The activity can be carried out in groups of different sizes. However, it is always good to consider to what extent the participants will be willing to present and share the output of their work in a larger group and what time will be needed for the final discussion in such case. All participants should be given the same amount of time for their presentations. With larger groups, others’ presentations may inspire one’s thoughts about their River of Life, and therefore it is necessary to allow enough time for a discussion — there is a chance that participants will add new thoughts to it.
“There are a number of situations in our lives in which we went through a negative experience that stemmed from a particular stereotype. These may include, for example, ridicule, offence, a hate comment, discrimination stemming from stereotypes about men and women roles, stereotypes about LGBTQIA+ people, or stereotypes about behaviour of ethnic groups. These situations personally affect us — with higher or lower intensity — and influence our future attitudes and behaviour in relationships we build. At this moment, therefore, we would like to focus on ourselves — on our own experiences with stereotypes, on the intensity with which they impacted us, and on the waves they made in our relationships.”
Facilitator Team, NESEHNUTÍ
Have participants sit comfortably so that everyone can clearly see the flipchart paper. We read out the River’s story while having it visualized simultaneously by the second facilitator on paper. Read the story to the best of your storytelling abilities (read slowly, work with pauses and the tone of your voice). We aim to immerse participants in the story, so they imagine it vividly in front of them. The visual portrayal helps this a lot.
“Imagine a river passes near you. How does it flow? Is it a wild river meandering down the landscape or a majestic watercourse flowing slowly yet steadily? Every river begins at its source. This tiny trickle of water flows down the hill; more and more little streams join it, and they form a river. As the river becomes larger, it finds its way through the landscape. It meanders down searching for its course. Along the way, it meets various things: you can see trees, varied plants, and rocks along the river. There are also people taking care of the river: they clean it, they may even swim in it but without doing any harm. For various reasons, some people decide that they do not like where the river flows, and they dam it. They create an artificial waterway and want the river to flow through it. There is a lot of people along it throwing stones in its stream. Some throw playfully. They skim stones which lightly bounce on the water’s surface making small ripples that wear off quickly. Others decide to throw much larger stones in the river causing higher circular waves, and what’s more — these stones churn up life below the water’s surface. There are also those who decide to heap lots of stones on the river bed. For a time, they prevent the river to continue flowing before it breaks through and finds its way again.”
“Imagine your life is this River.
- What is its shape?
- What does the landscape around the River look like?
- What kind of people have entered your River?
- Who has helped to take care of the River?
- Who cleaned it?
- Who tried to direct its way?
- Has there been anyone who tried to straighten its course?
Focus on the stones and imagine they represent particular stereotypes. A stone that means “boys don’t cry”. Or a stone inscribed with “After all, girls don’t look like this”.
- Did somebody throw stones into your River? What kind of stones?
- What have they caused? Were these mere skimming stones that rippled the surface? Or was it a large stone that caused large waves and churned up life under the River’s surface?
- Which particular stones were thrown into your River, and how much they have influenced its course?
- Did anyone throw the same stone into your River multiple times? Was it always the same person or different people?
- Were there more kinds of stones that somebody threw into your river? How big were the waves these stones caused?”
Have participants find a place where they would feel pleasant, and have them create their own River on an A3 paper:
Explain to participants that they create the River mainly for themselves:
Before the actual River-drawing starts, tell participants what will happen to their River of Life next:
“At the beginning of my River, it was a bit more winding and wild, and there were mostly stereotypes about marriage, sexuality. The things you should abide by. Which caused that I was making my childhood much worse than it might have been. You slip so easily into these stereotypes, and when you know you are different, it scares you so much, and you are unnerved by everything. And mostly, it was this kind of thing — boys with girls, clothes, and so on. Bummer. And next, I have this little guy who destroys it for me with a hammer. For me, this was the moment of coming out. I had it really easy because my mum asked me: ‘How do you see it?’, ‘Boys, or girls?’ And I told her: ‘Boys.’ And what’s more, I started working on myself, so everything got better because of it. And then there are just these little stones, these kinds of stereotypes when you say to yourself: ‘Oh my god, these people don’t understand it, that’s such a bummer.’ For example, when girls tell me: ‘But you don’t look like a gay.’ And they even think it’s a compliment. Or that: ‘You’ll be my best gay friend.’ No, I don’t want to. Thanks. And one day, my friend told that gay boys should be sexy and that I’m not, actually. But these are just things from which I don’t break down, but they are annoying. I have the advantage of being a boy and white. On the street, no one will see it on me, so I‘ve got a continual advantage that I’m able to conceal myself. So, I will not face discrimination that often. I used to have pink hair, so it was obvious, but now, I’ve concealed myself, in a way.”
Ben, 17 years old homosexual
Write the following questions on a flipchart that we share with participants during the discussion:
What stones/stereotypes appeared in my River?
What did the stones aim at, and what was the River’s response?
Why, in your opinion, did others throw stones?
Is there anything that surprised us concerning our River?
Is there anything that we realized for the first time?
With the question “Why, in your opinion, did others throw stones?”, the activity tries to highlight that those who act in the oppressor’s role against us do so according to concrete emotions and needs they have. The activity’s main goal is to support young people in developing the ability to name their own emotions and to be able to spot their needs in situations they experience. However, while discerning their emotions and needs, young people talk about specific situations and relationship(s) with a person/group of people that may be committing hateful or discriminatory actions. This is why it is important not to forget during the discussion of River of Life that people who — in the situations we experience — act in the oppressor’s role also feel emotions behind which there are specific needs. NVC techniques teach us not only how to work with our emotions and needs but also to gradually start sensing the emotions and needs of people around us. And this is not about agreeing with those people; it is about facilitating communication which is based on the understanding of these needs and the related feelings.
Facilitator Team, NESEHNUTÍ
Ask your participants to present their River if they want to. Each participant can present and discuss their River of Life in their own way. The questions are provided only to help; they should direct attention to some of the important moments, so that we try to name them and, possibly, share them with others.
“Well, the first problem was when my parents broke up. And I started noticing that I’m different. Like, I wanted to play football so much. I was five and on any occasion we were passing a football field I always said: ‘Mum, I want to play football’, but she replied it’s not possible. Then, it happened in the fourth grade that I got into a fight with eight boys because I wanted to play football with them. And I started to say to myself that, maybe, I must start behaving normally. And from there, it began to break. When I was fifteen, I told my mum I’m trans. And this is the moment when my River splits. She feels everything I do is just to get attention. And this is my big stone and the reason I’ve got a problem with sharing emotions. Anything I say, I only do to get attention — that’s what I‘ve felt since childhood.
And then my mum saw some TV programme: there was a boy who had a pink room, pink hair, low neckline and said he’s a transboy. And mum, when she saw it, she hasn’t believed in trans people since, and this is the moment when it splits — these stones are separating it. And further down, there are more of them thrown by the rest of my family. So this is actually the part of my river that ends. And there is my family and the people who want to drag me into something I’m not. They cut my happiness down, my trees that grow there. A part of the family wrote me off; actually, that’s why I crossed it out because they’re not there anymore.
And that’s why I built this wall, and there are friends with which I go outside, listen to music that I like. There, it’s much better, again. This is my river. I’ve got it separated — between my family and my free time. And they did it, and I won’t put it back together.”
Alex, 17 years old transgender man