The Power of Hope
Charlie Murphy is the co-founder of a remarkable youth programme called The Power of Hope, which has been running summer camps for teenagers in the Northwestern United States and in British Columbia for the last twelve years. This programme is now coming to Britain, with the name LIFEbeat; the first camps are scheduled for August 2008. Charlie’s work has been recognised internationally through his election to an Ashoka Fellowship, making him part of a worldwide association of leading social entrepreneurs. Here he talks to Rupert Sheldrake, whose teenage sons have attended Power of Hope camps in Canada for several summers.
What is The Power of Hope?
THE POWER OF HOPE is an empowerment programme for teenagers aged fourteen to eighteen from all walks of life. It’s based on the belief that young people have huge gifts to give to the world in terms of energy, insight, imagination and vision. When their gifts are recognised and received, they gain a sense of self that holds them in good stead as they move into adulthood. The programme also provides an opportunity for forward-thinking adults to share their wisdom and passion for life with young people.
What is unique about the camps?
The first thing is the diversity of participants. A typical camp in North America includes fifty young people: African Americans, Native Americans, Caucasians and Latinos; Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, pagans and agnostics; young people from wealthy families as well as those who don’t know where their next meal will come from; homeless young people, others who come from foster homes, and teens from stable families. Given the world situation, we believe that the ability to move fluidly across cultural and religious divides is a critical leadership skill for this upcoming generation. Where else can a homeless young person discuss the impact of his first experience with meditation with another who gave up her trip to Paris in order to come to camp?
Second is the number and quality of adults on the staff. For a camp with fifty young people we have a largely volunteer, culturally diverse staff of twenty-five adults, including artists, social change agents, innovators, Nature educators, people practised in the healing arts and youth workers. I’ve worked in the social change movement my entire adult life and I noticed that many of those with the most passion for making this a better world don’t share their wisdom with young people. Over and over again we find young people are hungry for new, hopeful ideas. And when they learn about things like the sustainability movement, for example, they say, “Why hasn’t anyone ever told us about this?” For the adults the exposure to new ideas and experiences is equally powerful. I love that a middle-aged white professional has the opportunity to join a hip-hop improvisation circle!
Third is the structure and purpose of the week itself. The young people and adults build a heart-centred, creative community: a place where you can feel safe enough to take creative risks, to say what you feel, and to explore new ideas. The goals for the week include finding one’s voice through the creative arts, learning from difference, exploring one’s inner life, learning from Nature, and finding ways to make a difference in the world.
What actually happens at the camp?
Each morning starts with a whole-group empowerment session on a theme. It might be about your relationship to yourself and others; learning from difference; creating a life plan; or exploring an issue such as poverty, racism or gender. We use experiential learning activities that give young people the chance to look at their lives and relationships in new ways. Over the course of the day there are two or three smaller workshops on themes ranging from creative arts (drumming, dance, theatre, hip hop or spoken word) to inner skills like centring meditation and martial arts, to Nature exploration, to world issues, activism, and leadership. In the evenings we have whole-group creative activities such as theatre improvisation night, music and dance night and ‘open mic’. The challenge to the young people and adults at the start of the week is to spend our time becoming creators of culture rather than passive consumers. The emphasis in all of the workshops is on improvisation, collaboration, fun and depth.
How do you prepare the staff?
Our basic idea is that young people thrive in the company of adults who themselves are awakened to their own calling, who are in touch with their creativity, and who are able to communicate authentically. So adult trainings are not about how to fix or help young people; they’re about how to connect with your own creativity and authenticity so that young people can grow in your company.
What effects does the camp have?
Young people tell us they come away with more understanding of and compassion for why people are the way they are. If we can build an atmosphere that communicates real safety, the issues that are important for young people rise to the surface and they have the support to deal with them.
Young people also take more ownership of their educational process, and we often see them do better at school. I hear from parents that their son or daughter has never been more open about who they are and what they’re interested in doing.
We don’t have a list of things that young people should do. The point is to find a creative response to what they care about. We notice that they make powerful choices, with a deeper level of engagement in their community or school. Often we see young people getting involved in environmental or social justice work.
And the adults?
We always have more adult volunteers than we can handle – for many reasons. For instance, the adults are invited to enter an atmosphere of creative risk-taking, so they are on their own learning-curve right along with the youth. If they are not giving a workshop, for example, they take a workshop…so they come away with all kinds of new ideas and practices. The young people become so open to learning and so respectful of each other and the staff that the adults get to see them in a whole new light – it’s like being let into their world. Over and over again adults leave the programme saying they have a deeper sense of hope for the future.
Can these camps work outside the US and Canada?
A couple of years ago we had the opportunity to work with youth
organisations in Uganda, and so we took our basic model there, including the adult training. The work that we’ve done to date has been with teenagers living with HIV and AIDS. The impact has been very similar to that in the US in terms of this deep feeling of safety and sense of belonging to this creative community. One of the most pressing problems in Uganda is the effect of stigma, which is the biggest stumbling-block to addressing problems such as AIDS. Our training sought a way for Ugandans who work with young people to apply what we call social emotional learning, or psycho-social support.
How did you get involved?
As a young person I went to a camp where the adults had a high level of training in experiential education in working with groups. I developed a real passion for facilitation and what it means to create a vibrant learning experience within a group. I also spent seventeen years as a poet and singer, so I have an arts background. This work has joined together these two streams of my life: creativity and artistic expression, and a passion for working with groups.
LIFEbeat camps will be held in Leicestershire this August. There will be two adult training programme in the spring. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 0207 565 7393.