María Gabriela Arenas


This profile was prepared when María Gabriela Arenas was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Gaby Arenas developed the TAAP Model for Learning (Arts and Thought Learning Workshop) for training children, teenagers, parents, and teachers in peaceful living. The workshops help generate social development projects as well as ventures that improve the wellbeing of communities, and even effect public policy. She is changing the way people think by teaching dialogue for conflict resolution, mediation skills, and skills for protecting basic human rights. For Gaby, visual arts are a shared language that allows us to communicate and understand each other. The written and spoken word is not enough when seeking dialogue in such polarized contexts and she believes that by creating a visual representation/image, you have a takeoff point from which to reach resolution. Without a tool for negotiation, people fail to reach an agreement but they can find a common solution by working together on an image.

The TAAP method approaches violence from five angles: anthropological, cultural, learning, social, structural, and biological/pyschological. Gaby first identifies “detonators” of distinct types of violence and then develops activities to deactivate them. Through workshops, participants learn how to identify the detonators of their violent actions, alternative ways to act, and the consequence of both the initial action and the alternatives. The individual discovers, develops, and practices social skills such as tolerance, empathy, respect, perseverance, and teamwork. In addition to working on dialogue, the workshops cover creativity and solidarity. Gaby’s work goes beyond traditional teaching methods and peace-building programs in school and communities. TAAP causes active reflection and experiential learning, not telling people what to do but inviting them to be conscious, and think about the myths and challenges associated with violence, and how to overcome them.

The integral nature of Gaby’s work comes from involving the entire community. It begins with children and young people as they are the primary victims of violence and the most vulnerable. Children learn to share, respect their peers, know their rights and duties as citizens, and they participate in the search for peacebuilding activities in their community. Adults get the chance to express themselves, experience alternatives to violence (cultural, structural, or social), and participate in activities to improve coexistence at home, school, and in the community. Parents, community leaders, and teachers learn the tools for managing solutions and creating projects that improve quality of life (additions of streetlights, etc.). All of this Gaby links to policy change to ensure a decrease in violence longer term. One of these is a proposal for the Law for the Promotion of Peaceful Coexistence. She is also working with the Chair of Social Commitment at the Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB) to develop a program called Autonomy that will be taken to five elementary schools in Caracas. She is already spreading beyond Venezuela to Colombia, with partnerships on the ground to help her translate the TAAP workshop to Colombia’s context, and TAAP materials have been adopted across Venezuela, Colombia, and New York.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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