Whilst preparing for the Felucca Festival, we wrote out a basic agenda to communicate to the locals some of the opportunities to participate. We translated it into Arabic, and were preparing to share when…..
Later I realised this was an appropriate comment from the Goats. The festival was supposed to be spontaneous, evolving and unstructured, the goats were the islands enforcers – let go of control.
On the island, timetables, schedules and formal facilitation constructs are not appropriate to fit with the culture. However once you begin to do things, suddenly the energy escalates in a viral fashion, tapping into the islands hyper-social knowledge network.
I witnessed this repeatedly on the island, whenever any action was begun, suddenly there were people to help, kids to participate, adults wanting to contribute, from bench repair (our first contribution to the community), festival sign making, to the actions and projects themselves. “Promotion” happens almost in real time through word of mouth, once you start something, you can be assured participation.
As Zeinab Kamal wrote in her Festival Story
“I immediately went – with my art supplies – to the community center to hold an arts and crafts workshop with the kids there, although not knowing what to expect; only hoping that many kids will join, so on our way to the center, my instant volunteer partner, and I, were telling the kids about the workshop and they were following us..! A while after we started making simple paper windmills, the number of the children started to increase dramatically; it was insane! Still wonderful to see them all interested, however, we were running out of materials for the infinite children continuously gushing in, even though it was already night time. Surprisingly, some local women came in too; they were interested to learn and help out. Another young man also from the island brought more materials and the children started to collect old and used straws and paper too.”
The following day at the Gamea
This story was repeated throughout the festival, with a whole range of activities occurring in spaces around the island.
By making the working processes open, communicating what you wish to do, starting it then letting others take over, it is possible for people to experience their own ability to share their knowledge. To participate and contribute as active members of their communities.
This energy of doing permeated the festival, sometimes spontaneous and sporadic. Sometimes with some soft social skills – I’d like to invite Ahmed Bastawy to contribute his insights here.
This dialogue of actions amplified by the word of mouth network also extends to the transfer of knowledge itself. If you do something exciting, interesting, or valuable for the people they will share it with one another. They will talk about it and discuss it and transfer the knowledge amongst themselves and within the community.
The above is an example of this that blew my mind. During the festival, I called into the local shop to get some candles for making a pop pop motor. I put the motor on the table, and the shop keeper pulled out the diagram above, I hadn’t drawn any diagram since being on the island, I hadn’t shown the boat to him to my knowledge. Yet there he was with an understanding of it’s working and a diagram by his own hand. I believe he got this information through word of mouth as I have repeatedly seen others talking about how it works, and sometimes people shout “pop pop” at me playfully in the streets.
There are many more insights I need to document, and will do so over the coming weeks here. This island and it’s community have so much to teach about collaboration, communities and networked knowledge. I’m deeply excited about what happens as these pools of knowledge, processes, behaviours grow through continued exchange.
However, one of the most critical insights, and crucial considerations I cannot stress enough.
Leave your brands behind. Focus instead on sharing knowledge through action in the community.
Your brand reeks of money, it sends the wrong message – we are paid to be here. Knowledge travels quickest in these communities where it is seen, experienced and understood through mutual action. Money clouds the issue, it taints the message, corrupts the dialogue. Leave the money behind and meet the people.
Having a big NGO logo in the background of anything sends the wrong message. We have to create opportunities for people to help themselves. As soon as a NGO logo appears or is even rumoured to be connected, it can lead to erosion of trust and brings the motivation of the instigators into question. If we are to engage at grass roots, we must engage at grass roots, with grass roots resources, locally appropriate processes and honest motivation. How to balance this, yet still find ways to meaningfully contribute is a challenge. We’re still learning, but hopefully this festival has been a start, being funded by the participants, and created out of our shared knowledge and experience along with the host community. Consideration of the next festival is already underway, as well as the next actions from the community for the community.
All observations offered so others may learn from process and experience. Whilst members of icehubs community participated in the Felucca Festival, it should be noted that the Festival itself was a collaboration between many parties, individuals and groups taking place at Nubialin on Elephantine Island.