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Discover the history behind the tradition of Nestinarstvo and experience a Nestinari dance [CuBuFoundation]

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About Course

When people are forced to leave their homeland due to some sort of terror and human rights abuse, they usually start on a path of embers. It is seldom easy for them and they find themselves juggling with too many uncertainties and threats. Making it through all these hardships, keeping one’s integrity and continuing stronger and more confident, is very much related to the living ritual of Nestinari, who walk through fire unharmed. The activity proposed uses the ritual, setting and history of a region, which is a main entry point and a settling location for a large number of migrants. We created this activity because it is educational (it provides an insight on a sacred part of ancient traditions and rituals that are still practiced in a very limited number of settings), it is uplifting (experiencing the magic of Nestinarstvo, feeling the power of the trance and the connection with the spiritual and seeing the fire dancers slide untouched through the embers, appearing purified and sanctified) and connecting (the people attending these rituals often speak, bond, treat each other to stories, food and drinks). The participants will be able to see the local community from a whole new perspective and will gain tools and knowledge for the purpose of interacting with the locals. The youth workers guiding the process will help participants understand better how traditions have formed and evolved through the centuries, how they have shaped the thinking of local people and also support them in making connections with their own reality and past.

The objectives of the proposed activity are twofold. On the one hand the PBL is going to present itself as an instrument to be used by youth workers for engaging young people in need of inclusive support in Bulgaria. Thus, it would pursue the objectives of increasing the professional competences and skill set of the local youth worker community in the domain of using culture-based learning and local resources for the sake of inclusion.

The other aspect of the PBL objectives is related to the young people involved – the ultimate beneficiaries of this PBL curriculum – youth from minorities, some of them with refugee background, aged 15 to 25. The PBL objectives for this group would be to provide the latter with an understanding of the local background, history, traditions and build experience with cultural collaboration. The PBL is going to develop cultural competences that can improve their chances of successful inclusion and overcoming the dependence on their own minority group.

These objectives are to be achieved in the spirit of joy and the sensation that all participants are partaking in something exceptional, really special, which creates invisible bonds and a level of common understanding and appreciation among majority and minority members.
All participants will enhance their observation by recognizing the importance of traditions and culture for shaping up the present reality and attitudes within a community, this leading to intercultural dialogue through joint participation and interviewing.

By the end of the experimental PBL activity, the youth workers will have received the know-how on how to use the methodology and will be able to notice and harness the same or similar resources into PBL activities in other communities or with other target groups. The young people involve will get to know and understand their local community much better and will be enabled to interact with its residents at a much higher level.

The PBL is going to improve the participants’ engagement and skills as well as the impact on the community, adding further supporters to the preservation and sharing of unique cultural traditions.

Designing a meaningful Place-Based Learning activity

1. Deciding on a setting

In the case of the proposed PBL activity, the setting is the physical space of two nearby settlements – the town of Malko Tarnovo (where some museum-based learning takes place) and the village of Bulgare where the Nestinari ritual takes place.

If a sensual recreation (e.g. the one, which can be provided by sensory labyrinth theatre) is the target, then the venue can be a safe place, in-doors or out-doors, where people can move from one space into another, being led by “actors”, asking questions that lead to short interactions, demonstrating videos from Nestinari dances, creating sensory experiences for example having the participants blindfolding themselves and walking around bare-foot on sun-warmed pavement or holding warm pebbles for instance, while the interaction on topics such as life-transitions and changes (voluntary or involuntary), times of crises and overcoming those, continues.

2. Choosing a trainer

In the case of implementing the PBL curriculum locally in south-eastern Bulgaria during the period of the annual Nestinari ritual, the trainer/s should preferably be local youth workers or youth workers from the region, who have gone through preparatory PBL training and having the insider view and understanding of the entire process, both PBL-wise and ritual-wise.
In case the activity is implemented in its proposed alternative form (as a sensory labyrinth theatre), then the trainers should be a group (at least 3 or 4) in order to be able to create a labyrinth (a series of interactions that take place in different locations), those should be aware of the entire PBL process and logic and must have experienced the Nestinari ritual personally, having an abundance of their own materials, both physical and visual.

