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It’s Not Social Work, It’s a Game: Diary of an Oasis Game Participant

Kids in NewhamThis August, the Oasis game came to the UK for the first time and was played in Silvertown, a corner of Newham in East London. I attended the training program and project weekend, along with several other Lush employees and a handful of other participants.

I first became aware of this new way of approaching social projects when the (then) environmental guru at Lush, Ruth Andrade, showed us a video during a meeting.

In the video, Edgard Gouveia Júnior from ELOS institute explained a new concept: what if we could change the world by playing a game? What if we could approach a difficult situation with a different attitude? What if everyone could find a way to contribute, regardless of what kind of skills they have? What if we didn’t treat people in disaster zones or poverty as victims? What if we found a way to connect to them and work with them and leave behind a lasting legacy?

This was the Oasis game concept, born in the favelas of Brazil. Architecture students ditched their indoor classrooms and took their desks outside – amongst the people whose lives their work would be influencing. They involved the community directly and the results were breathtaking. This seemingly small step led to a whole movement that has been around the world in the last 12 years and spawned several side projects.

After intense preparation, the Oasis participants are each given roles best suited to their skills. The names for these roles sounded more like classes in a role playing game: Oracle, Time Keeper, Lighthouse, Guardian Angel, Gnome, Hunter, Messenger…

A few months later, Ruth brought us exciting news: the Oasis game would be coming to the UK for the first time. It would be played in Newham, an area in the shadow of the London City Airport and 2012 Olympic Games frenzy. Expensive private property developments aimed at rich commuters are muscling in on previously council-house territory. The local residents are like a dirty secret, airbrushed from the gleaming façade of the city. A group of determined activists, calling themselves the Momentum Project, has already started to change things little by little, by hosting community events and trying to convince locals that “you don’t have to move out of your community to live in a better one”. Partnering with the Oasis game meant a much larger group would be there to create a short burst of intense activity and hopefully, a lasting legacy.

We were told to pack for six days and be ready for hard work. The Dutch branch of the ELOS institute was organising this game and we received a comprehensive welcome pack and instructions on what to bring in advance. It certainly dealt with the logistical side of things but nothing could have prepared us for the actual experience itself.

Our training took place at the Asta community centre and we spent long days there for six days running, first getting ourselves ready for the project itself by participating in a series of activities and practice sessions, then playing the “Oasis Game” itself and getting the community involved.

Rodrigo and Conchi

The facilitators were Rodrigo from Brazil, Niels from the Netherlands, and Conchi from Spain. Unlike in any other training course I’ve been on, they took control of the room in a very calm and subtly manipulative way, coaxing things out of us and getting us to agree to seemingly bizarre activities. Instead of long-winded explanations and theory, we were coached to find our own answers. Instead of asking us who we were, they asked us how we were feeling.

We spent a long time that first day finding ways to connect to each other and to ourselves. As New Age as that sounds, this methodology was the foundation without which the Oasis game simply wouldn’t have worked. I had decided to accept whatever would be asked of us and to be very open to new ways of doing things. This attitude paid off. Over the next six days I learned a great deal about teamwork and about myself.

About Nukapai

I learned to write before I could read and my first story was published when I was only 9 years old. I'm interested in a range of topics - particularly in science fiction, fantasy, horror, illustration, cosmetics industry, consumer psychology, marketing and perfumery. I keep a personal blog at