|Ninni Rönkönharju (seated) and her Finnish team-mates at the Glencree workshop|
Today marks the publication of a new e-book on X-EUROPEAN: a project about the 'Third Space', on which Border Crossings (Ireland) was a partner. During December, we led a workshop at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, exploring how theatre can enable dialogues between people from very different backgrounds.
This post from Finnish participant Ninni Rönkönharju was written in response to her experience, both in Ireland and at the earlier visual art workshop in Finland. The project was supported by the Erasmus + programme of the European Union.
The project was, in a few words, a tremendously eye-opening experience. Although at the beginning I felt that joining was a leap into the unknown, I decided to join with an open mind, and I did not regret my decision at any point during the project in Finland or Ireland.
The project helped me experience and discover things that I would never experience and discover in my everyday life. I strongly felt that art exists for each of us, no matter what form it takes. It was an inspiration to all of us. We were a really mixed bunch, some were stranger to each other than others, but you didn't notice that in Finland when making art or in various activities in Ireland. Everyone was enthusiastically involved in each one, as speakers, the change of thoughts and ideas flew rapidly from culture and language to another. The atmosphere was liberated in both countries. In my opinion, this is what art is at its best, a factor that unites people and brings about changes.
At the same time, this project was a really great way to get to know other people and their cultures. Getting to know their way of thinking and acting and getting to know their different mother tongues, a real language bath. It felt as if with the help of the project I had been able to peer into cultures and people's minds in a completely different way, more deeply than in ordinary communication or everyday life. While getting to know others, you were also able to mirror your own culture and the way how it works. I was also able to mirror my own feelings and thoughts as well as my prejudices and fears (I have enough of them as a perfectionist 😉). At the same time, I broadened my own worldview and thinking. The activities in both countries brought a new perspective to my thinking, my values and my attitude. They developed me as a person and because of that I got a lot to process far into the future.
Even though I don't consider myself narrow-minded, I felt that through the exercises I created space for myself to look, reflect and interpret things in a new way. They released something in me that I didn't even know I had. I don't feel like I'm a spontaneous person, but with the activities and the encouraging atmosphere, I freed myself from my formulaic activities. Throughout the project, I felt that I could safely throw myself into art creation, activities or discussions without fear of failure or being judged by anyone. I was able to bring out my own personality, my own values and perceptions.
I felt that I was also an opener of views, thinking and values during the trip. People from other cultures saw, heard and experienced that a person with a limitation, in my case mobility impairment, is able to participate in activities both inside and outside in nature as a full member. Maybe this is how I made their minds open to the unknown and the possibilities it brings in their everyday life as well. Maybe they too are now more open-minded to see what is the normal, real everyday life of a person living with limitations and at the same time saw a little of everything that a person living with limitations has to face in their everyday life. Prejudices towards assistive devices perhaps also decreased a little, after all, a normal person sits in a wheelchair just like them.
With these thoughts, I feel that I am braver and more ready for new projects. Participating in this project brought a lot of new things to my life in many different areas. This really empowered me and I want to experience all those feelings again. I don't want to participate in projects because it would just be fun, but I feel that projects have a greater multidimensional meaning for me. Through experiences that expand my new views, I feel that I can also be a "word as an escort" for other barriers to action. I can share my experiences with them and encourage them all to participate in activities outside of their comfort zone. It is surprisingly easy to let fear and prejudice take over one's mind, but overcoming them gives an otherwise limited life the so-called "salt of life". This project really gave and taught me a lot and I cherish the memories even for my bad days, when I might be diving in deep waters. Thanks for letting me be a part and experience all this ❤.