By Winsor Kinkade
Exactly one year ago, in July of 2015, I was shaking in my boots at the thought of studying abroad in Chile. Not only would I be living in a foreign country, but also my entire life would be in Spanish (a language that I was a complete novice in). Being away from my family and hometown for six months was the icing on the cake. When the plane landed in Santiago, I was a teary-eyed mess, thrilled by the sight of my best friend from home waiting to greet me in the over-crowded baggage claim. Luckily, we were taking on this adventure together.
At the time, I had no idea the impact Chile would make on my life. At the university, I took a class focused on poverty in Chile which required every student to volunteer locally. Our teacher passed out a list of non-profit organizations and centers that were seeking volunteers, each with a brief description of what type of program they are. I looked through the list, and I decided to give one particular center a try. Through the description, I gathered that it was an after school program for at-risk children in an area with very few resources.
The following day, I found myself knocking on a gate in the middle of a dusty road, surrounded by shaggy dogs yearning for a belly rub. I looked at the sign that read “Centro Abierto Santa Adriana” and double-checked the address in my scribbled notes. It seemed I was in the right place. The gate opened and a woman who introduced herself as Tía Julie welcomed me in with a smile. I looked around the open-air patio and saw the typical scene: kids playing tag, swinging on the swing set, playing soccer, and of course the mix of laughter, shouting, and the occasional temper tantrum. Tía Julie directed me to a classroom where I could help in any way I could.
It was in this classroom that I discovered why I was in Chile, and realized what I wanted to continue doing in this place. Centro Abierto Santa Adriana was started in 1962 by a group of representatives from the local elementary school. The Center was created as a way to assist those suffering from the growing impoverishment in the small community of Santa Adriana. It started as a room for mothers to have a safe space and receive various training workshops. Today, the Center is used daily by more than 100 mothers, seniors, and children at extreme risk between 5 and 17 years old during the hours that they are not in school. It has grown to consist of four classrooms, a playground, a soccer field, a library, and a dining hall. In Centro Abierto Santa Adriana, the members receive their daily meals, counseling, tutoring, various classes, and most importantly a safe space to come together as a community.
During my six months abroad, I continued working in this classroom as a teacher’s aid, mainly providing support to the kids when they struggled on a homework problem or wanted someone to chat with. When a student finished their work and began to get fidgety, I would encourage them to doodle on scratch paper. “I don’t know how,” some would reply. I was shocked at first that they did not know how to doodle, since I’ve had the opportunity to do so since I could hold a pencil. Of course, these children live different lives.
The children that attend the Center live far below the poverty line and many suffer various forms of abuse. Most do not have paper or pens to use at home. It might be difficult to find a quiet space to focus on creation. These are the children that need to feel the beauty of creation.
I returned to Chile this May once my studies were completed to design an art program for the Center, and Tía Julie was pleased to accept. She agreed that an art program is exactly what these children need. The program consists of an art class in which the students receive training in the principles of visual art, explore different forms of art, and work on projects that inspire creativity and self-acceptance. Additionally, The Kinkade Family Foundation is providing all the art supplies needed in the classes. The course focuses on responsibility and perseverance--both in their artwork and in the difficult situations they confront daily. It aims to enrich their overall development as students, including their forms of expression and problem solving.
The first few weeks were tough, and included many moments where I wanted to pull my hair out and quit. The kids tested my patience and my Spanish, and made me work hard for their respect. In the thick of the chaos, I realized how important it is to be sharing art with the children of the Center. All the struggle and resistance I received at first was a true testimony of how necessary it was for these kids to create on their own terms, with their own colors, choosing their own outcome. Through the help of other professors and mentors, I learned that this initial insanity is part of the process when working with at-risk youth, but eventually it becomes the most rewarding and incredible experience. With time, I realized they were right.
“Los chiquititos” or “little ones” (students between the ages of 5-8) are always excited to learn more about textures, patterns, and colors, and we have recently conquered tempera paints! It is impossible to get through a class without some sort of spill, possibly some tears, and lots of giggles. “Los grandes” or “bigger ones” (students between the ages of 9-14) are exploring the vast joys of tempera paints and pastels and discovering how these forms of expression can help ourselves find self-acceptance. Thanks to them, I am kept up to speed with the latest Chilean pop music and celebrity gossip. These children are all so talented in their own unique ways, it amazes me. We are all learning a little more about art, and ourselves, every day.
As a teacher and artist, I mainly hope that the children in this program fall in love with art, and use it as a tool of expression that they will carry with them in their future endeavours. A huge part of The Kinkade Family Foundation’s mission is to bring art to the global community which may otherwise be vacant of art, and this program is doing exactly that. We want to see these kids exploring their creativity and enjoying their rights as citizens, regardless of background. The goal is to provide an opportunity for kids to realize their love for art, discover a new talent, and have a space to get messy and play. It is truly an honor to be working with the children of Centro Abierto Santa Adriana, and I am thrilled to be a part of this adventure with them!
“Soy profesor en favor de la lucha constante contra cualquier forma de discriminación, contra la dominación económica de los individuos o de las clases sociales… Soy profesor en favor de la esperanza que me anima a pesar de todo.” Paulo Freire, Pedagogía de la autonomía
“I am a teacher in favor of the constant struggle against any form of discrimination, against the economic domination of individuals or of social class...I am a teacher in favor of hope which encourages me despite everything.” Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom