Friday, November 24, 2006


I don't like to think of it as "annoying," I'd rather think of it as "persistent." I don't know just how many times I emailed Fenix Production company, but I am so, so grateful that they were able to offer us such a generous donation. Maybe it helped that I sat in the foyer of their office for a couple of hours waiting to talk to someone? Needless to say, with as busy as they were putting on this huge show, they found the time and resources to give us four tickets -- and in la platea (in seats right in front of the stage). To say that my girls had a fun time would be an embarrassingly enormous understatement. I only hope that our thank you card to Fenix will convey some of our excitement at being able to offer this opportunity to some of our girls-- maybe we can get more tickets in the future???

I received the email with the news last Friday after my director had already left. IThe whole weekend I wondered how we would decide who would go, and how we would avoid hurt or angry feelings of those not chosen. Monday morning my director decided she would discuss with one of our social workers and psychologists which girls had earned the attendances, as they would be treated as more of a prize for good behavior. Wednesday, one hour before before departing the hogar, she pulled the three girls aside, instructed them to chenge their clothes, and told them they would be leaving after dinner with me for a surprise-- and she left it at that. I stood outside the dining room and beckoned to the tia to send the girls out when it was time to leave. Tia D (my favorite tia, and also a big afan of Shakira) called the girls into a huddle and told them they were to stay with me the entire time, that we should go to the bathroom together and be careful in the crowds. The last thing she said, as she kissed us each on the cheek, was to make sure we screamed for her too. If the girls were confused up until this point, they seemed to have some idea of the type of event we were going to after that comment. As we walked to the front door of the hogar to leave, I heard them whispering to each other, "But do you think we're going? No.... it can't be... but, to Shakira???" Finally when we were out on the street I turned to them and asked them if they knew where we were going. They really didn't want to say it, as if it wouldn't be true if they did. One girl asked "to Shakira??" I said yes, and they started screaming.

The concert was perfect-- I couldn't believe our seats, we didn't have to watch the giatn television screens because we could see the real Shakira, which was just about all the girls could handle. Only one danced and screamed with me; the other two just stood there with their eyes and mouths wide open. We had a ton of fun, and the bandanas we bought for them-- with Shakira written in glitter --have found prominence in their wardrobe.

Friday, November 17, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número siete

We have great news: the university around the corner from San Francisco, ARCIS, has agreed to host a photo exhibition for OJOS nuevos! It will be on December 11th, from 7-9pm. Thanks to a recent donation from a Chicago-based individual, we will be able to print 8 photos of each of the 6 girls. The university has offered to provide juice and snacks as well as a diploma for each girl-- this will be a surprise.

Some of the girls are now throwing themselves into their projects, grabbing me in the morning before school, class notebook in hand, showing me their ideas for catchy phrases for invites or possible design layouts. I stand on the patio at 7.15am, blinking sleep away through my glasses, clutching my morning tea while I wait to bring a few girls to their school, nodding in encouragement and a little surprised that we have made it thus far as a class. Not all of the girls have always been excited about their projects. While I am constantly limiting what I include here so as to respect the privacy of the girls with whom I work, I do want to give a realistic impression of the challenges we have faced with the tallar, workshop. The girls' situations present them with many obstacles, and while I can see strength, determination, pride, and intelligence, they are still only 12-15 years old and have a lot to learn about themselves and the world. As always, even though we may have a lesson plan about photography, other lessons frequently take precedence.

I've spent time with each student individually, talking about her photography and discussing which 8 she will choose for the exhibition. The next class is scheduled to be the last class, and we will be presenting our photos to each other in discussion form. We will probably keep meeting until the exhibition so that the girls can participate in the planning and feel more ownership with the show. Stay tuned for more updates...


The first class of OJOS nuevos will meet for 1 more week. 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, November 12, 2006

vamos a party

This past weekend we threw a Vamos a Leer party at Domingo Savio. Three hogares participated in this 3-month long program in which children are divided into groups according to their reading level and given an appropriate set of books to read. Depending on the number of books they read, they win either a ticket to the movies or attendance at an ice cream party. Our ice cream party included over 20 kids from Domingo Savio, San Francisco de Regis, and Los Navios. Water balloons, games, and dancing made the two hours go by too fast and left all the kids wanting to stay the whole day.

