Tuesday, June 1, 2010

2010 Summer Tour: Film, Writing, and Quilting

Neena Satija '11 and Daniel Olson & Dan Thompson (the so-called "Men of 2012") write about the first day of outreach in Vallejuelo. Photos: Josh Schoenfield '10.

[Daniel Olson]

The day started out early in San Juan with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. We didn't know what to expect from the massive outreach project we were about to begin with children from around the area of Vallejuelo, a small village 45 minutes from San Juan. We arrived at the Centro Agro where we first met the kids. We shared a couple of songs. They sang a Spanish version of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and we sang "Gaudeamus Igitur". Shortly after, we broke up into the six classes we had prepared for the children. Over the past month, Glee Club members had been working hard on lessons in drama, dance, singing, quilting, creative writing, and film. The glee club is a multi-talented bunch and those talents really showed today.

I helped teach the film class. With video cameras (one of which will be donated to the kids), we had the kids conduct and film interviews with one another. It was so great to hear them open up about their experiences at school and their favorite activities. Though I didn't witness the other groups firsthand, the stories I heard from other YGC-ers indicate similar success.

One of the biggest hurdles in conducting these classes was the language barrier. I had taken Spanish classes in high school, but never had a chance to use it practically until today. It was often difficult to express myself clearly to the kids. There are, however, some very good Spanish speakers in glee club who took the lead in classes. All glee clubbers, no matter their knowledge of Spanish, managed to find some way to communicate with the kids. We discovered that art is a universal language.

[Neena Satija]

It's hard to expect to accomplish a lot in less than an hour and a half, even for the groups who led workshops on dance or visual art. But those of us in the writing workshops faced some unique challenges: 1) It's much harder to overcome the language barrier, 2) Writing is a more personal, often solitary exercise, and 3) Writing is often only associated with school, and school often = boring.

We approached our activities with these challenges in mind. In terms of #1, we were fortunate to have a very high proportion of Spanish speakers in our group. For #2, we came up with writing or reading activities that could be done together - for example, each person in a circle would read a page from the Spanish translation of "Green Eggs and Ham" ("Huevos verdes con jamon"), or each person would write one sentence to contribute to a collective story. These activities helped us get over some of the hurdles of #3 as well. But to get at the heart of #3, we decided to have frank discussions with the students about why they write. Their answers were thoughtful, eloquent, and often very moving - responses included "to express yourself when you have too many emotions," "to communicate with my family," "to remember what's happened in the past," and simply, "because writing is beautiful."

After this discussion, we presented each student with their own journal, and encouraged them to write in it every day. What they wrote or how they wrote it wasn't important. They could write poetry, lists, one paragraph, even one sentence. The only important thing was to write every day. Then we asked them to write their first journal entry about their favorite place. Students wrote about everything from their houses to the beach to a baseball field.

We were so thrilled to see the students clutching their notebooks at the end of the day: They really didn't want to lose them! Even the next day, some students from our workshops the day before were still carrying their notebooks. A few even came up to me and showed me things they had written since the workshop. But the most rewarding thing about the workshops for me, personally, was that they reinforced my need to write as much as possible. How could I tell these kids how important it is to write every day if I don't do it myself?

[Dan Thompson]

Quilting might seem an odd project for a tropical country, but it provides a great medium to illustrate concepts of visual art and blending of culture. My group's approach has been to give a brief overview of quilting, starting with a history of the West African quilting tradition, brought to America by the slave trade. We discuss the concept of themes, first suggesting several of our own and then having them brainstorm four themes they find important. They then draw representations of these themes on a sheet of paper, and pick their favorite to make into a square of a quilt.

Of course, it would be much too time consuming to sew a typical quilt, so instead we have the kids work with a single ~10 square inch piece of felt. Materials they have available include fabric paint, extra felt, glue, and (most popularly) glitter. This project is unique since we will eventually piece together an entire quilt from each student's work. We hope to symbolize a sense of collective effort to produce an artistic work. Here are a few pictures of some individual squares, look out for a pic of the final product in a few days.