Crossing disciplines to cross paths

EastTimorIn November 2013, Chemical Engineering PhD candidate Joseph Richardson went to East Timor, to teach breakdancing, digital music and documentation skills to young people, as part of his 2013 Vice-Chancellor’s Engagement Award.

Joseph is completing a PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering focusing on the production of nano- and micro-scale drug delivery systems. Despite the demands of study, he has found time to apply for and receive two DreamLarge grants to make a difference to Timorese youth at risk.

“Both grants have focused on using Hip Hop to empower the youth of East Timor and to set up a sustainable art scene in the region. We had hoped to teach in the districts on this trip, but were advised to stay in Dili by our Timorese partner organisation,” Joseph said.

“Thankfully, I got to team up with a mentor and three exceptional students (Amanda Haskard, Bryan Phillips and Chris Parkinson) from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). This made writing the grant and planning the project significantly easier and more culturally relevant.”

Amanda assisted with the grant-writing process and worked with a group of United Nations members specifically focused on female engagement, as the project included a number of young women. As an aside, Amanda also runs SIGNAL, a youth arts space within the City of Melbourne.

Bryan taught music production of various styles on a donated portable ipad music studio.  Chris taught the participants how to document their culture in an artistic way through photography, while Joseph focused on  breakdancing.

Although everyone had a particular role, the project was about inter-disciplinary sharing, with an emphasis on empowering youth in culturally constructive ways.EastTimor2

Bryan worked with five or six local groups and helped them to produce songs from genres as diverse as punk, hip-hop, house, and culturally inspired music. He taught the principles of how to construct songs and demonstrated his extensive knowledge of software, while teaching the participants how to produce the songs.

Chris helped some of the youth learn how to film and document Timorese art, dance and music. While teaching, he also helped to organise an extensive art exhibition that later evolved into a kick-off for a photojournalism book on Timorese graffiti.

As dance coordinator, Joseph got to work with two promising groups; one was female dominated and the other male.

The two-week long project was documented by the young participants and culminated in a performance choreographed by those learning breakdancing and performed to the songs created in a mobile studio.

The group members have become local leaders and celebrities especially after the first trip. Choreography and advanced moves were finetuned, but time was dedicated to engaging with the community through impromptu performances and breakdance circles.

The trip culminated in a significant art exhibition at the partner organisation, Arte Moris, the cultural hub of the Timorese artistic community. Teaching took place at Arte Moris and they facilitated most of the youth engagement.

The art exhibition incorporated musical performances, dance performance, and a range of visual art. Hundreds of locals and internationals attended the  exhibition, providing great publicity for the young performers and artists and for Arte Moris.

“This project has become truly sustainable for Dili and hopefully will move out into the districts soon,” said Joseph.EastTimor3

“One crew, Endure, has recently won a few national dance competitions and gained a great deal of notoriety. They want to spread their knowledge of dance to the districts and we hope to get the opportunity to facilitate this.”

“This would extend the sustainability of this project to the national level by allowing locals to teach locals,” he said.

The two DreamLarge grants have provided an exceptional opportunity for the University of Melbourne team members and for the youth of Timor. Joseph believes that the second project has solidified the concept to the young people that they can change the fate of their nation. They are actively seeking ways to do this and some are now teaching other young people in Dili, while others are taking an active role in neighborhood leadership.

Some people have received paid teaching jobs in Dili with the children of American expats. One of the more ‘troubled’ youths gave up smoking and became a youth activist. He has adapted the mentoring model and hosted a 30-strong team soccer tournament.

“It’s really more than we could have hoped for,” said Joseph.