After a week long site visit in India ( which you can read all about it in our previous blog post here), the team flew to Karachi, Pakistan, for another week of activities regarding our Arts and Community Engagement work package.
The three members of UK team (Paul Heritage, Arts Co-I in the PIECEs Research; Renata Peppl, PIECEs Programme Manager and Mariana Steffen, Arts Projects Manager) joined the main partner on site, IRD Pakistan, and the Arts partner, IRC, during the first week of June.
After a week long site visit in India (which you can read all about it in our previous blog post here), the team flew to Karachi, Pakistan, for another week of activities regarding our Arts and Community Engagement work package.
The three members of UK team (Paul Heritage, Arts Co-I in the PIECEs Research; Renata Peppl, PIECEs Programme Manager and Mariana Steffen, Arts Projects Manager) joined the main partner on site, IRD Pakistan, and the Arts partner, IRC, during the first week of June.
Below you’ll find the highlights of the site visits.
Clinical site visit: Karwan-e Hayat and Forum Theatre session at Korangi Zia
The team started their first day of activities with a site visit to Karwan-e-Hayat (KEH), one of the local clinical partners in the PIECEs research project, and a long-time research partner with IRD. KEH was established in 1983 as a not-for-profit welfare organization, providing psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation services for people with experience of severe mental illness (SMI). It has both private and free of charge services. Inpatients and Outpatients are seen in the same facility.
During the site visit, the team was greeted by the organisation’s directors board and marketing team. They also had the opportunity to speak with both female and male inpatients on site about their experiences and challenges faced navigating SMI. Also, there was an opportunity to meet the clinicians who will take part in the PIECEs RCT (currently in the recruitment phase).
The visit was followed by a visual presentation of the site, and Professor Paul Heritage presented QMUL’s and People’s Palace Projects work within research and community engagement, which was received with excitement by the local team.
From there, the team followed to a Community Forum Theatre performance at Zia Colony in Korangi, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Karachi, in which IRD has been developing a number of outreach programmes, including the PIECEs Arts & Community engagement pilot phase.
A local church had kindly agreed to host the community engagement sessions, leading to the performance the team witnessed, which engaged the audience – formed mostly by young people and women – in discussion about mental health, stigma and networks of support.
Clinical site visit: Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre
The second day was marked by the site visit to our other clinical partner: Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), a government-run public general hospital, with a dedicated psychiatry department treating inpatients and outpatients. One of the biggest hospitals in Pakistan, JMPC was founded in 1963. It offers services for over 500 hundred mental health patients per day.
We were greeted by the clinical team who has been working on the PIECEs pilot and RCT recruitment, and visited the sites, within both the outpatient and inpatient facilities. Although facing a number of difficulties regarding public funding, the local team stressed the importance of the activities proposed by the PIECEs research and were extremely interested in developing the ideas around arts and community engagement within the facility.
Following a successful morning, both Pakistan and UK teams spent the afternoon on a strategic planning session, where the teams reviewed the arts and community plan, proposed a timeline and the team to work on the development of the activities.
Strategic Arts Meetings and Arts Advisory Board meeting
The third day in Karachi was a very strategic one, where the UK team had the opportunity to take part in the very first Theatre and Arts Advisory Panel meeting. The panel invited by IRD is formed by local artists, performers, community engagement experts and drama academics who gave provoking and thoughtful feedback around the initial programme proposed by the PIECEs research team. The meeting was key to understanding the local arts environment, building relationships with the advisory panel and exploring synergies for the Theatre of the Oppressed pilot company.
Using Performing Arts to Change Communities – Mehfil-e-Izhar
For the fourth day of activities, IRD Pakistan welcomed public health professionals, arts students, and theatre practitioners to a vibrant day of performances and discussions at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA). The event showcased the work IRD Pakistan is doing in participatory arts (theatre) aimed at social change, mental health, and improving vaccine confidence.
