerful, because the message goes straight to the heart.”
JCR: And what was the role of the UNESCO-Jakarta, Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, in such practices at the events?
CGA: The dissemination of the Bohol experience will be facilitated by the UNESCO bureau in our region of the Asia-Pacific that is so vulnerable to extreme climate occurrence. The bureau’s wealth of research, experts and experience in the field enhances our goal of helping build green cities and safer schools. Moreover, UNESCO is a partner to strengthen south-south dialogue in defying disasters, our plans to link, coordinate and collaborate through facilitation of support from parallel UNESCO offices to expand the network with inter-continental connectivity with countries in the Arab-African region as well as in the Caribbean-Latin America region. We involve public-private partnership to execute our programs.
The United Nations office of Coordinating Affairs (OCHA) reports that the Asia-Pacific region suffered worst national disasters in 2013 besides the impact of the fiercest typhoon recorded in history, the Philippines also suffered 16 natural disasters. The Asia-Pacific region was hit by 137 natural disasters compared with 93 separate events in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of people killed recorded was 18, 375 and 82 million affected. More than 3.9 million people in 4 countries hit Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao PDR and Thailand. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were hit by deadly typhoon ‘Mahasen’. India and China were also heavily affected by floods, not to count other earthquakes and tsunamis in the last 3 years.
In the light of this reality, the Asia-Pacific Science Bureau of UNESCO headed by Dr. Hubert Gijzen is humongous. We are grateful for the commitment of support from UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova as expressed in her message: “It is symbolic and important that this workshop is held in Bohol, which suffered from the impact of the earthquake and from the devastation of typhoon ‘Haiyan’. Bohol embodies the spirit of resilience that all societies need today, and especially those of Small Island Developing States, on the frontline of climate change.
This Asia-Pacific Regional Forum is designed to address trauma through an interdisciplinary approach to restore the confidence of communities and to rebuild anew. For this-the workshop will train and mobilize national teams to cope and overcome—through creativity and solidarity—the difficulties faced by survivors of disasters, victims of armed conflict or other forms of violence.
Art Education has a key role to play in releasing trauma, in promoting healing and in catalyzing positive change…. This is why UNESCO supports arts education as a vital tool for intercultural learning, for global citizenship and for the acquisition of life skills. This education highlights the importance of cultural diversity, and it reinforces behaviors and values for deeper social cohesion. This is essential for all societies today—global challenges mean that no State can stand alone, and humanity can only move forward together, guided by shared values and common aspirations for a better future.”
This vision is re-enforced by the message of our President, His Excellency Benigno Aquino III who applauded the organizers led by the UNESCO DREAM Center in stressing that “Adaptation, education, and synergized action are fundamental components of the global discourse on climate change. No longer are nations resigned to tackle environmental threats and issues within borders; all are moving towards more comprehensive and inclusive approaches to development.
Citizens hold crucial roles in the task, ensuring that our dialogues remain focused on intergenerational progress and grounded in the current and future needs and aspirations of the people. This is especially important as the Philippines recovers from one of the most devastating calamities in recorded history, and as we refine our strategies in the context of our vulnerabilities to climate risk.
May your initiative serve the Filipino people as well, as it lends face to our country’s disaster preparation and risk reduction campaign. Let your exchange effectively channel efforts into managing the risks we are exposed to as humanity harnesses natural resources, and enable your participants to become agents of healing and empowerment within and beyond our archipelago.”
JCR: Without doubts, these efforts will go a long way as community members become more aware of the phenomenon of climate change, especially for the natural disasters. In this sense, I totally agree with Dr. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, when she expressed you in the letter of 19th December 2013 that “the expedition of the Ensemble to Paris would not have been possible without your personal engagement and energy. Your presence here in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan was a more timely gesture to honour the victims of the devastating natural disaster”. I am sure the initiative Theatre Training for All of the ITI in the Asia-Pacific region will represent a big initiative to help all survivors. How could our readers support this initiative? How could they be involved?
