From 15 to 19 November, ONE DROP staged its fourth international gathering on the theme of educational materials. The conference, called Think Tank for Change, was held in Suchitoto, El Salvador.

I first met some people from ONE DROP during an Akvo FLOW training workshop that Henry and I ran in Honduras for the Millennium Water Alliance earlier this year. We kept in touch and I was invited to this event because they were so enthusiastic about FLOW. 

The lovely Centro Arte para la Paz (Art Centre for Peace), a church built in 1840 and renovated after years of war, served as our base during the four-day event. Participants came from all over the world: Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Burkina Faso and me from the Netherlands. To bridge the language barrier, all presentations were given in either spanish or french, and translated at the same time. The participants from India even had their own interpreter.  
ONE DROP is an initiative of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté. Working with local partners in Central America, West-Africa and India, it strives to ensure that water is accessible to all. Together with its partners, it uses the Arts to raise awareness about water and sanitation issues in order to bring about long-term social change. Working within often marginalised communities that are affected by a lack of clean water and sanitation, ONE DROP aims to empower people within those communities to become key players in bringing about change. Communities are brought together to discuss issues, think of solutions and integrate local knowledge. 

Above: all organisations participating in the Think Tank for Change conference were invited to fill a suitcase with materials they use in their work. Together the suitcases made up an exhibition of the work of the participants. Photo by Laura Roverts
Top: ONE DROP partners use a variety of props in their art and theatre projects. Photo by Laura Roverts.
Below: Tras-Tornado en Suchitoto, a play by the Asociación de Arte Dramático El Salvador. Photo by Bladimir Nolasco

All projects contain a community arts component. Activities include theatre shows, videos, radio plays, puppet shows, story telling, documentaries, development of educational books and online texts. People have the opportunity to take part in workshops to create murals, community theatre, graphic arts, paintings and photography. The theatre shows within communities attract large crowds, spreading the word about what people can do to improve their living conditions.

On Saturday evening all conference participants had the opportunity to watch a piece of theatre called ‘Tras Tornado’ (After the Storm) created by the Asociación de Arte Dramático El Salvador. Prior to the show there was a parade through the streets of Suchitoto to gather the local population of the small town. Clowns, acrobats and an orchestra guided the crowd to the show. The play was about four survivors of a planetary disaster who were floating in a water tank, hoping to reach dry land. The world had come to an end and these four survivors had nothing more than themselves, a few seeds to replant life and some scant provisions. The drama touched on issues related to polluted water, nature conservation, hunger, litter and waste collection, as well as pointing out solutions.

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I was impressed by the crowd that came to view this spectacle. Children and adults listened and watched very carefully. It convinced me this is a great way to raise awareness about water and sanitation issues and involve the community in thinking of ways to improve the situation. Here you can see some pictures from the show

The objective of the Think Tank for Change conference was to share best practices on how different materials can be used in popular education for sustainable change. We discussed the challenges and opportunities of using different materials, as well as monitoring and evaluation tools like Akvo FLOW. All the organisations that attended develop great educational materials such as books and dvds which they distribute in the communities in which they work – which is great. However, my biggest concern was that at the moment you can’t find these materials online, since in most cases there are only in hard copy. Akvopedia, and the Sustainability portal in particular, would be a good place to better share this knowledge. 

During the conference I met many interesting people. I learned a lot about working methods and strategies I wasn’t that familiar with. Akvo and ONE DROP have got a lot in common, but also complement each other. While Akvo focuses on the technical aspects and software development of our tools and local trainings, ONE DROP has a very powerful approach towards behavioural change. Nowadays more and more emphasis is being put in behavioural change. By combining ONE DROP’s methodology and Akvo’s tools, we can really make a difference. Attending this conference gave me a lot of new inspiration and I’m looking forward to work more with ONE DROP and all its partners.

Laura Roverts is a project manager, based in Amsterdam