Follow the Yellow Brick Road

About “The Wizard of Oz” we have already discussed a little in another post.

The movie was released in 1939 and it was truly revolutionary for its times. It had a huge impact on popular culture, originating a stream of sequels, cartoons, tv shows, and references across all media. In 2007, the movie was listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.

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The four characters from the 1939 movie. From left, The Tin Man, Dorothy (and Toto), the Scarecrow, The Lion without courage.

A little less well known is the original book “The wonderful wizard of Oz” by Frank L. Baum (1899). The main difference between the stories in my opinion is that in the novel, Dorothy is in trouble and gets rescued by her friends; while in the 1939’s movie, she is a much stronger character, in fact helping everybody else on her way.

I personally like much more this version, because it puts the accent on the fact that we are the protagonists of our own story, and at the end of the day it will be our actions (or inactions) that will determine the outcome of our life. Plus, it’s a powerful tale about learning, journey and growth. It’s full of archetypal characters. It has a lot to do with education and the political system! And why not – especially the movie – it’s about women empowerment. If you are curious to find out more about this classic piece of storytelling, this is a great source.

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The Wizard on Education:”Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma”.

So it’s not so surprising that in 2013 we decided to realise a training course based on this concept.

Sure, it’s not a completely original idea, and after all the story is so famous that nobody can claim to have its exclusive. But we can surely say that our version of this myth is exclusive.

So how did it all start?

In the first place we wanted to create a narrative for a training course that would bring together different concepts, like personal development, creativity, exploring choices, and “looking for the right path in life”. The winning idea came to Mafalda (all praise to her!) who choose the Wizard of Oz as background story, and has written the first of our adaptations in the non formal education world.

The first edition took place in Italy, in December 2013 at our residential centre of Sermugnano. It was the first time we were hosting an event after some major improvements and changes to the place, and we felt really held like at home.

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The group in Italy involved in “Colour Blind”, an activity based on communication where the team has to… wait, no spoilers here!

The programme was all new, and the team really experimented while we were going along. Ah yes, the team: besides Mafalda the brave (our rising star of Muovimente) who put us all together, there were Buzz Bury (master of creativity and bad jokes English humour), Bara Blahova (amazing for communication and project development) & me (as usual… the one who tells the story).

With such a company was natural to assign to each other the roles of Dorothy and her friends: the Tin Man, the Lion without Courage and the Scarecrow. You are free to guess who is who. We know!

We had an amazing group to complete the picture, with the contribution of participants from the Caucasus area. Having friends from Azerbaijan and Armenia with us brought an extra element of diversity and richness to our week together.

So! How did it go? It was certainly a powerful journey. We worked on communication, team building, developing hidden potentials and finding out each own’s talents. We used the opportunity to go outdoors for some activities inspired by the “Hero’s Journey” (this will remain an element in all editions of the course), and to spend part of the night outside, suggesting also fasting and a full “no-addiction” day. The stories shared the following day were amazing!

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The outdoor element was quite strong that time, including some real physical challenges for the group!

Plus, we worked to develop creativity and to understand unemployment in the different countries present in the course. All in all, the experience was really nice, thanks to a warm group feeling, the hospitality of the place (and all the Italian home made food which didn’t harm). We as trainers took in a lot of learning and feedback, while we were already preparing a second edition.

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One of the moments of deep and inspiring introspection and sharing. Really memorable! It was December, but we had an amazing weather.

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The second edition, as I was saying, took place in Czech Republic, in July 2014, in the beautiful eco-centre of Slunakov.

This time, summer was definitely with us (yes, even too much sometimes!) and we used the environment to spend most of the time outside. The learning centre provides many opportunities with its unique garden creations, and we tried to involve many of them in our work. We included astronomy (and astrology, to be honest) and even more nature work in the programme.

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Posing with some of Slunakov’s many beautiful pieces of nature art.

Compared to the first time, probably in this edition of the course was more similar to a “training for trainers”, in that many participants were experienced youth workers or facilitators, and this allowed for more time dedicated to exchanging experiences and competences between participants.

I remember as one of the “hits” of the course the work we did on developing and discussing creativity (using among others, some exercises invented by Walt Disney). So much fun and great enthusiasm in seeing how people were playing with each other and every time surpassing their own limits!

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Well, when talking about “liberating one’s hidden potential”… there is always somebody that takes it to the letter!

“Creativity” is an interesting concept. It’s very valued in our world, and maybe that’s why it scares us. We associate it to lead artists, innovators and top scientists. So often people think they face a personal limit, and say “but I am not a creative person. I cannot make it!”

FALSE. Creativity can be exercised and improved. Justs like any other human quality. True, maybe one will never be the new Leonardo Da Vinci – just as I will never be the next Maradona with my football skills, especially my left foot – but there is no way to say in advance where we can get, with enough exercise, dedication and the right motivation. And especially at the beginning, even small improvements count!

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Nice, inspiring group moments during the “Hero’s Journey” day.

Being summer, we dared to spend even more time in close contact with nature. And even if the place didn’t really allow “wild” nature, everybody could find their space outside and spend at least part of the night alone, reflecting on themselves, their connection with nature and maybe… the “nature” of their fears and limits.

Again, the level of the reflection and learning shared the following day was just impressive.