CGA: Readers can liaise and identify the theatre or culture group within their schools or community. You can share this methodology of cultural caregiving to get involve with them as a volunteer and reach out to vulnerable and marginalized sectors in your place to extend to them, with value laden art education. Hospitals, prisons, refugee camps, organizations for persons with disabilities and senior citizens, rehabilitation centers for drug abusers can all be given arts education for their recuperation and restoring their mental health.
Those interested can join our growing network and can connect with the International Theatre Institute (ITI) whose Director-General Tobias Biancone can be accessed for events like: the World Theatre Day in March, Arts Education Week in May, World Dance Day in April or the Earthsavers for participation in Clean Up the World in September, Earth Day in April. The ITI website is: www.iti-worldwide.org Our Philippine Center of the ITI will be offering this Creative Theatre Transformative course showcased in Paris and Bohol through a consortium of universities like the University of Makati, Isabela State University with La Salette University in Northern Luzon, through the SVD system and other community groups through the Earthsavers-UNESCO DREAM Center. My Skype address is cecile.alvarez7 and Viber number is +63917-543-2889. We have a nationwide radio broadcast. We are now building a new Earthsavers website with the help of Filipino-American students from Stanford University in California, USA. Our email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
JCR: By the other hand, I wanted to quote a phrase of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations: “There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” Under this premise, our intentionality would be to integrate the new humanism vision of UNESCO to all our readers, especially for the women. In this way, I was thinking about how create a new “vanishing point” and raise awareness about the situation of women worldwide. That´s why I feel you could help us to build that kind of vision with your artistic and creative approach. Why do you think it is so important the theatre to help people in general and specially for those who are now handicapped physically and psychologically?
CGA: Theatre is a mirror. It calls attention to problems and provides a multi-sectoral avenue for an intercultural dialogue to reflect on solutions and creatively bond groups of common interest to cooperatively address or prevent crisis. Creative empowerment with skills and confidence building coupled with endurance and perseverance is a prerequisite armor for people who are in a mental state of discombobulation because of incalculable grief of loss, anger and despair due to physical incapacity or deprivation. It is an engine for creative industry and social entrepreneurship.
Theatre is also an anchor that can help participants and audience grow in the appreciation of indigenous heritage and traditional values that must not be laid aside but reconciled with technological advances. It is an antidote to forgetfulness. In fact, a memory bank to draw lessons from history to guide present and future action because the worst illness that can be inflicted on a person or a nation is amnesia and even Alzheimer’s disease.
JCR: In this sense, doing a cultural-sensitive parallelism between the emotional shock after earthquake that shook Bohol, I wanted you to express that, under UN WOMEN studies, 70% of women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Do you think it could be interesting to introduce “theatre therapy” into educational curricula at schools? Could that help the 60 million girls worldwide who are married before the age of 18?
CGA: Yes. It is necessary to introduce an early awareness for the curriculum in schools. I had talked with our Secretary of Education informing him of our healing arts education module and he was receptive to integrate it in our K-12 educational curriculum. We are concerned that media also serves as a creative classroom and that local governments must be appropriately involved.
There is a Commission on the Role of Women. Media must sustain interest on the violations or non-implementations of laws to protect the rights of women and children provide as well the good news. We linked up agencies of government, a number led by women and there is a greater number of women in both houses of the legislature.
Senator Loren Legarda, Chair of the Committee on Environment and Climate Change has stressed that “there is an urgent need of healing. Disasters have wreaked havoc on cities and psyches across the Philippines. We cannot allow these people to wallow in collective sense of loss, grief and depression the same way we don’t allow the wounded to be left untreated. We need to deliver psycho-social assistance to these victims. “Besides her commendation, our Bohol effort has received attention as well from other women legislators, Senator Pia Cayetano who heads the Education and Culture Committee, Senator Cynthia Villar who addresses agricultural security, Senator Grace Poe who supervises the Committee on Communications and Information and Senator Nancy Binay as Minority Leader in the Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago for Foreign Relations.