3. Evaluation

Before commencing with the activity itself, it would be useful to get an understanding whether the participants have heard or experienced anything related to the ritual of fire dancing and whether they know the venue where the PBL activity is going to take place.

Other questions, which participants might be asked can be related to how they perceive their community – as inclusive or not, how they feel in their community – as a part of it, belonging to it or not and what would they like to learn or what change would they like to observe.

The proposed PBL activity hardly gives any space or opportunity for progress evaluation, however at the end the participants and the facilitators should reflect on whether there is any change in their perceptions, in how they assess their community, in their will and desire to join local initiatives or even bring some of their own ideas to life for the sake and benefit of the entire community. The participants should reflect on whether the activity was useful to them – even only personally at a deep cathartic level.

It would be interesting to understand also whether their interest towards the topics of the PBL activity was raised, whether they would like to be involved in more initiatives of the same or similar type and of course, whether there was anything they would change or that they disliked in the whole chain of steps integrated into the PBL activity.

4. Follow up

One way to continue would be to have the youth workers develop and apply PBL curricula of their own, involving the experts needs and obtaining the support necessary from team members.

It would however be really interesting if young people at risk of exclusión are encouraged and supported to créate a PBL curriculum for the área they live in through with their own perspective or reality added on top of it. Youth workers would of course be available for assistance and guidance.

This would require some in-depth research of a local cultural aspect, it could créate opportunities for interweaving information from participants’ home countries and cultures, their experiences in the location of the PBL curriculum, so that it is educational for the local community beyond who would be the target group. Such a PBL activity could act as the incentive leading to the merging of both bubles – those of the local community and the minorities, the excluded youth, etc.

The young people should try to involve local experts, historians, archeologists, cultural mediators, when discussing problematic topics as well as any other experts, who would bring value to the setting up of the new PBL curriculum. It would be particularly interesting to see and experience a PBL curriculum within a certain setting, created by someone who is originally from a different part of the world, adding their own stories and troubles and sucesses.

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What Will You Learn?

  • As far as competences are concerned, the ones, which the proposed PBL encourages the most are the following:
  • Critical thinking: the rational, skeptical and unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence, as a guide to forming/updating one’s belief and shaping and directing one’s action – for youth workers developing their own PBLs.
  • Social organizing – Coordinated interactions - Interactive participation: understanding the network of relationships within a group and how these relations and the group’s members are interconnect for a common purpose, maintaining a sense of community and at the same time being influenced by culture and other factors – for both youth workers and young people.
  • Active citizenship: young people getting involved in their communities and in the democratic processes at all levels - from local to national and global – for both youth workers and young people.
  • Cooperation - Consensus building: both the process and the outcome of group decision-making, in which participants develop and decide on proposals, ideas, projects with the aim, or requirement, of acceptance by all affected stakeholders – mainly for the youth workers, designing their own PBLs, but to some extent also for the young participants.
  • Research inquiry method: doing a fact-check, formulating your own hypothesis or opinion, then testing it and either proving the correctness of your hypothesis/opinion or rejecting it and beginning the process over again by reformulating the hypothesis/opinion. This method, similarly to critical thinking, disallows whoever is doing it to take opinions for granted without questioning and testing them and this applies even to one’s own opinion as it is formulated at a certain moment in time – for youth workers developing their own PBLs.
  • Communication skills: intergroup communication, negotiations: being able to successfully interact and relate with the other members of your immediate environment or larger group of contacts/partners – for both youth workers and young people.
  • Social commitment: also known as social responsibility, obliges the individual or group to constantly assess the effects of their decisions and only act in ways, which are not detrimental and are beneficial to other members of the society at present, as well as in the future – for both youth workers and young people.
  • Emotional literacy: the ability of a person to recognize, properly name and process emotions. It is related to the negotiation, communication, consensus building competences and, instead of being listed as a separate competence target, it can be mentioned as a part of those – for both youth workers and young people.
  • Empathy: the ability to see with another’s eyes, to hear with another’s ears and feel with another’s heart is crucial for successful communication and for achieving an understanding and an environment of cohesion within a group – for both youth workers and young people.

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