It has been a while since I can focus on this blog. For the last month, I have been focusing on writing my graduate creative work proposal. Tomorrow, I’ll turn it in hoping that it gets approved, so I can go ahead and focus on making the best out of it. Today, I’ll share a small part of my proposal, as it is design related, and most importantly, I would like to know what you think of it.
Industrial Design Outreach Version for Homeless Teenagers in Colombia: Design Education – Opening doors and creating opportunities
“The mission of the Industrial Outreach Project (iDo) is to promote the field of industrial design and use of its methodologies to enhance education.” iDo is a collaboration between public high school professors and SF State college students on hands-on interdisciplinary design projects that provide “high-school students with experiences that foster curiosity, promote creativity, and build self-confidence.” The aim of the program is to help students develop vocational skills in the industrial design field.
In the summer of 2011, iDo Colombia will be delivered to homeless teenagers living at the Casa Corazones (Hearts Home) from the Children of the Andes Foundation (Fundación Niños de los Andes) in Bogotá, Colombia. With iDo Colombia, I aim to help homeless teenagers gain a basic understanding of industrial design skills that could be applied in their everyday lives. An understanding of the design process will help them to identify, analyze and solve problems. This will help them to express their emotions, learn new ways to make a living, become more environmentally conscious and learn how to work as a team.
The Fundación Niños de los Andes has been active for almost three decades and in that time has helped transform hundreds of children’s lives. The foundation’s work involves psychological work with abandoned kids and teenagers to help them feel a valuable part society. Many graduates of the program have confirmed that it has helped them to:
- Escape from violence, prostitution and drug addiction
- Increase their weight and overcome malnutrition
- Acquire the skills necessary to sustain themselves
- Enjoy healthy recreation
- Heal their wounds, both on their body and their soul
- Enjoy their childhood and escape child labor
- Share their life with their peers
- Learn how to forgive
- Make their dreams a reality
Today, many graduates of The Children of the Andes Foundation have left the streets behind and now live normal and successful lives with new families.
Genesis of the Research
From the moment I started my graduate studies in the Design and Industry department at San Francisco State University, I wanted to focus on something that had a connection with my Colombian heritage. At first, I wanted to create a piece of furniture with Colombian symbols that also included a modern European feel. During the first year of my graduate studies, I kept on going back and forth on how to achieve a meaningful design for the Colombian Diaspora. I knew that I wanted to create a product or a piece of furniture that could be of use to my country and other communities around the world. In my search for a meaningful way to focus my thesis, I decided to join iDo. After my first couple of months, I developed an understanding of the importance of bringing design education to at risk teenagers. By joining the California Bench curriculum as a mentor, I learnt how to develop an experience for the kids and realized that I could share my designs with others through both a designer-user relationship and importantly, a designer/mentor-student relationship. As a result, I refocused my creative work with the goal of bringing a similar experience to Colombia.
The next step was to identify the most appropriate part Colombian society to work with and after seeing the documentary The Two Escobars, I decided to focus on homeless kids. The Two Escobars explores violence and inequality in Colombia. The film focuses on Pablo Escobar, the world’s most wanted drug lord of the eighties and nineties, and Andres Escobar a humble soccer player raised in the slums of Medellin. The following quote inspired the concept behind iDo Colombia:
We went to school in the same neighborhood, our families didn’t have enough money to feed us, and one day Pablo said a phrase that caught my attention: ‘Jaime, cousin, no rich person in Colombia does anything for the poor. How can we balance inequality in our country? Stealing from the rich. What opportunities of education and employment did Pablo have? His option was to steal. Soon he turned to more lucrative ventures like contraband and dealing drugs – Jaime Gaviria, Pablo Escobar’s cousin.
Pablo Escobar became the master architect of more than 5,000 murders. As a child, he wanted a bright future, yet because of the lack of accessibility to education and opportunities, he turned to the streets to become “El Capo” (The Boss).
