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Tunnel Talks: The World as a Playground

Think of the words that belong in a playground. Some terms come to mind: fun, creativity, challenges, laughter, games. Are these words part of your life and your work? More importantly, would you like them to be?

How can we incorporate the “playground mentality” into our processes? In the human rights field, there are so many uncreative, bureaucratic and top-down perspectives. There’s an urgent need for having more diverse groups take part in the planning and execution of initiatives. How can we do that? It’s simple: we need to create and nurture intergenerational spaces.

That means breaking down social hierarchies, inviting children and young people to make decisions and work collectively toward a common goal. It’s important to promote spaces where people from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life can engage in and learn from each other. 

We tried to create such a space. Together with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Rejuvenate Project,—which reflects on child and youth rights and participation and has a “living archive” of conversations with researchers, resources, and creativity that inspires change—we created an animation that proposes different dynamics and approaches on the adult and child relationship. Different discussion spaces lead to different forms of support and widen the possibilities of system change that we’d like to see. 

Tunnel Talk 

We also wanted to give you a glimpse of the minds behind this project. So we invited Tessa and Miriam for a “Tunnel Talk”. 

Tessa Lewin is a Research Fellow at Institute of Development Studies. She is a development professional with over 20 years of experience working on participatory action-research projects both as a researcher and visual practitioner. 

Miriam Sugranyes is the co-founder and Art Director of The Rights Studio. She has also been working as an illustrator and Art Director at CRIN (Child Rights International Network) for almost ten years, combining it with editorial freelance work. 

The conversations were edited for length and clarity. 

First, Tessa.

The Rights Studio: Can you walk us through the animation? What was it about? What’s the main message? 

Tessa Lewin: We want to shift the way we approach working with children; to engage with projects that are child-focused and child-led, that aren’t “top-down” and that consider young people’s agency. Children have a lot to say, they are the experts of their own lives. And they can also do a lot of things, not only talk about ideas. Children have a lot to teach us about creativity and play. Adults that don't work with children are often unaware of this capacity, and of the need to support children to exercise their agency. Ideally what we need to do is break the ageist nature of social interactions, and of decision making. 

TRS: What should be an adult's role in breaking social hierarchies?

TL: Adults should try to unlearn the multiple, damaging social hierarchies through which we live. We need to be less hierarchical and more collaborative. It’s a daily practice, to be proactively inclusive and generous, but one that’s worth engaging in. It’s partly an individual change, but also an institutional and structural one. 

TRS: How can children mobilize online and offline to participate in decision-making? 

TL: It depends on the context. In schools, organisations, institutions, unions, local councils, scouts, sports teams, games. Ultimately adults need to be more creative about the options we make available; how can we engage children as citizens? How can we make them interested and inspired?  

TRS: Regarding children’s rights, what is the ideal world you envision? 

TL: It's a kinder world; an intergenerational space. Everyone has enough. Adults are aware of the value of children and don’t see them merely as “adults in waiting.” Adults engage with children as contributors to society.

TRS: What is a child in your life you feel inspired by and why? 

TL: My son. He has a lot of energy. He is sometimes quite alien to me, how he thinks, the questions he asks and the things he's interested in. In a good way. He's very physically engaged in the world, and watching him is a constant reminder of my own embodiment. He’s also really interested in being funny, in figuring out why particular things make people laugh.

Now, Miriam. 

TRS: How can the language of art, in this case animation, resonate with children?

MS: I think art is a universal language that allows us to connect with children and adults. The animation was not intentionally created for any age group, but for everyone. 

TRS: How was the creation process of making the animation and what “main topic” stuck in your mind while creating the visuals?

MS: The creation process was focused on simplifying the message as much as possible. Ideally, it would be great to be understood without words or with a very basic knowledge of English. The main topic that was in my mind while creating the story was the urgent need for a cultural shift that recognises children's and young people's ability to make decisions and take action. As well as how to come out of a binary system in terms of thinking about 'adulthood' and 'childhood' without forgetting any of the needs and cares. 

TRS: What’s the ideal reaction you expect a child to feel after watching the animation?

MS: Confidence. Or a seed to build confidence, at least.

TRS: What is a child in your life you feel inspired by and why?

MS: I’m probably trying to listen to the child I am now, and to the one I was not able to listen to several years ago. I also learn a lot from my own children. But as said above, it is hard for me to differentiate between childhood and adulthood. I feel inspired by the people I love (despite the age), the people I read and the people I listen to. 

Further reading

Series: Cas Holman, Design for Play. 

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