3rd Year, Art Education Specialization
Recyclar por Favor
Video made collectively with children from 1er Mayo, Peru 3 min. 01 sec.
As educators, we must encourage students to take charge of their own projects, allowing them to act on their creativity and potential. When working with culturally different populations, we have to be open to change.
I believe that art education is not about teaching how to make aesthetically pleasing craft creations, but instead a process which involves critical thinking through questioning and art making. Not only does the artistic process ask individuals to question and investigate, collaborative art making can produce great success in learning and achieving, as has been repeatedly demonstrated. I’d like to share an example from my own teaching experience which involved creating a stop motion video with the children of the 1ero de Mayo community in Iquitos, Peru, in the summer of 2012.
I travelled to Peru with the Operation Groundswell, a non-profit organization that offers the opportunity to volunteer while backpacking in different parts of the world. Our volunteer group consisted of 13 people aged 17 to 23, from different backgrounds and countries. We volunteered on projects in the city of Iquitos, in a community called 1ero de Mayo. In 1ero de Mayo, houses were built side-by-side on either side of a river that runs down into a pond. During the rain season, the water level rises and the community will have to evacuate their houses. Consequently, one of our volunteer projects was to help build a retaining wall to prevent the damage caused by the flood.
Another problem in the community is the amount of garbage. Garbage is constantly thrown into the river and discarded around the community, causing health, safety and environmental concerns. To address this issue, the local organization for youths, Kallpa, has implemented a five- year program to solve this problem in cooperation with the community. Kallpa will be teach youth in the community about healthy living and the consequences of polluting. Mikel Iriarte, one of the trip leaders and a film student, had the idea to make a stop motion video with the children as a means to encourage recycling.The children of the community were always eager to play, and constantly enjoying their time outside in the sun. They were constantly getting dirty, climbing poles and running barefoot everywhere. It was a challenge to get and keep their attention, which we did in part by ensuring that they were the decision-makers on the project.
As we worked together, we found that language barriers brought us closer to the children of 1ero de Mayo, as we continuously tried to understand each other. Our project had three stages: Collecting found materials (also a way of encouraging recycling), creating sea creatures from these and making the video using these sea creatures as characters. For the first step, we searched and collected objects that were ‘interesting’. Our suggestion to the children were to find interesting objects that are thrown away because they had no use. The children were eager to find different objects; it was exciting to see them going around their community to collect items. They were constantly asking our group if the objects they found were interesting. Some children would stay for a while and then run off home, while others would participate the entire day. These objects were initially everyday objects once used within a family.
This step in the project triggered a reaction from the children who were beginning to realize how much garbage was being discarded in their community. The second step was to wash and reuse the objects to make sea creatures. Three members from our group sat in front of a house and started making sea creatures. One by one, students started to join them. Creating sea animals brought different children together where they can use their creativity. Through art, everyone was able to understand each other and continue with the process of art making. Not only were the children making creatures but also made sounds and actions to explain which creature they were making. E. Garber (2004) describes education as “…a vehicle of social transformation” (p.2) and this project demonstrated transformation in action. Although there was an obvious language barrier between the volunteers and the children, we had a great connection that helped us accomplish our goals. I felt that we did not have to explain the notion of recycling to the children, in that our actions were louder than words. It was evident that collaborative art making resonated with some of the children when the next day, they made their own creations.
The third step was to take photographs for the stop motion video. Originally, we planned for the children to shoot on video, but found this was too difficult to do. Stop motion video is a long and slow process and it was difficult to keep young children focused. The children were more interested in making objects rather than participating in making the video. All the children were interested in being in front of the camera but they did not follow our instructions. Some of them started playing with other found materials and others started making their own toys.
I realized here that my language barrier and my difficulty to express my ideas made it hard to ask the children to participate with full cooperation. I believe that as group we succeeded in teaching the children about recycling with the first two steps of the project. In turn they had taught us how to speak some Spanish and tackle different situations and cultural differences that had arisen during our project. In the end, we had only a few children helping out with the long process of creating the video. In a culturally different environment, we cannot expect everything to work out as we envision. We have to be ready to adapt to different methods of living and working that may not be similar to our own.
Finally, when the children were able to see the video, they had created, they were very happy and excited. This video was not only shown to the young children of the community but to the adults as well. Although this is simply the beginning of their learning to care for their environment as well as their own health, I believe there was an impact. Our group hopes that the people of 1ero de Mayo continue to raise awareness and communicate the risks and consequences of polluting and dumping garbage into the river.
As Lowe (2001) affirms, together children can learn to use art as an agent of social change (p. 458). With ongoing teaching from Kallpa, I am positive that the youth of 1ero de Mayo will learn to improve and take care of their health and environment. Recyclar por Favor was a success because we did not impose our beliefs and strategies onto the community. It was important for us to realize that our perspectives and methods may be different from the people in 1ero de Mayo. As educators, we must encourage students to take charge of their own projects, allowing them to act on their creativity and potential. When working with culturally different populations, we have to be open to change. As an art educator, I realize that children have as much to offer to me as I may for them. It is a continuous give-and-take situation, with a steady flow of discovery. Making a stop motion video with the children of 1ero de Mayo was a wonderful experience.
References: Garber, E. (2004). Social justice and art education. Visual Art Research, 30 (2): p. 4-22 Lowe. S. S. (2001). The art of community transformation. Education and Urban Society, 33 (4): p. 457