Henia Belalia has joined Plan-B’s staff as our Education Coordinator…as of yesterday! A French-Algerian immigrant, Henia earned her BA from UCSD with a double major in Psychology & Theatre. Fluent in English, Spanish and French (with a little Arabic in the mix as well!), she has trained at Teatro Che y Moche in Spain and Cutting Ball Theatre in San Francisco, founded Teatrofilia and acted in Paris. She has extensive experience working with children in both educational and social justice settings using theatrical techniques. Henia is the former Executive Director of Peaceful Uprising here in Salt Lake City and has an infectious passion for building community.
As a youth of color, growing up in a multicultural urban setting, most of my mentors and teachers never looked like me. Too many of my cousins and childhood friends never had the opportunity to access higher education, and, like many youth, became disposable to their institutions, as they fell through the cracks.
It took years for me to realize how much that had impacted my psyche, making me feel unworthy and ashamed of my ethnicity and cultural heritage. While navigating systems and making my way to college, I continued to hide, losing many parts of myself along the way. Reminiscing on my own journey, I knew I wanted to provide youth in my community with another experience.
My professional experience with youth is extensive and multifaceted, ranging from early childcare and afterschool programs to teaching in classrooms, tutoring and mentoring at-risk youth. Bringing art to youth, and more specifically theatre, is important to me, given the pivotal role artistic expression plays in a child’s development, social consciousness and emotional equilibrium As an educator and facilitator, I have designed curriculum and led workshops for youth of all ages, using traditional theatre practices, but also less conventional ones inspired by Augusto Boal’s politically engaged Theatre of the Oppressed. For those who aren’t familiar, this form of theatre allows the audience to become participants in the play itself, for them to practice the social changes they want to see come about in their own homes and communities.
Maybe I fell in love with the stage life as a two-year-old dancing on tables at family gatherings. Growing up in Paris, I was introduced to plays through youth groups in local community centers. These first steps led to almost 20 years of experience, in three different countries and just as many languages, taking on many roles from actress to playwright and stage manager, though the one closest to my heart is undoubtedly the role of director. My college education gave me access to studying theatre abroad, where I was invited to join an established company in Spain as an assistant director, and later founded my own troupe (Teatrofilia) with other socially and politically conscious artists.
Bringing politics to the stage felt void without more tangible and practical experience though, so I shifted my focus to grassroots organizing for environmental, racial and social justice. This would shape my work for the years to follow. From running a non-profit organization to integrating several collectives of justice seekers and land defenders, I gathered practical skills, resources, and built solid networks of support across numerous communities.
As a woman of color, a migrant and the product of working class families, my personal, political and professional are deeply entangled. My commitment to honoring and uplifting those most systematically marginalized and oppressed is a daily practice and responsibility, and something that is not optional for me. Seeking justice, reclaiming our narratives, and community healing are pillars for our survival and success as communities of color. And history shows us that art has always been one of our most powerful tools in processes of liberation.