Friday, October 27, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número cuatro

Objective for Week 4: Portraits: Part II. Students will continue to explore portraiture in an experimental but guided manner. The goal for this week is to push past initial compositions and habitual picture taking.

Working in any of our hogares, I think we would all agree that we have to be able to be flexible and patient. I know I had had a plan for the 8 week class, but because of the nature of the hogar, I have had to switch things around a lot. We weren't initially going to focus on portraiture two weeks in a row, but due to many unforseen circumstances, it seemed best to continue for one more week with a similar objective. We are about at the half way point for class, and to keep ideas fresh I decided to dedicate class #4 to brainstorming and discussion. Gathered around the computer, we started by reviewing a series of portraits I took of Lena. Because they are becoming more comfortable discussing photography, they immediately began conversing over which photos provoked which emotions. Some photos had more extreme compositions than others, some contained strange effects of light and shadow. I remember in the beginning of this project, the girls would review their photos on their cameras and immediately judge them, asking me to please teach them how to delete the images (the cameras are in english). Now they are learning to wait and view the image for what it is, because an "imperfect" image might actually be more interesting and creative. I saw them taking their time when viewing the portraits of Lena, and formulating more carefully their responses.

For the bulk of this week's class, we spread out in the comedor, or dining room, each student at one table. I passed out a large sheet of brown paper and markers, and asked the girls to write "Mi Hogar" in the center (my home). To the tunes of Andrew Bird, we created mind maps exploring thought patterns, associations, and connections stemming from the center and blooming to fill the whole paper. I thought I would have to help them more, walk around and encourage them to keep thinking, but more than half of the girls seemed to take off running with the concept. It did seem to help for me to reassure them that these were private exercises, and they should write their associations honestly.

Project for Week 4: Continue exploring portraiture, referencing the ideas and feelings from class discussions and documented on your mind map.


The first class of OJOS nuevos will meet for another 4 weeks. While we are excited to have started class, our resources are incredibly limited. We cannot keep the program running without the help of our supporters. If you would like to see OJOS nuevos succeed, please contribute in any way possible. Thank you to everyone who has donated and helped us come this far.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

how to motivate the underdog

When I first told "Mari", age 7, on Friday afternoon, that she would be coming with us to Liga de Futbol the following day, she didn't believe me. We had just watched another girl run across the wide concrete patio to the outstretched arms of her madrina, with whom she would be spending her weekend. Mari, watching the happy spectacle, immobile and long-faced, told me that she would feel better if she could see her father. The girls who don't have second families or permission from the court to stay with certain family members usually stay in the hogar the whole weekend. Liga de Futbol, our monthly inter-institutional competition, allows a team of girls or boys to spend the afternoon playing soccer and other games, painting faces, listening to music, and meeting other kids outside of their hogar. While it may not seem like a huge deal to some people, many of our kids look forward to this monthly trip with great anticipation. "I'm too little," she said. "I don't get to go there." I had to walk with her to the office where Tia M, my director, with her contagious smile and patient composure, explained that as a couple of the older girls who usually play on our hogar's team were leaving for the weekend, Mari would get the opportunity to participate. As soon as we returned to the patio, Mari started running around the perimeter, counting her laps. When asked what she was doing, she replied, in all seriousness, "Training."

Our team didn't win. I've actually heard that our team has never won. Our team didn't exactly play to their full potential, because unfortunately they don't really know what that is. We only just received a ball as a donation (thank you!) and it's very difficult to run a soccer practice, although you can believe Lena and I have tried. I stood helpless on the sidelines, watching my girls, younger than the other team, become more and more deflated. They didn't know how to pass, and they fought over the ball among themselves: we didn't have any sense of team. The older girls, frustrated, insulted the younger girls and bullied them into sitting on the sidelines saying (against their will) that they didn't want to play, and when I overruled the older girls they stormed off to the bathrooms in tears because they knew they wouldn't win. We needed help.

Raul, one of the refs and a favorite tio (all the tios are favorites, as positive male role models are rather scarce in these children's lives), helped my team and I get through the day, but we knew that they needed more than one day's attention. We devised a plan where every week for one hour Raul will come to San Francisco and run organized soccer practice. Because he is Chileno, super patient, and incredibly knowledgeable about soccer, he is a perfect match for the task. Many of these girls have never been encouraged in sports, and for Raul to come with the specific intention of teaching them about the game, we're hoping they'll take themselves more seriously when trying to play it. Maybe we won't win at the next Liga de Futbol, but if we could learn a little bit more about teamwork I think the girls would have a much better time with each other.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número tres

Objective for Week 3: Portraits: Part I. Students will begin to explore portraiture in an experimental but guided manner. The goal for this week is to challenge the students to feature people in their photos while trying to capture an emotion or mood as well, moving away from posed snapshots towards more complex, pensive images.