Co-I Paul Heritage spoke about the utilisation of Theatre of the Oppressed and Arts as a tool for socio-political change and Mohammad Waseem (Founder of Interactive Resource Center) discussed the impact of Theatre of the Oppressed methodology in tackling social issues like child marriage, and bonded labour in Pakistan. Paul Heritage Queen Mary University of London, on the occasion spoke at IRD Pakistan’s #MehfileIzhar, about the use of participatory arts research in the realm of public health; “Arts can be a powerful tool to engage and activate communities for action against social injustices.”
IRD Pakistan’s project teams of PIECEs & #JeeloDobara performed moving pieces at the #MehfileIzhar at NAPA, Karachi, exploring how people with psychosis face stigma and discrimination, along with raising awareness and understanding about vaccinations.
NAPA’s own theatre and arts students performed at IRD’s #MehfileIzhar showcase in Karachi, through a series of performances, namely ‘Parivartan’, ‘Lahazil’ & ‘Ghootan’, using the arts to highlight the impact of societal pressure and discrimination on the mental health of individuals. Both guest speakers urged public health implementers, media students and policy makers to work together to strengthen the impact of their work for creating resilience in Pakistan.
Forum theatre workshops to end the week
To close our week long visit, Professor Paul Heritage led a Forum Theatre methodologies workshop with a number of IRD’s team members and arts facilitators, inspiring processes and techniques that will be used not only on the PIECEs projects, but in other projects where community engagement and arts as a research method are required.
After working for more than one and a half years virtually alongside our colleagues from India and Pakistan, it’s fair to say we were really looking forward to being together in person as soon as rules around the Covid pandemic were lifted.
The PIECEs team managed to deliver our first in person joint research team meeting in Dubai, where we agreed plans to visit the sites and partners we were working with in Chennai (India) and Karachi (Pakistan) to coordinate together our Arts & Community engagement packages, given that our RCT research package is already progressing at a fast pace.
For these work packages, we are aiming to develop innovative methods (like Theatre of the Oppressed techniques) to diminish stigma, create community resilience, improve dialogue among healthcare workers, carers and people living with severe mental illness and ultimately impact on public policies and community awareness around Schizophrenia.
This blog post is a brief round-up of our time in India and its highlights, where Arts Co-Investigator Paul Heritage (Queen Mary University of London/People’s Palace Projects), PIECEs Research Programme Manager Renata Peppl, PIECEs Arts Project Manager Mariana Steffen have joined our main local partner Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), and our arts partner Training Sideways (EVAM) in Chennai, from 25th to 28th May, for a packed week of activities.
Street Theatre Performance: Community Engagement at its best
The team arrived on a Sunday straight into the Pondy Bazaar area, where the SCARF team was presenting a street theatre performance with a group formed by local actors, social workers and SCARF members. Performing experiences of stigma, prejudice and exclusion faced by people living with schizophrenia and their carers, the group brought together a large and spontaneous audience, which were keen on participating both physically and verbally with the performance. Leaflets with further information to generate awareness around severe mental illness and how to get help were distributed at the end of the activity.
Visit to Bhavishya Bhavan Residential Centre and Forum Theatre Performance
The second day was marked by strategic planning meetings to discuss the Arts & Community work package and timeline, and was followed by a special event at Bhavishya Bhavan Residential Centre, a SCARF managed venue which hosts inpatients with experience of severe mental illnesses, most of them women. The research team was greeted by the local members and the residents on the patio, and then everyone was led by our arts partners Training Sideways (EVAM) into a performance room for a Forum Theatre session.
Drawing from experiences and stories shared by the inpatients previously, the group presented short scenes which portrayed challenges faced by people with experience of schizophrenia. The audience, formed mostly of residents of the centre, could then intervene in moments they thought could be handled different by the characters, exploring real practice scenarios in a way that empowers them to look for solutions and change the outcome of a given experience for the better.
The strategy breaks down the barrier between performers and audience, putting them on an equal footing. It enables participants to try out courses of action which could be applicable to their everyday lives. This methodology will be the basis of most of the work developed during the Arts and Community Engagement work package of the PIECEs programme.
Awards night and NAMMA Area Launch
To mark World Schizophrenia Day, the PIECEs team was invited to join the SCARF community to present the M. Sarada Menon award and the Maitri award, destined respectively to people with experience of schizophrenia, in recognition of their efforts to cope with their challenges and move forward in life, and caregivers, including friends and family members of persons with severe mental illness, in recognition of their support to the cause.
