Wednesday, May 24, 2006

ve has landed

New York gave Voluntarios de la Esperanza (VE) a warm welcome last week at our first annual fundraiser. Despite the sporadic thunderstorms, guests still poured into the Museum of Children's Art and brought with them much interest and enthusiasm about the projects underway in Santiago. I didn't have very clear expectations for the trip- I had only been to New York City once before, and had never personally met any of the volunteers associated with the program- but I still have been saying that it proved more successful and exciting than I had imagined.

Please visit a slideshow of photos from the event.

This year's fundraiser showcased artwork created by children in Santiago as well as photographs by Lindy Drew, a current volunteer in Chile right now. Guests sipped Chilean wine, munched on empanadas, mingled to the sounds of an obliging jazz trio, and eventually congregated in the back of the museum for presentations by Luke Winston, director of VE, and a few past volunteers. While we did raffle off some enticing prizes and offer guests homemade friendship bracelets, one of the most significant moments of the evening was the opportunity to explain the mission and the vision of Voluntarios de la Esperanza to a group of people previously rather unfamiliar with the organization- including, to some extent, myself. From the informational material presented about the program to the personal accounts of living in an atmosphere so disparate from previous lifetyles, I felt that the evening afforded me the chance to construct a more dynamic understanding of what VE is trying to accomplish in Chile.

When I first applied to VE my perspective of the organization had been formed solely through the internet. I kept thinking about all of the organizations that exist in areas of the world where technology cannot help connect people, but I knew that I could only handle a certain amount of risk. I wanted to travel to another country, but I preferred to know as much about the situation into which I would be entering before I would go. Both on the website and in New York, I learned that VE does not assist only one orphanage, one home- rather it has taken its relatively fortunate position, including exposure on the internet, and constructed a network of homes such that volunteers and resources move far beyond the central location called Hogar Esperanza. VE is even beginning to reach children in local elementary schools, and aims to assist communities and local families as well as children at social risk. The mission of VE is not to replace primary caregivers, and it is not simply to give assistance. VE seeks and works towards change, education, and support in an effort to provoke growth in a positive direction. Members of the organization are active members of Chilean society, American society, and the greater global society. I have been lucky to have found VE, because the more I learn about the organization, the more I believe in it and its vision.

A Saturday night dinner in a dark Italian restaurant- but paired with Chilean wine- sealed the weekend, leaving me with faces to go with the email addresses and a heightened anticipation for the next few months.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

the drive is on

While the schoolyear may be coming to a close for the kids at Central School in Glencoe, IL, some seventh grade students are asking their peers to think about something other than the fast approaching summer break: digital cameras. This past Monday the drive kicked off, advertised by posters made by the students as well as myself. The drive encourages the children to ask around for any functional digital cameras that may have been old, forgotten, or replaced by newer models. In the fast-paced world of technology, digital gadgets can have short lifespans-- not because they are broken or unusable, but because their owners have moved on to updated models. This is exactly the market for a photo program: rather than forget your digital camera to a remote closet or garbage dump, you can put it to good use and enable underprivileged children to explore creativity through photography.

Friday greeted me with the pivotal news that we have recieved our first donation from the drive. Thanks to the efforts of the principal, the students, and a very special seventh grade teacher, we are on our way to collecting enough materials for an entire orphanage to be able to participate in classes. While I do not know which Hogar (home) I will be placed to work with yet, I know that the children will have lots of fun with these cameras.

In addition to digital cameras I will also be collecting memory cards, card readers, USB cords, a printer, printer paper, and reusable batteries-- basically everything a person would need to produce digital pictures. While computers have been placed in many of the Hogars, I'm sure no one at Voluntarios de la Esperanza would ever turn down the donation. I have heard from many generous people so far-- I feel a momentum that should bring us to a promising place by the end of August.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

volunteers converge on new york

We are now exactly two short weeks away from VE's unveiling in New York: volunteers will be coming from all over to host a first annual fundraiser. You may argue that all weeks are the same length and all weeks consist of 7 days each of 24 hours, but I beg to differ: these weeks will be shorter. This year's event is scheduled to be at the Children's Museum of the Arts and will feature art work from the children down in Santiago, Chile, as well as photographs taken by participants. Past volunteers will share their experiences as well as their hopes for what the organization will do in the future. And, of course, there will be music, food (we're still working on that), and Chilean wine.

Because we are all so far away from each other, we email all instructions, questions, and progress about the event to each other. I've had long distance friendships and relationships before, but this is different, because I've never met these people in person ever. Email lacks tone of voice, humor and emotion in general is difficult to construct when writers and readers have little idea of the other's personality. Yet I hold great anticipation in meeting them, I'm curious, and besides that, my intuition is leading me to believe that I won't be disappointed.

One of my jobs is to get press exposure for the event: I'm aiming high, trying to get the New York Times, the Village Voice, TimeOut, and some other publications to include us in their content. If anyone knows of someone I can send the press release to, please give a holler. I'm beginning to learn that just asking for something is half the battle-- many times people answer "yes." I'm really going to put this hypothesis to the test over the next few months, and let's see how many yes's come our way. Speaking of, can anyone in New York spare some delicious empanadas for our event???