One of my favorite aspects of last Saturday was that some of our kids had a fun and safe place to play and meet other kids. Unfortunately, depending on the particular situation of the kid's lives, many of them don't have something constructive and healthy to do in their free time. Community centers are a great solution for this, but they don't operate 24 hours a day; many of the live-in hogares the children don't have many options for leaving. This leaves their social skills lacking, at no fault of their own, and sometimes when the kids are in a social situation they don't know how to act. Kids who live in hogares belong to their hogar, and it's difficult for them to have friends or exposure to life outside the hogar when they can't leave. They also have a lot of baggage they are bringing with them when they meet new people-- some are increadibly skeptical, others move on the defensive. Clearly the kids need to be supervised, but if we could host more gatherings with focused events like this past weekend, perhaps they could have the space to better learn how to interact with people they don't know.

Friday, November 10, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número seis

Objective for Week 6: Emotions. Each girl has been working on capturing photos focusing on an emotion, using one word as her guide.

Now that we've been having class for over a month, the hogar has become accustomed to seeing and being in front of the cameras. The girls are also much more comfortable with them, although we had one major problem recently: one student was walking with her camera and tripped on a hose, scraping her elbow and dropping her camera. Luckily her elbow is now fine, but the camera didn't heal quite as well. In fact it doesn't work, and I have yet to get an estimate on how much it would cost to fix. It was one of our best cameras too, but accidents are going to happen... I just wish we had a back-up camera.

I've been working on our end of the class exhibition, and I may have found a place for us. Even if we have to have the show in the hogar itself, I know we will have a show, so we have begun to divide up responsibilities during class. One girl is in charge of invitations, another of writing emails to newspapers and other personal contacts. One will design a poster, another will help me with typing the biographies and captions for the show, and the last two will be in charge of the logistics of the opening party-- juice, snacks, etc. The girls are very excited to have specific jobs, and I hope that we will draw a good crowd.

While the girls will still have access to their cameras, our class time will also be used for having critiques of our work. Taking pictures is one thing, but thinking creatively and explaining your ideas is also a goal for the class. Each girl will select 8 photos for the show, if we can afford to print that many. Not only would I like to have many of their photographs on display, but I would also like to give each student their favorite photos in print. At the end of the class they will also receive a cd of all of the photos they took.... but seeing as their access to computers is very limited, I would like to be able to give them something tangible. Hopefully we can find a printer who will give us a good deal on our printing...


The first class of OJOS nuevos will meet for another 2 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.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

go to the coast

Chicago has many attractions, but it does not have an ocean. Lake Michigan tries, and sometimes it can deceive you, if only for a moment-- especially on the Michigan side at the dunes. However, when you are sitting in the sand, watching the 12 feet (and taller) waves crash into each other, the rocks, sucking the sand underneath them with such a force as to pull people off their feet, you realize that you while it may be called "great," that lake is really nothing like the ocean.

Working in Santiago has its perks, being the work we are doing, but outside of that I'm not sure that I would characterize it as one of my favorite cities. I guess it depends on what you choose to value. I loved Chicago as a city, but I didn't feel satisfied at my job. Now I love my job, and I don't mind the city. I think I'd rather feel satisfaction from my job than from the city, also because my friends here are also my co-workers. Similar in age, similar in our realistic idealism, but extremely diverse in life experience, skills, cultural influences, etc, our group of volunteers never lacks energy, ideas, surprises, and of course our share of drama. The city may seem a little smoggy and drab at times, but our work and our organization definitely keeps it interesting.