The event was marked also by a very special launch: the brand new Namma Area, a designated hangout space for mental health service users, inaugurated at (SCARF), as part of the projects associated with the PIECEs Research.
A first-of-its-kind initiative, the Namma Area has been conceived in such a way that the service users themselves can take charge of and engage in activities which they find interesting. “We have many patients who say they are lonely and feel upset at the lack of social life. Apart from inpatients who are unable to go out, there are patients whose families hesitate to send them out since they have their own concerns. Namma Area will be a comfortable and familiar space where they can meet other people, interact and engage,” said R. Mangala, Assistant Director, Media and Awareness, SCARF.
At the new space, people can read, relax, watch movies, exercise, listen to music, play games, and can also invite guest speakers. The facility will function on the SCARF premises at Anna Nagar from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and can be used by all mental health service users free of cost.
British High Commission Event: Arts as a tool for developing community engagement and wellbeing
On the 4th day of activities, the team was part of the talk ‘Art can build resilience, resistance and recovery for people and communities’. The spotlight was on art and its impact on the community at a panel discussion organised by SCARF India and Evam Entertainment in association with the British Deputy High Commission in Chennai.
The discussion was hosted by Oliver Ballhatchet MBE, the Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, and moderated by Sunil Vishnu, Director of Evam Entertainment, focusing on how art can build resilience, resistance and recovery for people and communities.
Speaking on the day were R Mangala (SCARF India’s Assistant Director), Paul Heritage (People’s Palace Projects Director) and Sangeetha Isvaran, founder of the NGO Katradi. Paul highlighted how art can be used as a methodology to learn about the world. “The People’s Palace Projects brings together artists, activists, academicians and audiences as we focus on resistance and transformation as well as how it is linked to creativity and mental health,” he said.
Sangeetha spoke about how the organisation focused on empathy-based transformation through the arts. “Art is often seen as an entertainment or a spiritual experience. While it is these things, it is important, something that can also help us understand and communicate better,” she said as she delved into Katradi’s work with marginalised communities across the world.
Strategic Planning, Theatre of the Oppressed Workshop and Visit to Jana Sanskitri
The final two days of our visit were filled with practical meetings and capacity building workshops: during this time, we developed a strategic plan to move ahead with the second phase of our Arts & Community engagement activities. This centres on setting up of a theatre laboratory led by local artists, the SCARF team, people with experience of schizophrenia and carers, which will then use their own experiences to create performances that can generate further community awareness and open conversations around severe mental illness.
Professor Paul Heritage also led a Theatre of the Oppressed session for local artists and the SCARF team, focusing on specific activities used in the methodology: Rainbow of Desire, and more specifically, Cops in the Head.
The UK and India team then flew to Kolkata to for a full day immersion at Jana Sanskitri Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed, led by PIECEs Artist Consultant Sanjoy Ganguly.
Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed was established in 1985 was the first exponent of Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) in India. Today the Centre is seen as one of the most important point of references to the global community of TO. For over 3 decades JS has addressed issues like domestic violence, child marriage, girl child trafficking, child abuse, maternal& child health, primary education & health care, illicit liquor, etc. – all through theatre.
During the visit, the team had the opportunity to experience a performance, ask questions and strategise with the company’s artistic director.
Here is a video where India Principal Investigator R Padmatavi , Director of SCARF, talks about her excitement and expectations around the arts and community engagement package:
Next up, the UK team moved to Karachi (Pakistan) for another inspiring week, which we’ll cover on a next post.
Note: This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) via its Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) programme. Grant number NIHR200824, using UK aid from the UK Government to support global health research. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the UK Department of Health and Social Care.
PIECEs research and our main partners in India, Schizophrenia Research Foundation and Training sideways (arts partner) made the headlines with a serie of events marking the World Schizophrenia Awareness Day (24th May).