Pablo Escobar was born in the 1950s, a very difficult time for Colombia. According to the International Bank of Reconstruction and Promotion, the Colombian educational system was grim. The rate of illiteracy impacted 44 percent of the population and grade school reached only 46 percent of children between seven and eleven years old.
The Two Escobars opened my eyes to the necessity of providing educational opportunities to children and teenagers not only in Colombia, but also in other parts of the world. It also made me question whether poor kids in Colombia knew what design was. At this moment, I saw a strong connection between the work done at iDo, bringing design education to high school students, and the necessity to offer possibilities to children, teenagers and young people in Colombia.
Objectives of the Study
The iDo Colombia curriculum has been in development since 2010, will be implemented in the summer of 2011 and will then be evaluated to determine its impact. While I have been developing the curriculum, I’ve been focusing on the following objectives:
- Teach the design process to the teenagers from the Fundacion Niños de Los Andes – I aim to introduce participants to the different steps designers go through in order to solve a problem and give them a framework to apply that rationale to challenges faced in everyday life. I believe the design process should not be exclusive to designers and instead, it should be inclusive and universal.
- Provide basic design/construction skills – With small workshops, I hope to teach basic design concepts and how they may be applied to the construction of prototypes. Hopefully some of these concepts can be combined with skills the kids have acquired in other classes to help them prepare to rejoin the broader society.
- Gain insights to be applied into future iDo programs – As this is the first time iDo concepts will be applied to a different country and different target group, there are many lessons to be learnt from this project. Even if the project doesn’t succeed, together with the iDo team, we will have acquired unique insight into what worked and what didn’t work out. This is important as we can use the information to refine future iDo projects to increase the probability of success.
Statement of Problem
On the streets, kids have access to many negative things, including drugs, which could lead them to engage in illegal activities (see fig. 1). “With trust in the home severely eroded by violence, children spend long periods of time in the streets with their friends. Young men often join gangs or military groups associated with political violence. Young women engage in sexual relations at an early age, often becoming pregnant.” Teenage life anywhere in the world is challenging and involves decisive moments that mark a young adult’s future. “Adolescence is generally understood as the period between the ages of 15-19 … the term young adult is the most apt term for this age group, and without doubt, many biological, psychological, and behavioral changes take place.” When teenagers are not being provided with the right educational tools they may choose vandalism, drug use and criminal behavior as a response to boredom and a lack of opportunity. Through iDo Colombia, I hope to share an educational tool (design) that could help improve the life of street teenagers. My intention is also to reconnect them to their Colombian heritage by showing them what other Colombian artisans and designers have done in order to share a cultural identity. Through creative expression, homeless teenagers could develop a positive sense of identity and purpose.
Since Fall 2010, I have been working on the California Bench curriculum at iDo. The bench is meant to house thirty panels made by Thurgood Marshal High School (TMHS) students. Each panel represents a slice of California’s history and how each student perceives it. The curriculum inspires students to look at their personal history and connect it to the history of California. Through this curriculum, I am inspiring students to learn and celebrate their heritage, explore their creative expression and discover laser technology, as each design is being engraved on a small wood panel. I believe some of the activities developed by the iDo team could be introduced in Colombia as a way to inspire students to celebrate their cultural roots, enjoy education, stay at school and graduate.
In the Children of the Andes Foundation 2009 report, they manifested the need for people to teach their young students how to make Christmas cards. They also identified the need for designers to teach them how to make useable products with recyclable materials or materials they could easily access. They are in need of designers willing to share their knowledge and guide them towards becoming active and positive members of the society. This is one more reason to focus my creative work towards this cause.
“Providing a fair start for children means taking a long-term view and investing in human potential, and experience. This has shown to be a productive venture.” Supporting the right type of educational environment for teenagers is investing in human capital. This is not only important in Colombia, but also all over the world.
If you believe in this project, I am rasin funds to get all the necessary materials to implement this project. Please contact me if you want to make a donation. Not only me, but also the kids from the Children of the Andes Foundation would greatly appreciated.