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And again some land art from Slunakov, climbing in (and out) of the “Garden of Paradise”.

And last but not least… being in the heart of Czech Republic, in summer and very close to the fantastic city of Olomouc of course contributed to creating a sweet and memorable experience.

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Bara at her best, as tour guide in Olomouc’s historical centre. Smile, you are on camera!

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Which leads us to the last chapter of our story (for now): Netherlands, November 2014. This edition of the course was hosted by the Dutch organisation Breakthrough, and organised by Sandra Van De Kraak. Masterful work, Sandra: who juggled on herself the tasks of project manager, organiser, responsible for the logistics and sometimes even cook and cleaning staff! A real example to follow.

We were hosted in Wezuperbrug, a small town on the western edge of The Netherlands, not far from the border with Germany.

And being (almost) winter, again, the course had a more intimistic and minimalistic approach. Which we after all enjoyed!

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Informal time at the pub. The Christmas feeling was certainly there.

If I have to look back, I think we improved a bit more the programme and the flow of the activities in this Dutch course, thanks also to the feedback and the experience we collected in the first two editions. This was probably the most balanced of all, with equal space left to participants and their own personal processes, workshops on creativity and development of competences, and Nature work and spirituality.

Me personally, I was still very influenced by my recent experience in California learning with the School of Lost Borders and undertaking my personal Vision Fast, and I was very keen in bringing some of the elements I explored in America into my European work.

This reflected especially in a more spacious structure for the Hero’s Journey, I guess. We incorporated elements from different traditions (including the work of Paul Rebillot on the topic), and included activities from theatre and guided imagination. And most importantly, we understood that when people decide to dedicate some time to the discovery of their own inner self, that is their own experience.

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The natural environment around the venue was beautiful and gave us lots of opportunities for inspiration and learning.

We decided more strongly than ever to honour that resolution and to give, in the “Hero’s Journey” day, to each person all the space and personal freedom they wanted. It was still a day marked with high ceremonial moments and strong symbols for individuals and the group (the fasting, the rite of passage elements, the exploration of the different stages of the Journey), but each person had the option of deciding exactly how to celebrate it. It was a “sacred space” for everybody, and every participant decided how to develop their own personal challenge or ceremony.

Most people decided to face the unknown of the night in the forest, but others went for more personal choices. And this was perfectly accepted and embraced by the group. We as trainers were merely supporting people in identifying their own processes, we could indicate thresholds, dark caves or bridges, but people had to choose if and how to cross them. It is, by the way, nothing new. The Greek philospher Socrates called it Maieutic (“the process of the midwife”) approach.

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There were also some totally weird very inspiring traces of the human presence in the area, that could be used as powerful symbols for our adventure!

The morning after the Hero’s Journey we recollected the most important moments in the form of storytelling, each person receiving “mirroring” inputs by the listeners-witnesses, all the other members of the group.

This elaborate process – transforming through storytelling the otherwise mundane sequence of actions and encounters of the day, into something rich with metaphorical meanings and highly “magic” able to educate, inspire and maybe even heal ourselves and the others – is at the centre of this methodology. And it can be incredibly powerful.

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Group picture at the end. You are heroes now, smiiiile!

If I had to share my strongest memory from this edition, it would be the amount of liberty we left to the group – and the way this rewarded us, in the end.

This approach of course led to more “risks” from our side, or maybe we were just being more nervous – when the process is not completely in your hand, as a trainer, panic is behind the corner and fast decisions have to be made that can have big consequences. So why risk it?

Because… is the process ever in our hands, really? Aren’t we just there to witness, and in the most fortunate cases, provide information and inspire? And isn’t that the true essence of education?

We decide to take risks, by putting full trust and responsibility in the hands of participants. And yes, sometimes it can be very frustrating, confusing, people (and trainers!) can feel disoriented, lost. But in the long term perspective, it pays off – and not only: we believe it’s the true nature of our work.

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The programme — too big for a single wall to contain it! Ah and please note… the yellow bricks.

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And so our story approaches the end!  Italy, Czech Republic, Netherlands.

The story of “The Yellow Brick Road” has been for me very enriching, I consider it one of the best courses I have ever been involved into. To use the simple and yet very powerful imageries evoked by that “childish” story: so powerful! To discuss its archetypes: the characters are all looking for something (the Brain, the Heart, the Courage – and Home!) and they really mirror our deepest human experiences. And who is the Wizard? And what about Toto?

It’s a story that is never fully unfolded, which doesn’t stop to surprise me. I really love to work on its concepts that may initially seem “childish”, but gradually develop layer after layer of meaning. And with such a team of heroes and friends! I am really looking forward to the next occasion for it to happen.

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THE TEAM is inviting you to the next quest to the Emerald City! Will the Wizard be at home this time?

There are brave people and organisations at work to make it happen again. Maybe it will be back to Italy: who knows?

And you? Do you want to be involved? Maybe you are considering that such a programme could be perfect for your network or your organisation. Please contact us! We will be happy to support you with information and see together what could be the best way to make it happen – and leave together for another journey off to see the Wizard!

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In conclusion, wonderful gift left to us by Sara — inspired by Leonard Cohen (but not only), on the power of diversity and embracing our own weaknesses. Grazie, Sara!
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