For the third week, we began class with a photography slideshow, this time accompanied by the deep, rolling tones of a Seu Jorge song. Because we will be exploring photographing people more intently this week, all of the photos in the slideshow featured portraiture of many different kinds. I enjoy researching for these short movies because I fly all over the internet discovering photography groups , artists, and creative initiatives. I am building a collection of these sites, and along with a bibliography of all artists used in the slideshows, I plan on distributing this information to the girls as well as featuring it here on the blog. One of the photos I incorporated into the video showed a boy in prison in the Philippines, taken by photographer Hazel Thompson for her "Kids Behind Bars" story. While I do ask for silence during the slideshows, immediately upon reaching the end the girls asked about this boy, and what was wrong with his skin. We then entered a very interesting conversation about prison, children, and crime, and I found the girls asking questions that revealed them to be, simultaneously, rather naive and (sadly) experienced about these subjects. The initial giggles at the sight of his condition quickly dissipated into wonder and something like sympathy. This was precisely the kind of moment that makes me wish I had more than one hour each week with my class.

We stayed huddled around my laptop to critique their photos from the last week. Even though a couple days of rain had prevented us from shooting, each student still had a good amount of work to show. Lena and I both commented later that each girl showed her strengths in remarkably different ways. In certain activities, some girls may show more interest or creativity, while others seem to open up to completely different kinds of exercises. Because I want each girl to benefit as much as she can from the class, and there are only 6 students, I find myself trying to plan the widest range of activities possible and to cater them to the girl's personalities. I never knew teachers spent so much time on lesson plans (teachers: nice work). After reviewing their photos, I pulled out a few newspapers and a National Geographic I had purchased earlier in the week (thank you to those who have donated!). To the tunes of Ethiopiques from my computer, I passed out scissors and glue, and the girls began making collages in their journals of images they found interesting for any reason. Due to time restraints, they only had time to fill a few pages, but I hope that we will be able to repeat this exercise with more newpapers and magazines of different kinds because they had a great time selecting their images, laying them out in their journals, and calling me over to proudly show off their creations.

Project for Week 3: Create 10 portraits that incude elements such as a part of a story, an emotion, a mood, the person's character, interests, worries, etc...


The first class of OJOS nuevos will meet for another 5 weeks. While we are excited to have started class, our resources are incredibly limited. We cannot keep the program running without the help of our supporters. If you would like to see OJOS nuevos succeed, please contribute in any way possible. Thank you to everyone who has donated and helped us come this far.

Monday, October 16, 2006

jornada: cajón de maipo

Every three months, a new "class" of volunteers arrives in Santiago. After one month of volunteering with VE, the class is invited to participate in an organization-wide retreat. In a nutshell, this is how I might have explained my first month:

Orientation filled the first week, after which we dispersed all over the city to institutions, host families, apartments, and residence halls. In my opinion, my first week at my institution didn't make much sense. I felt constantly confused and overwhelmed, but for me, I think because of the excitement of finally beginning to realize that I made it here, the challenges didn't completely deflate me. The second week I knew a few of the some 25 girls here, and I could ride the Metro, but I still couldn't follow directions in spanish, give directions in spanish, or accept any real responsibility in the hogar. The third week I learned how to take a micro by myself, a gigantic step forward in my relationship with Santiago's public transit system, and I knew over half of the girl's names. Lena and I began to walk a group of 11 girls back to school after lunch, and we successfully ran some tallares, or workshops, as we like to call our activities for the kids. I also met with a printer to discuss the specs for VE's first marketing brochure, and I learned that brillo means the paper is "glossy" and mate means the paper has a "matte" finish. Week four introduced earlier alarm clocks to our mornings, as we take turns accompanying four girls to and from their special school a couple of metro lines away. Not only can I communicate a little better with the girls and the tias, I know everybody's name and am learning much more about their lives and personalities.

We left last Friday in the afternoon for Cajón de Maipo. The busride took about 2.5 hours and probably was gorgeous, but due to the rain, heavy clouds, foggy windows, and leaking roof, I didn't really notice. We arrived in the gloomy, late afternoon and filled ourselves with tea in our beautiful cabin, soon realizing that the rain had turned to snow. The next morning the sun took quite awhile to melt the ice and snow, a strange mix of summer and winter lingering for hours after dawn. Meanwhile our retreat proved incredibly relaxing, giving us the much needed space and time to think, to discuss, to breathe clean mountain air and process the collage of events layered in piles in our minds. While the above description of my first month is true, so many more thoughts, feelings, frustrations, successes, defeats, and questions had been building upon each other that, had they not been addressed in some manner, they could have become larger obstacles to my being a productive volunteer. For this, I am glad we went on the retreat, and I look forward to the next one already. If you'd like to see our weekend in photos, please visit here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número dos

Objective for Week 2: Encourage students to approach their subject matter in new and creative ways. By practicing "getting closer," students can focus on searching for details they may have otherwise dismissed, on seeking unique points-of-view, and on gaining confidence in moving with their camera to capture a more interesting image.

