7 ingredients for a happy workshop (In Issyk Kul)

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Workshops always promise to be fun, but are not always so. You may spend hours and days painstaikingly drafting the perfect program for your audience, taking into consideration everything that can go right and wrong, working out materials, printing stuff. You may come with the best of mood and sun may shine, and enter a room of neatly organised chairs, and greet everyone with smiles, and even have a good time. But still, even if the day goes all right, somethinng inside you may say “why wasn´t it fabulous?” It’s like bread without salt, rice pudding with no cinammon or the best of soups without coriander. We’ve been there. But some other times, when you least expect it, the Universe converges to make your workshop shine,  and only some weeks later you may start to understand the ingredients of the magic spell.

1. An idyllic location

We were happily bathing by the shores of lake Issyk Kul, on a sunny afternoon, in a garden of roses and poppies, far away from any city, from any noise. We had arrived there by luck (the owner of a holidays resort picked us up from a dusty path and set us in her garden of wonders). And in the midst of a natural silence, we heard kids scream while chasing a ball. We thought…what a brilliant place for a summer camp! And wouldn´t it be great to go on some imaginary travels with them?

Issyk Kul

Idyllic environment

2. An engaged audience

We simply waited. We sat down by the dinner hall with our cup of tea, until one kid spotted Boris hair, whispered something in Kyrgyz to his friends, and rushed to look for somebody linguistically gifted and with better marks in English. In a minute we had become more interesing than the football ball. Where are you from? Whre are you going? Is this hair fashion? Messi or Ronaldo? Do you have a girlfriend? Are you real hippies? Genuenly interested in what was foreign they spent three evenings finding out whatever they could.

So we simply made a call: whoever wants to “play travel” with us, come tomorrow at 6 o’clock to the hippy tent by the lake side. No teacher, no marks, no further timetable.

engage your audience

3. Creative preparation

We are out of the classroom, even out of a room. We need to play by the rules of the Sun and the Moon, because days grow shorter and shorter, and there are is no electricity in the part of the beach where we camp. We have freedom to explore, but we wonder if they will run a away into the lake in the middle of the program. We have contact, but just a little bit of English in commmon. And we think for hours how to make the conversation turn to games and lead to learning…


4. Any materials are welcome

Summer by the beach and 15 kids from a holiday camp with no felt pens or scissors or glossy paper at hand. Certainly no computers or Wi Fi either. Only a bunch of white paper, raw materials and whatever our backpacks contain.

find three things

But the little explorers seem to be self sufficient, and come armed with their own technologies to improvise!

use technologies

5. Freedom to explore

When the tasks are set and questions made, the workshop leaders can step aside. Every young person knows a little about the world, everyone can answer somebody else’s questions, add one piece to the common puzzle. They came with open eyes to look at the world, to imagine places they have not seen, to find clues wherever they can. Because they know well that the world is even bigger than lake Issyk Kul, that it spreads wide and large beyond the Kyrgyz mountains. They have Chinese phones, and a Thai t-shirt, and German suncream and American shoes. But what does this all mean until you draw by yourself the lines of the map, walk in the shoes of your favourite footballers, imagine to be a kangaroo or discover a volcano. When you step on the globe names become images.

explore the world

find three things results

draw maps

6. Focusing on the process, the results will follow

When we ask them to bring themselves to a dream destination and represent it, some very fastly flow to Brazil for the WorldCup (just happening at the time), others move into a Colombian cartel, and a third group jumps into a photographic safari. But it take Jan and his team a little longer, to make their volcano installation. They draw plans, they seek assistance from the kitchen ladies – who provided soda powder, somebody collects the best water while another one carefully gahers red pencil shavings. It does not work at once, not even the second time, but anyway – could even scientists predict the eruption of a volcano? We patiently wait, and the lava and smoke come out in the end.

volcano 1

volcano 2

7. Teamwork is the best work

Children know that more important than winning is having somebody to play with. And to promote this natural cooperation, we set an untold rule: there is no judge, no referee, no price, and everyone can share what he knows without  fearing to lose. They build teams by themselves, chosing who they are going to go on an imaginary travel with, they come and go at will, call friends for support and end up in a crowd that flies together around the beach. Fun is all that matters, competition is seconday and teamwork the best work.

movement football match



This travellers workshop took place in an unammed resort by the shores of lake Issyk Kul (Kyrguyzstan) in July 2014. 15 wonderful children of different ages made it possible. If you know a group of young explorers that would like to play with use, just write write us to [email protected], we might be passing by your country sooner or later. Happy travels!


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Boris, Marta and Burma roam the world at a speed of a snail. Two humans and one cat that found their way to India overland.

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