Mrigakshi Yadav and Shikshya Thapa are studying social work at Western Sydney University. Their 2018 placement was at The Animation Project, Campbelltown. Neither were familiar with the term ‘animation’ nor the impact the project has on the people it serves. Here, they share their story.
Education is the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
– Paulo Freire
We assumed that our first field placement at the Animation Project of the St Vincent de Paul Society would be some sort of fun and games—perhaps illuminating inanimate objects on a computer screen.
Not until the induction day did we truly understand the spirit of the word ‘animation’, which means liveliness, energy, high-spiritedness, vibrancy—nothing less than life itself.
Understanding the meaning of animation in a community development context, we could sense a lot of grassroots social work coming our way over the next few months.
The Animation Team, though but two workers, was full of vigour and in perfect alignment with the mission of animation. Our initial days with the team would prove inspirational for our 400-hour placements and for a lifetime of this type of social work practice.
Early days were spent in learning the basics of animation as a community development approach and how it is used, both locally and internationally. Community animation is a route to the liberation of the whole community by which the community can create a new reality for themselves, separate from the judgemental and presumptuous social order of society.
After a brief introduction to the approach, we felt starved for more information, as online journals and web libraries did not prove to be adequate platforms for such a gem. We were encouraged to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a philosophical masterpiece about adult education and its relevance to community development. His inspirational work made sense of society’s structure of discrimination and oppression of the less affluent, and animation’s response of creating a climate for communities to flourish.
Following Freire’s ideologies, animation does not make ‘dreams come true’ for the people but instils confidence in them to set their own goals and to realise their collective dreams. Our interest in animation expanded the more we saw and read about its successful implementation in Campbelltown and in our homeland, South-East Asia.
The kind of community animation we witnessed reminded us of the roots of a collectivist approach to building communities. We could see a lot of social action happening during community lunches, volunteer outings and in the ‘Residents for Positive Social Change’ training course, which is based on Freire’s action-reflection approach to adult education.
At the fortnightly community lunches at Kalon House of Welcome in Claymore, we saw the community come together in solidarity with enthusiasm and good humour to cook, serve and share meals with each other—a rare event in a fast-paced society like Australia. This is the kind of resilience and hope the animation approach fosters in Claymore, cited as the most disadvantaged suburb of New South Wales by the 2015 Dropping off the Edge report.
Paulo Freire rightfully said: ‘The great task of the oppressed is to liberate themselves and their oppressors.’ Wider society could stand to learn how to build such long-lasting social connections from their less-privileged counterparts.
The Animation Project’s ‘Residents for Social Change’ training is just one door through which individuals are offered support to start to transform their communities. By boosting motivation, confidence and knowledge, participants are empowered to make positive social changes in and around their communities. It is a tool giving rise to collective voices in the community, encouraging the leaders who have come forward to create an example of a community as they feel it should be. Moreover, it is the animators Ella Hogan and Irenka Bell who are serving as catalysts for the humanisation of this society.
It is important to measure the impact of such a powerful tool of social change. Conducting an evaluation of the training program was the focus of our placement. Our main role as students was to design and implement the evaluation research independently from the Animation Team. It was fun and challenging for both of us, as we had never conducted independent research before. Literature review and designing the evaluation was effortless, as we have been well trained to do this at university. The hard, yet more enriching experience was the implementation and data collection through interviews and face-to-face interaction. We gained confidence in this with time, with the support received from Ella and Irenka and particularly through the approachability and generosity of the course participants. Our genuine involvement with participants and personal zest for humanity was the real ice-breaker in this process, which would not have been possible without understanding Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of adult education. We were part of the weekly sessions as researchers, but the best moments we had were as mentors to the participants, who exuded passion every time they talked about their projects.
Unfortunately, our placement finished before we were able to complete the evaluation. This does not limit the range of experience we have gained as researchers, mentors and learners. We were fortunate to have witnessed the process of transformation of the course participants at micro-levels during the feedback sessions, at luncheon tables and through informal discussions. The initial phase of this evaluation might not be able to highlight the full impact of the training program, but it definitely begins to document the changes in knowledge, skills and confidence already in evidence as we leave the training program.
As we approach the end of our placement, our consciousness has been raised through stories of animation and we acknowledge the urgency to move to an equal, just and non-oppressive society.
Mrigakshi Yadav and Shikshya Thapa