In the House of Representatives, the President of the Lady Legislators,-Representative Gina de Venecia composed of ¼ of the Congress. She is a mother, who in losing her only daughter in a fire has created a support network to deal with the pain of loss of their children.
JCR: Unfortunately, up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16. This is a big challenge to confront it and this is the reason why I would like to request you some advices to empower people. What kind of suggestions and advices you would like to tell us to develop a new vision of human values? What is it the essence of theatre therapy approach and how useful it is for people?
Cecile Guidote-Alvarez: We realize that domestic violence and sexual harassment in the work site now even with internet outreach are rampant in our country equally so in the Asia-Pacific, Arab-African region where there is practice of girl brides and dowry system, the hidden crime against children, incest and the spread of pedophilia. Our government with civil society support has put up hotlines and women’s desk in police stations among its remedial measures.
It is most surprising that an EU report by the Vienna-based director Morten Kjaeran still shows extensive human rights abuse with physical, sexual and psychological violence against women. These aggressions result in long lasting deep seated effects reflected in panic attacks, depression, difficulty in subsequent relations and even suicidal tendencies. All these must be addressed but is unfortunately systematically under-reported. There is the stigma, the shame and fear of further reprisals. Society itself must be more open in providing understanding for the victims. Media should avoid sensationalizing reports of sexual violence into long running scandalous melodramatic news stories. There must be respect for their privacy. Obviously, their trauma must be given the same cultural caregiving service to be able, after reflecting about their atrocious experience to move on and be empowered through innovative culture-based therapy response. This should be is beefed-up by medical and psychiatric guidance. One can see where artists, duly oriented and concerned can be employed to enhance the concept of social rehabilitation.
Through a painting, poem, song, dance or even an installation, allowing release and imaginative approach to break the silence to calm tensions, to learn from and cast aside the pain of past experience towards better self-esteem and envisioning a stronger, grasp of their human right and discovery of their inner strength and ability to move on.
The arts therapy encounter provides the bridging for similar expressions that generate the support system that engenders hope, the will to live and a mechanism for safety and security. We re-enforce with the Christian tenet that after the agony of Calvary and agony is the ecstasy of resurrection.
JCR: Doing a link with your previous reflections, Edgar Morin, as many other authors, talks in his life´s work about the importance to reform thought, education and politics to face the challenge of future humanity´s governability. In this sense, it is obviously that word-society need a deep transformation to achieve a sustainable development. Ideally, theatre therapy could reflect a values-based in the new humanism approach mentioned. Therefore, it would promote “stakeholder value,” where stakeholders include the whole human race and the planet itself. In shorts, all big thinkers of today are claiming a new and holistic vision about the world-society and their interconnections. What do you think it is the role of Global Citizenship Education proposed by UNESCO to achieve it? What kind of changes we should introduce to raise awareness about our responsibility with global problems?
CGA: Definitely, change of attitudes, habits, and mindsets is essential for reform towards good governance to put a premium in affirming life rather than engagement in destruction of life. Violence against mankind and Mother Earth is a human rights issue. Caring, and sharing, dedication and perseverance to pursue a vision must be instilled through early childhood education. The absence of greed or substituting this obsessive desire for materialism with compassion and sensitivity to unfortunate conditions of others is a key to fighting poverty. Empathy is the ability to feel with those suffering atrocities, catastrophes, injustice and deprivation as well as the capacity to celebrate achievements that better the condition of mankind in particular the triumph of the spirit over adversity. We are deeply grateful to the citizens of the world for its expression of sympathy and immediate humanitarian aid to the Philippines that was crystallized with the personal visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Tacloban, Leyte.
UNESCO’s advocacy of global citizenship underscores the need to inculcate a sense of kinship with the family of nations and as well as a sense of duty and responsibility to advance the welfare of every citizen, regardless of race or creed to protect the planet earth, our common home.