Click on the links below to read the full articles:
International women’s day was celebrated at SCARF, where staff – both women and men – where invited to join a programme organised by the local PIECEs research team, presenting games and techniques used as part of the Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) methodology. PIECEs team introduced themselves and started ice breaking activities, using TO games. Following that, three different games namely Walk circumspectly, Weave without a loom and Wise workout were played. The participants appeared to be enjoying as they were loud and laughing, attracting more people to join in the later half of the program. The group left the session asking for more gatherings like this to happen more often.
Some of the feedback the participants gave during the session:
“Had a good time with everyone participating”
“Please, organize more programs like this and include all staff”
“I haven’t seen so many people participating such activities in recent years”
“Because you guys didn’t single out anyone, everyone was interested to participate”
The PIECEs arts team in India successfully conducted a virtual workshop with 10 mental health professionals from SCARF India on 6th and 7th July 2021. Here is what the workshop leader Ms. Mrithula Chetlur has to say about the workshops
Interviewer: Hi Mrithula, you did a great job leading the mental health professionals (MHP) workshop. How did you find it?
Mrithula: Actually I came on board not knowing whether I’ll have to be an actor or a joker. So when I was asked to be one, I thought it was interesting to see what would come up in the field of mental health. From few initial trainings I definitely was aware that it was a little larger world that I would be interacting with. So it was both incredible excitement and quite a bit of responsibility. Also I was aware that the cultural relevance of what we were doing was important. The fact that we are regionalising and rooting the workshop to our culture was so exciting for me.
I: Did you get what you wanted from this workshop?
Mrithula: It gave me more than I expected. Doing it with MHPs alone was tremendous and I know we are going to explore a more unknown world when we do this with the caregivers and the patients
I: What did you observe about participant contribution?
Mrithula: I would like to appreciate the time and effort that the Clinicians put in to participate in the workshop, understanding how valuable each of their time is. I was pleasantly surprised at their openness to share and how they quickly grasped what we were looking for from them. They were very open to bringing their perspectives into the conversation.
I: You have lead a lot of workshops in different settings. How different was this workshop when compared to others?
Mrithula: In other workshops we are working with worlds that we are kind of aware of. For example the themes and the type of stories which they share. But here, we saw how the MHPs involvement in their clients lives influences the conversations that we had. We saw that they are a lot more intricately involved in their clients lives personally. Also when we did one exercise where the MHPs have to act out a scenario, we saw how they were cued in to ask questions and get to know the client more. It usually happens with us the facilitators but to have that from the other side was very interesting.
I: The MHP appeared to enjoy the games you had for them. Did you get what you wanted from the workshops?
Mrithula: Yes we had few themes which we thought was important. But we were open because this is one workshop where we were going to gain information than to impart. This was a catalyst to gain more from the people’s experience. So whatever came out was fodder for us. We also got few surprises, for instance when we did the monologues on the second day, where the conversation took us was very interesting for us, that was exactly what we wanted see how a trigger would take us to different places as it makes understand what they have to handle. That way it was defined to have that fluidity and it did surprise us.
I: You did a good job of involving the participants in the activities. How did your team find balancing and managing time for all participants?
Mrithula: Paul and Sunil were incredibly helpful in handling this thought of balancing time for doing and talking. Coz at the end of the day the aim is to gain perspectives from their experiences. But in TO workshops there is a lot of importance in making participants ‘do’, as it makes the person get out of their head and in turn will make them share things which they normally might not. So how much to prioritize doing over sharing was constantly being reviewed as we were going through. So yes time management was of concern, understanding that people are short on time. Thoughts were on do we let everyone engage in everything. So we left it to them, if they wanted to share let them but if they are just reacting let them be and we didn’t want to pull anyone in.
I: Was language a factor which influenced the workshop?
Mrithula: Only when we thought we should do in Tamil. Though I speak in Tamil, certain conversations I have never had in Tamil and so I don’t know or am not used to using certain words or usages. Especially being someone who wants to have conversations to people to become aware of, I realised that certain conversations I haven’t had in Tamil. And even haven’t thought about them in that angle. It was actually a learning experience for me personally and I’ve become more mindful of it. But it was not a barrier in getting or sharing information on experiences.
I: Are there things you are planning to change for the next two workshops with patients and caregivers from your experience with the MHP?
