River of Life is a visual-narrative technique that helps participants to tell real stories from their lives. The inspiration for adjusting this technique to help young people grasp their (more) complicated life situations and work with them comes from the War Resisters’ International training that concerned gender-related aspects of the YOU*TH militarization.
This technique works with the metaphor of a river course and stones that someone decided to throw into the water. This image expresses our course of life and the various stereotypes we have encountered during it. River of Life technique enables to:
It is suitable to present this technique only after your group has already got to know each other, has set the rules and gained mutual trust. At this point, participants must be familiar with the Dyad technique, the content of Feelings and Needs Cards, and they have already tried to articulate concrete feelings and needs using relatively neutral topic(s) of discussion. In this respect, we recommend bringing this activity forth only after all opening activities have been completed.
It is equally important that all participants are already capable of assessing what a safe space means to them. This technique allows participants to depict complex situations so that only they understand its meaning. To what extent they would be willing to work with specific events and what depth they would be willing to uncover is entirely up to each one of them. To be able to assess what lies within their personal safe space boundaries, is it necessary to work on this skill during the above-mentioned opening activities. This is: creating a mutual understanding of what it means to respect the personal and others’ space and exploring to what extent it is comfortable to communicate specific things in lesser or greater depth. Participants explore these boundaries within neutral topics or through model situations to which they might or might not relate their personal experiences(s).
This technique should allow young people to grasp feelings they currently experience as well as feelings triggered by memories of past events. Thanks to this better understanding, they can examine more easily what emotions and needs are linked to particular events, how these emotions and needs influence their behaviour, and how these reflect in their relationships. This provides a basis for improved conscious decision-making on how to approach similar events/situations in the future.
“We were successful in creating a safe space with this group, mostly due to the fact we worked with motivated young people. Their interest in participation in this programme stemmed from the fact they would be able to meet other young people who are currently dealing with problems in their relationships due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Individuals in the group were connected by the issues and experiences that the young people undergoing transition or coming out encounter.”
Facilitator Team, NESEHNUTÍ
“I realized I resist my family a lot. They don’t take me for who I am, and I don’t want to talk to them now. They go on a holiday, and I don’t want to spend two weeks by the sea where I cannot even go for a swim; I don’t want to be with people who I don’t even want to be talking to me. I’d rather be all alone at home for two weeks. And it’s beginning to be terribly divided. Half the family doesn’t talk to me, and the other half would prefer not to. At the same time, I know that I’ve got people around me that I feel good and all right with; I can rage against the others with them.”
Alex, 17 years, transgender man. Discussing their River, Alex explains the moment when their River divides into two separate streams. The one that symbolizes their family is slowly drying up while the second one, containing new people that embraced Alex’s identity, grows stronger.