Class #2 opened with another slideshow of photography from around the world. While they were well-behaved during the first class, I found that after one week they have come to take this class much more seriously. I asked for silence and stillness during the slideshow, and all four girls in attendance sat quietly watching the wide range of images I selected for this week flash before them to an instrumental by Carrie. To extend the space created for individual thinking, I then asked that each student move to a seat in the room away from everyone else. As they wrote or drew in their journals, I passed out their portraits we had taken for the first page, and I felt pleased to see that everyone had found time within the week to write about last class's question and to decorate their cuaderno a little more.

For the bulk of the class, we gathered around the computer to view each student's first photos. I had no problem keeping their attention on the computer screen, and I could see, as each girl's turn came, a sliding scale of emotions. Some seemed eager to hear what others had to say, some seemed a little shy to be the center of attention, and others seemed just blatantly excited to be finally seeing their work blown up on the screen before them.

Lena and I had each written personal comments about each girl's work, but we decided to pass these sheets out after class, once the girls had a chance to formulate their own discussions first. Running a critique in the english language is difficult enough, from articulating why a certain piece evokes a particular feeling to explaining how to offer constructive criticism respectfully. I only hope that the mistakes I made did not deter too much from the point of what I was trying to say. For the record, "to capture" is captar, "very impressive" is muy impresionante, and the word for "answer" is respuesta NOT repuesto; if you say repuesto you are actually saying "spare part," as in, "I need a repuesto for my broken car," and 6 young adolescent females will break into giggling hysterics. When we finally did pass out the comment sheets we had written, a couple of the girls surprised me with their insistence on notas; they were looking for a number from 1-7, the Chilean grading system. I explained, as best I could, that there would be no grades in this class, rather, there will be areas in which you have succeeded and areas in which you could use to give more attention, effort, or time.

Project for Week 2: Create 15 photographs focusing on details. This assignment is to help students not to quickly dismiss subject matter because it isn’t immediately interesting. Encourage students to take their time while walking with their camera, to select their subject matter and move in closer than they ordinarily might, and to compose their images with attention to detail.

To introduce the project for the coming week, I showed a filmstrip of images I took over the weekend walking around our neighborhood Barrio Brasil. This quickly turned into a game as the girls tried to guess the subject matter of each image. While some classes may have difficulty building a sense of class unity among the students, the six girls in my class not only get along incredibly well, but they seem to have a special relationship that mixes friends with sisters with something secret and serious. I am quickly finding myself intrigued by this group of young women, and I wonder what will happen to them when it becomes their time to leave this barrio, this hogar.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

more than just an idea

After our first photography class on Wednesday, I will admit I felt a little anxious about what would happen next. For months, nearly a year, I have been bouncing the idea of moving to Chile around in my head. Shortly after the initial spark lit I discovered VE, and before I even applied I knew I wanted to help create some kind of art curriculum for the kids. Plans and planning can be very enticing. It's exciting to explore the possibilities of what you might be able to do, to imagine an event or a movement that can change people, that can span time, that can make a statement. But realizing a plan can become tedious, strenuous, and sometimes even too much. I know before I came that my plans seemed awfully lofty, that the plethora of unknown variables weighed heavily against me. Idealism is tricky-- sometimes it scares people away. This photography program seemed incredulous to some, and at times, to myself as well. As I walked down the path Wednesday night after class, from our classroom off the courtyard to our little set of rooms in the corner of the compound, I wondered if this class was really going to be a success.