JCR: By the other hand, I also wanted you to ask about your beliefs, in order to understand better the bridges that you do between culture and spirituality. Is theatre therapy a thinking way faced with religions or, on the contrary, it is a new form of “entanglement” cultures?
CGA: Theatre therapy requires the appreciation and sensitivity in applying the inherent qualities of theatre (the meeting ground of all the arts) for healing. Those in difficult circumstances feel isolated and helpless. Theatre is a social art that engenders linkages, participation, and social interaction. It brings hope like a “Balm in Gilead”. After conducting theatre workshops since I was 15 years old beginning at the Orthopedic Hospital under a Jesuit drama and media teacher, Fr. James B. Reuter pursuing this mission when I founded the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA in 1967); and carrying on in exile at La MaMa Theatre in a Brooklyn public school, working the trainable and educable students, many institutions like the prison and church groups in ghettos, the deaf, the mentally challenged and even the delinquent at some point. I have been elated and gratified that the crippled, the blind are transformed like butterflies out of a cocoon.
Our theatre therapy experience is a vehicle to draw them out of despair and despondency to help them express their fears and anxieties, to recall their experience of trauma and portray through any artistic form synchronized with their dream of a better life and hope for its fulfillment. They become ‘handicapable’ able to smile and continue learning while earning, rebuilding their lives with fortitude and faith. They have to recall their own good experiences and use it as a foundation to develop the spiritual strength to continue and find a sense of confidence and purpose of existence.
I believe in miracles and the power of prayers having undergone the persecution and repression of a dictatorial regime and being victorious after a long difficult struggle for freedom. Personally being afflicted with cancer, faith together with respect for my doctor’s medical formula for recovery has been the spine for my journey of survival. This is the wellspring of my conviction.
JCR: At this point, it is interesting note that famous quantum physics Basarab Nicolescu said that word “war” does not exists anymore in the vocabulary of trans-disciplinary, because its goals are “understand the present world, which passes by understanding the meaning of our life and our sense of death in this world which is ours”. Then, seeing theatre therapy as interdisciplinary programs which were recognized as UNESCO Artists for Peace for the cultural bridges developed… How do you see the future of the humanity after all your long experience as exiled? Could we achieve the SDG goals proposed in the agenda post-2015?
CGA: Our work in exile to help achieve a peaceful restoration of our democracy provided me a stronger perspective that justice will prevail no matter how exceedingly slow it may seem to grind. Nothing is impossible with God’s grace coupled with one’s willingness to sacrifice with determination, patience and faith to pursue what is right and defend the truth.
I am confident that if the social conscience is forged and global political leaders are concienticized; the post 2015 agenda for sustainable development can be agreed upon and can be realized. I believe that we all care for the future of our children and grandchildren. Cooperation is absolutely essential to insure the survival and safety of mankind through the health of our habitat. We cannot afford to fail. Self-interest must be substituted by commitment for the common good.
JCR: I cannot imagine how such experience as exile changed your life and your way of thinking. Maybe it is interesting mentioned now that, globally, around 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime. Have you ever considered writing a theatre piece to empower women in such situation?
CGA: Returning to the Philippines— When I was in exile, convinced that the UN Conference on Women in Mexico in 1980 was a historic milestone to put in the global agenda. I was determined to participate and call attention to the marginalization of women in all aspects of life. We are lucky in the Philippines there is a law that punishes violence against women and children. The UN has passed the convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. (CEDAW)
I have featured in our award-winning DZRH Radio Balintataw, the heroic lives of ordinary women on nationwide broadcast & global webcast to inspire those ‘in trouble’ and in doubt about stories of women in difficult circumstances that fought for their right to a dignified life and strengthen their faith in Divine providence with the value of a supportive family.
