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Changing the Story

Paul Cooke
Professor Paul Cooke, University of Leeds

A University of Leeds-led project to help young people whose lives have been affected by conflict will showcase how the arts and humanities can help those in need.

Changing the Story, led by Professor Paul Cooke, Director of the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures in Leeds’ Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures, is funded by the AHRC and will be one of five major new international academic networks being set up by universities in the UK and the ‘Global South’ to conduct collaborative research into some of the world’s most pressing development challenges over the next four years.

Through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) these networks will together access more than £9 million from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion Government fund that supports the UK’s role in global development research.

Professor Paul Cooke: “We will be looking at the way in which civil society organisations for the young and other vulnerable people function in five post conflict settings: Columbia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo and South Africa.

The Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company
Helping young people make more sense of their lives at a MAP Curriculum workshop with Future Vision Acrobats, Rwanda. Copyright: The Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company, photograph by Deus Kwizera from Kwetu.

“These are deliberately very different contexts: in Columbia there is a peace treaty between the Government and the FARC rebels, but it is new and very vulnerable; whereas in Cambodia, the Pol Pot / Khmer Rouge period has slipped into cultural memory over the decades, although its legacy still has a profound influence on the opportunities available to young people.”

The project will look in detail at the way organisations support young people over time in these contexts and how their work feeds into more long-term concepts, like transgenerational justice and what we understand by ‘post conflict’.

“These are important questions to answer as young people are particularly at risk in post-conflict settings,” says Professor Cooke.

“Young people are also crucially important to the development of society and if you don’t get it right with children, then you are losing the battle. Also, in many post-conflict societies children make up a disproportionately large part of the population.”

Student-teachers were trained in the use of audio-visual equipment β€˜on-site'
The student-teachers were trained in the use of audio-visual equipment ‘on-site’, identifying key themes and questions for their films to explore.
Copyright: Keo Theasrun/Documentation Center of Cambodia (DCCAm)

The project will begin with a critical review of current practice, which will then inform a series of pilot projects that will be deliver practical, on-the-ground development outcomes from the start.

“We want to influence change in the organisations that support young people and ultimately take this up to the policy level,” says Prof Cooke.

“In South Africa right now we are working with the Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, who are a human rights educational organisation. We will be supporting their educational programme that helps young people reflect on the genocide in Rwanda and draw parallels between that event and Holocaust. Alongside that we are working with the Bishop Simeon Trust who work with young and vulnerable people by creating 'safe parks' where they can get a meal and do their homework in peace.”

Prof Cooke says his ultimate goal is to help young people make more sense of their lives and affect real change.

“I’ve just finished interviewing one young man in South Africa and before we started working with him he was living in a car,” he says. “He has got his Year Six results at school, he’s aced everything, and he’s off to high school.

“Now, clearly the credit for that goes to him and his hard work. But we’ve been there with him on that journey and helped him along the way.

“This project is about participatory development and making sure that young people are involved in creating their own pathways and taking control of their own lives.”

Ananya Jahanara Kabir
Young people take part in an earlier workshop by Mitrovica-based arts organisation 7arte. Copyright: Kushtrim Hoti, 7arte

Find out more on the
Visit changingthestory.leeds.ac.uk
Changing the Story

The AHRC funds will be allocated through the ‘Network Plus’ model. This is designed to bring together a wide range of UK arts and humanities research expertise with researchers and non-academic partners in low and middle income countries. Researchers will take an area-focused approach shaped by the needs of particular places and communities.

The networks will support the co-production of research through three linked strands of activity:

  • Initial scoping, capability development and partnership building
  • New funding calls
  • Evaluation and legacy planning