Traveling outside of Santiago has begun for the class of Septiembre, 2006. A group of people are in Patagonia right now, and another in Peru. A small group of us recently went to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, and in a couple of weeks will go to Mendoza... it's just that old 3-month time: renewing the tourist visa. But even without that marvelous excuse to leave the country, leaving the city you realize how exhausting being here in Santiago can be. After the weekend in Valparaiso, only 2 hours away by bus, my thoughts (and my lungs) felt much clearer. While for me there is nothing like a sun-filled day at the beach, I still preferred Valparaiso as a city. Reminiscent of Cinque Terre in Italy, I could walk the streets for hours enjoying the endless curiosity the city provokes. But oh, the beach..... must return to the beach. Soon.

If you'd like to see all of the photos, visit the set here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número cinco

We've now reached the half-way point of OJOS nuevos. With four weeks behind us, I thought it would be a good idea to spend class reviewing our progress. We started class with a photography slideshow, followed by a discussion focusing primarily on a photo by Roger LeMoyne of a pool of blood, a consequence of an Israeli / Palestinian conflict. I'm not sure what exposure our kids have to current events, especially of an international scope. The girls are not shy to ask about the photos we view though, and I feel that powerful images such as this one spark their interest in a unique and influential way. It's not the same if I were to tell them about conflicts in Israel , Palestine, or anywhere else; the girls wanted to know whose blood it was, and why it had been spilled.

Each day the girls have their cameras they become a little more creative. I felt at first that we were at a disadvantage for not being able to leave the hogar with our cameras. I would still like to leave before the end of class, the main problem being memory cards and batteries, because I think it would give them a much wider view of what they can do with their cameras. But even within our limitations, the girls find ways to create interesting and unusual images. Here is an example of one of the portraits taken over the last two weeks. The girls are learning to explore a little more, to find something new within the same familiar walls of their hogar.

For the next class, each student is to choose one word and capture it in some manner in at least 20 photos. So far I've heard "solitude," "anger," and "affection" being thrown around, but stay tuned for next week's class for final results.


The first class of OJOS nuevos will meet for another 3 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.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

drama at domingo savio

I've seen plays in the theatres downtown Chicago, I've crouched mesmorized in the velvety shadows of the Vienna opera house, and I've attended my fair share of high school musicals and college performances, but I've never witnessed such anticipation or self-gratification from actors as I did at Domingo Savio last week. You would have thought that the kids were about to appear before some temperamental queen and their lives depended on their performance. Instead, more than 25 children enacted two plays in the dining room-turned-theatre, the window treatments becoming stage curtains, the kitchen becoming backstage. Friends and relatives crammed into the front room to support their young thespians, ready for the culmination of months of practice.

I arrived to find the club in chaos with kids running around with half-painted faces, tias and tios running after them , Tia J giving last minute tutorials on the "stage," and volunteers hanging curtains and adjusting lights. Once gathered together, costumed and decorated, all the children stood in a circle. Tia J asked that everyone close their eyes and think about all of the preparation for this day and the upcoming performance. Some children confessed to the group how nervous they felt, as they had never acted in front of an audience before, others just bit their nails and fidgeted. Tia J offered supportive compliments, and reminded them of their confidence and ability. With that, it was time to begin.

The older group acted first, the younger second, each child with their own chance to shine in the lights and command the room's attention. Mistakes didn't exist: they were brushed off without the slightest notice. Whether the children had 5 years or 15 years, everyone acted seriously and sincerely, transforming the dining room into the most captivating stage and capturing everyone's hearts. The end of the plays marked an especially emotional moment as two girls bid farewell to the club. After having spent over one year at Club Domingo Savio, the director Tia O had told me, the girls had made huge strides in behavior and confidence-- the theatre project being very influential.

Domingo Savio is a community center, providing children a safe and stimulating place to stay after school until early evening. Once a week, a theatre teacher opens up the old garage behind the center, which she has turned into a makeshift stage. Donated dresses and old suits have created a costume bank, and the kids build inventive and elaborate props using things like egg cartons and old water bottles. Right now, Domingo Savio is raising funds to rebuild the old garage into a brand new, well-equipped theatre for all of the community to enjoy. Obviously this huge undertaking requires much support. If you or anyone you know would like to help, please contact me for more information.

Please view the photographs from this spectacular event, and spread the word about the Domingo Savio Theatre Project. If you'd like to read more about Domingo Savio, please read the article from September 6.