One is a crippled who was able to serve as a senior official in the Solicitor-General’s office. Another is a cancer victim after being cured had set-up a help cooperative for cancer patients called the I CAN SERVE FOUNDATION. An indigenous woman in Palawan struggled to achieve education and after graduation, did not look for greener pastures in the city life but remained to teach the tribal children.
A historical figure, the wife of Sultan Kudarat, jumped-off the cliff with her child rather than be caught and used as a hostage by the Spanish conquistadores to allow Kudarat to lead the Muslims in defying the unhampered occupation of Mindanao.
Beyond our local heroines, there is the path-breaking leadership of Dr. Irina Bokova, the first woman to lead UNESCO on her second term is a champion of ‘new humanism’ with her cross- disciplinary vigorous pursuit of education for all especially for girls.
JCR: I am agree that Dr. Irina Bokova is a big example for thousand of women, but you are too. I am sure there will be thousands of people very fortunate to be around of your transformative energy, because you work with passion and wisdom. Personally, I will contact you again in the closed future, when I visit the Southeast Asia. Thank you very much to share your reflections and your time in this special day. I am wondering if there is anything I have not asked about that you wish I had?
CGA: Partnerships and linkages are so important in spreading the apostolate of theatre that I have been engaged for 55 years reiterating like a Mantra, that we can win the war against poverty and pollution, crime and corruption, disease and drugs, terrorism and tyranny. Not by force but by art, not by compulsion but by persuasion through a community spirit of caring and collaboration.
Dear Javier, You were incisive and comprehensive in your questions, I was delighted to respond.
We look forward to your visit where we can have a stronger exchange of best practices to realize our common vision that culture with arts is a catalyst to realizing the UNESCO ‘Education for All Policy’, now given the mechanics for implementation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s push for a Global Education First Initiative.
The assurance of the replication, echoing and adoption of the Bohol Declaration that launched RAINBOW CROSS is guaranteed through the messages from the Ocean Security Initiative led by its Chairman, Viktor Sebek, with Carlos Mauricio Iriarte Barrios, Gobernador del Departamento del Huila, Colombia in the Latin-American region, Professor Dr. Angela de Luca Rebello Wagener, Member of the OSI Scientific and Academic Board, Potificia Universidade Católica Do Rio de Janeiro, Vinicio A. Cerezo, President 0f Guatemala from 1989 to 1991 as well as from leaders in key points of the globe: from South Africa, Francois Baird, Chairman of Daniel J Edelman Inc./ Policy Advisory Board Member: Ocean Security International; from Russia, Vtaly Lyststov, member of OSI Scientific and Academic Board National Research Center “Kucrhatov Institute” as well as the network of the Climate Institute in Washington D.C USA, one of the oldest NGOs concerned with global warming headed by its President, Mr. John Topping, Jr. with Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Heherson Alvarez as Chairman of its advisory board.
We are planning a global playwriting contest as a collaborative effort of the ITI-CIDC and the International Playwrights Forum (IPP) that will be coordinated by our Secretary-General of our Philippine ITI Center, an award-winning playwright, Dr. Isagani Cruz.
JCR: Thanks a lot Cecile, I will try to visit you in the following months to continue with our dialogue. At the final point, what should it be your message to all the readers of Global Education Magazine in the International Women´s Day?
CGA: Women constitute the other half of the world population. A woman is a symbol for Mother Earth, for our motherland. It is a portrait of love, the heart of the home. It is sad that the lament of mothers so often heard in areas of armed conflict and places devastated by ecological disasters have not been fully responded. Justice, peace and sustainable development must prevail in all corners of the world. Women must be harnessed in the center of peace negotiations and good governance. We are grateful for the concern of Global Education Magazine in linking women through media to continue the struggle for gender equity, protection of their rights and family solidarity. We must sustain energy and strength from our common vision of restoring the beauty and bounty of our environment as we seek a safer, peaceful, sustainable world for our children up to the seventh generation.
JCR: Thanks a lot again Cecile for your inspiring words in the interview. 🙂