Mrithula: There is already an ongoing discussion to keep the basics same and to tweak the monologues and scenarios for the next two workshops to bring out life related themes. So yes there are certain changes which we are planning.
I: On a scale of 0-10 how satisfied were you in conducting this workshop?
Mrithula: I think our goal was to know more of the life of the people attending and to know them more personally. Having that in mind I never give 10 on 10 for any scale because there is nothing which is perfect. So I would give a 9.5 on 10 for the workshop which happened.
I: Thank you so much, Mrithula, for your time.
Mrithula: Thank you.
*written by Hufsa Sarwar – PIECEs Research Coordinator in Pakistan
Pakistan has a rich history of arts and drama, however, even in 2021 theatre as an art form has not been able to integrate into the mainstream entertainment circles. It has unfortunately either been associated with taboo ideas and behaviours, or is available to a few privileged groups in society. Knowing this, I felt extremely apprehensive about organising Theatre of the Oppressed workshops – a new concept within mental health – for healthcare providers, caregivers, and people with lived experience of psychosis. Even if they agreed to be a part of the sessions, would they be able to leave behind their inhibitions and play with us while sharing their personal stories?
Convincing our desired demographic to attend the workshops proved to be a long and gruelling process. People were unable to comprehend how games and exercises would help with furthering the understanding of the experience of psychosis in Pakistan. Thankfully, we were able to enrol a sufficient number of participants from each of the three groups, and kicked off the first set of workshops with psychiatrists and psychologists. Contrary to my expectations, the seemingly serious healthcare providers broke away from the confines of their professions, and took part in the games without reservations, sharing poignant stories and experiences from their clinical work. Led by our Arts partners from IRC (Interactive Resource Centre), some of the images created showed their struggle with burnout, lack of availability of support staff at hospitals, the importance of family counselling, and the great need for support groups for caregivers of people with psychosis. We received positive feedback from all the healthcare providers, who shared that they were usually so entrenched within their daily routines and structures that they were unable to view the experiences of patients and caregivers from the different perspective that Theatre of the Oppressed provided.
We decided to hold workshops with caregivers and people with psychosis together in the same room due to challenges around attendance. These individuals surprised me with how generous they were with their stories and challenges, and how brilliantly they communicated through the games and exercises. Initially, the caregivers exhibited some resistance; however, once they saw their family members and others with psychosis enthusiastically taking part in the activities, they decided to loosen up as well. Most participants with psychosis shared that they expected to feel better after these workshops, and that they wanted to learn something new. Most caregivers said they were there because of their family member, and wanted to learn how to better support them. By the end of the second day, the entire group came together and constructed powerfully evocative images of being restrained by their family members when experiencing active symptoms of psychosis, the challenge of seeking care at overburdened hospitals, the overwhelming responsibility and subsequent stress faced by caregivers, and the need for increased empathy and understanding of the condition.
The stories and experiences that our participants shared have opened up a myriad of questions around the challenges faced by those living with psychosis, their family members, as well as the healthcare providers who work with them. We hope to work with these stakeholders to further develop these stories, and bring them to the wider community to raise awareness and increase acceptance and understanding of psychosis in Pakistan.
To finalise, read the impressions from Dr. Faiza Rehman, Psychiatrist at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), regarding her participation on the Arts Workshops:
I registered for the workshop with a lot of curiosity, to be honest. It was almost serendipitous for me that art forms were being utilised in the management of mental health. Although this isn’t a new concept, it is now not only being implemented in Pakistan but is also within reach. It was a thoroughly refreshing experience and I will take the liberty to say that I was there partly to cater my own cravings for performing arts and being able to be of some help for others, in that process, was a double fold joy in itself. Although the moderating team and my fellow participants met each other for the first time, the bond that was formed between them and the experience gained was such a positive one – probably due to the goodness of intent and nobility of the cause that brought them together. The workshop helped us see the small details of patient care and even the perspectives of a caregiver that might get neglected in the routine hassle of managing the patient. With a lot of heartfelt wishes for the team managing this project I look forward to more such activities and would be eager to be a part of them in the future.