When I was a child, I went to a school where there were children with certain disabilities. There were children who were deaf, who were blind, with down-syndrome, with epilepsy, and those who were physically challenged in every class. And we did pretty much everything together. I remember spending so much time learning the multiplication table with my epileptic friend. I remember we did a relay race at a sports festival, where a blind child inclusively participated with a support of a classmate with a handbell to lead the runner. I remember we had a long-distance swim with a child who was physically challenged. And I remember we performed together with them at a school theatre festival. To be with children with disabilities was a matter of course for me, but looking back at my childhood, all the experiences with them were so precious and had a very strong influence on me and for what I do today. These experiences have made me abhor any sort of discrimination, especially against socially vulnerable people.
Today it seems that many societies prioritize economic efficiencies and caring for socially vulnerable people is put aside. Many people may not have the room to care for others, and quite a few countries and individuals may have tendencies only to fulfil their own selfish desires. If these tendencies continued, hatred would conquer the world, and peace would disappear.
To avoid such a future, we are in the perfect position to provide children with experiences where they can use their own imagination to think about others, to dream their dreams, to sympathize, and simply to feel what feels good or bad to them. If not knowing creates fear, theatre may be the space to give children opportunities to learn what they do not know or what they have never experienced.
We are not here for segregation. Segregation takes away chances to experience learning about each other. We are here for inclusion, to learn about each other and to care about each other, and I believe this is what theatre can do. Therefore we must make every effort for all the children no matter where they live or what abilities they may have to equally be able to have theatrical experiences.
We are holding the TYA Inclusive Arts Festival 2019 as a step towards the 20th ASSITEJ World Congress and International Theatre Festival for Children and Young Audiences in 2020, most probably as this article is posted. We’d like the festival to be a place for children and those who bring children to learn who we are and what we can do for the unknown future.