Yesterday, Friday, gave me a substantial boost of confidence. Usually the girls go back to school after eating lunch, their biggest meal of the day, here in the hogar. On Fridays, however, they do not return to colegio. With a beautiful spring afternoon ahead of us, I encouraged the girls to finish their chores and homework quickly so they could check out their cameras for the first time. All six signed their name on their camera's sign-out sheet, and I told them now the cameras were entirely their responsibility. From even the first couple of photos I could see that this is going to be a very good class. Because they have digital cameras and can review the photos instantly, they could see immediately their success and progress. Each image they took gave them more excitement and curiosity about the photographic process, and made me believe even more in the project. There is still a ton of work to do, but I feel that we are in a good starting place and moving forward.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número uno

Last night at San Francisco de Regis home for girls in Santiago, Chile, Voluntarios de la Esperanza held our first class of the digital photography program "OJOS nuevos." Because we have six cameras for the 25 girls who live here, the director of the institution and I decided to choose six girls for the first pilot class. The girls range from ages 12 - 15, and each one is very excited to be participating in OJOS nuevos. This class will meet every Wednesday for 8 weeks and will include discussions about photography throughout history and in current times, creative thinking exercises, and reviews of their work. In addition, the director has approved excursions for the girls so that we may take the cameras outside of the hogar's walls and explore the city. While VE's funds are shared among all of the projects we run, I hope that we may even be able to sponsor a trip to another city.

I opened the class with a short movie I created showing a wide range of photographs from around the world. We sat in the near darkness around the computer, the images and the haunting melodies of Ayub Ogaba calming the room and helping us gain focus. I plan on starting every class in a similar manner, as the subdued format immediately draws the girls in and simultaneously exposes them to many kinds of photography. Next we did an activity to help explain that the class would be more discussion based, that frequently there is not one answer to questions raised by a piece of art. I had chosen six images, passed out a piece of paper to each girl, and had her number the paper 1-6-- without putting her name on it. For each photo, we wrote how the image made us feel, what the image seemed to be communicating, and what we thought was happening in photograph. I'd like to include this acitivity in a future class, as we practice taking more time to respond and allowing ourselves more time to think. The girls, at first, created a race out of completing each task; I think this will be a good lesson for them. After passing them in, mixing them up, and redistributing the papers, we took turns reading out loud the opinions on each sheet. Some of the girls took this activity more seriously from the beginning, and I'm hoping that they will become positive leaders for the class.

Because the goal of this photography program is to encourage the girls to have the time and to learn to think more creatively, I have included journals as part of the project. We gave each girl her own notebook with the name of the class as well as her name written on the inside cover. I took a portrait of each girl by herself, and these will be affixed to the first page. We spent some time decorating the journals to make them more personal, and I made it clear to them that I would not be reading these journals, nor anybody else. They are for writing, glueing photos that they find and like, sketching ideas and making mind maps. I gave them an idea for their first entry: If you had a magic wand, and could be or do anything you wanted, what would you choose?

Finally came the time for cameras. Each girl has been assigned a number which corresponds to a camera. Any time the girls have finished their homework and chores, they can find me and ask to check out their camera. They can use it in the hogar however they like, and each week they will have an assignment on which to work. I would prefer to leave the hogar once a week with the girls, but due to funding we will have to see what happens. I made it clear that once the girls have signed their name on the sign-out sheet, they are completely responsible for the camera until they bring it back to me. I think this is another important aspect of the class, as the girls are being trusted with a piece of equipment they know is incredibly valuable. By showing that we have confidence in them, perhaps they will feel more confident themselves. Hopefully we can get a back-up camera in case there is an accident!

I would like to extend a gigantic thank you to everyone who contributed to this photography program thus far, and I hope that we can continue to build a network of support to keep the program running and to enable us to make it grow. VE serves over 1000 children throughout Santiago, and we are making great strides as an organization. If you are interested in supporting this project, please visit this website. Thank you for your help, and please check back for weekly updates!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

roughly 33 degrees south and 70 degrees west

When I first thought about leaving Chicago, I toyed with the idea of returning to Europe, specifically to Italy, where I had enjoyed studies during university. I quickly moved to dismiss the destination for a few reasons. First, I've already been there. If I were going to throw a guillotine down on my life, I wanted to pursue a new adventure. Second, I have been exposed to Europe and its history far too unevenly throughout my education. "World history" in elementary school and high school discussed the Roman empire, the Greeks with their gods and their ideas of the republic, World War I and of course, a great deal about the United States. I never learned about Chinese culture or what Kenya was like before the British and the Portuguese, and I definitely never even heard the words South America used in any context other than listing all of the continents.

I still have yet to leave Santiago proper because of my work here. But this has allowed me to build a better understanding of the city. With over 6 million inhabitants, which is over 40% of the entire country, Santiago is one of the largest cities in Latin America. It also is a major hub for multinational corporations. There is an area of Santiago with contemporary skyscrapers, sidewalks full of suits walking to work with Starbucks in hand, and restaurants and bars fit for the poshiest clientele. During orientation week we quickly learned the difference between this area of Santiago and the areas in which we worked: you may have only spent 45 minutes on the metro, but it's as if the two stops were on two different planets. Here are some photos from around the city, taken over the past week.