First Visit to Fundación Niños de Los Andes

Greetings from Bogotá, Colombia!

Here I am, updating you with the beginning of my Design education experience, as I try to fight what seems to be either a cold or an allergy to the Bogotanian pollution.

I arrived Bogotá on Monday June 6th at 11:30 pm, had a day to rest and today headed to two of the houses belonging to the Fundacion Niños de Los Andes. My first stop was the emergency center called Casa Corazones where I met with Martha Gozalez the Coordinator of two of the foundation’s emergency centers. She explained to me that the emergency centers were places where male teenagers stoped for a temporary period of ten days as a way to enter a rehabilitation program from being in the streets. She also made clear that most of these teenagers had problems related with substances. According to Martha, the emergency centers’ goal is to provide initial protection to these kids that is health services, food and housing. After ten days, some kids leave the house to go back to the streets, others are reintegrated to continue the temporal rehabilitation process, and some are taken to permanent centers where they begin a rigorous therapy. After introducing me to many of the educators, social workers and even cooks, she took me to where the kids were playing.

I was incredible nervous about meeting the kids I was going to have under my wing and to whom I was going to introduce to the world of design. When I saw them, they looked vulnerable and sweet at the same time. They were playing soccer under supervision of their teacher Diego. I saw many of them had beautiful bracelets, and Martha and Diego told me that the kids made those bracelets themselves. With authorization, I was able to take a few pics of those bracelets.

Manillas weaved by kids

Kids showing their manillas

They were quite excited about having me taking pictures of their “manillas”. They also asked me what was I going to be teaching them. After I told them Design, they got happy and started asking me if I could teach them how to take photographs as well. Of course I will!

Martha suggested me to focus on transcending from the idea of creating a product to the idea of sensibilizing the teenagers. She made me aware that my work could be therapeutic, and I could help them become aware that by staying in the program they could have better dreams for themselves. Finally she made emphasis in the importance of collecting their opinion on the workshops, that way I could make changes accordingly.

Tomorrow I’ll be back at the house to prepare materials and see what I need to buy, and thanks to all the donations I have received, I will be able to buy what’s necessary, important and even exiting for them. Again Muchas Gracias for all your help.

See you next week with an overview of the beginning of the workshops.

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iDo Colombia – Segunda Parte

Done and done with classes . Now my main focus is to continue the development of my graduate creative work. That is: iDo Colombia, Industrial Design Outreach for at risk teenagers in Bogota, Colombia. In less than a month, I’ll … Continue reading

iDo Colombia: Opening doors and creating opportunities

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

Introduction

“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.

Teenagers from the Fundacion Niños de Los Andes

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.

Teaching high-school students how to create better compositions

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

1. Cathy Moser. Ed., Urban Poor Perceptions of Violence and Exclusion in Colombia. (Washington: The International Bank of Reconstruction and Remodeling, 2000), 23, 7.1.

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.


Fascinating Bus Shelters

Friday night, over a refreshing glass of Ichigo and some Kobe Beef asparragus, my boyfriend and I discussed the future of my creative work. After sketching and drinking away, we realized that there is more to furniture design than what we thought. By the end of the night, we have acknowledged the intricate components of bus shelters.

Bus shelters are structures that while being in the outside, provide protection and a sense of either safety or danger (depending of the design and the area where they are located). Bus shelters host furniture, reflect culture and meet human needs, not to mention their environmental importance.

Through the weekend, I decided to look a bus shelters over the world and have chosen the ones I find most fascinating. Here is to the beauty and importance of bus shelters:

  • Curitiba, Brazil. A futuristic design that proved to enhance the “public transportation” experience.

  • Casar de Caceres, Spain. What looks like a single sheet of concrete is a embracing structure designed by architect Justo García Rubío.

  • Athens, Georgia. American sculptor Christopher Fennel uses parts from decommissioned school buses from the 60s and 70s, to create a fully recycled shelter.

  • Dubai became the first city in the world to offer the luxury of air-conditioned bus shelters for passengers. The goal was to lure people into using public transportation in order to ease the pressure on the roads.

  • Sheffield, England. Green roof shelter. Soon we shall see urban gardens on the roofs of shelters.

  • Paris, France. Designed as part of the smart mobilities project, this bus stop was presented in 2008. Users waiting inside the bus stop could engage via a touch screen interface while pedestrians waiting outside could interact with a 6ft. custom LED display.

  • Victoria, Canada. The Victoria Bug Zoo is all about experiencing the world of insects and spiders. This ad is made from a plastic sheet with hundreds of small magnifying lenses, allowing passersby to see through a bug’s eyes.

  • Landshut, Germany. Design by Hild und K Architeckten. A computer-controlled high-energy laser beam cuts the chosen pattern in the Corten steel sheet. After cutting, the sheet is simply folded into a bus shelter. The internal panes of glass were fitted on the spot.

  • Scottsdale, Arizona. “Wavelength” bus shelter by artist Kevin S. Berry.

  • Sao Paolo, Brazil. Bus Sheleter for world cup. A whole soccer arch for you to inhabit.

  • London, England. Bus shelter modified by Bruno Taylor gives commuters a chance to have a little bit of playtime during their morning commute. He went and attached swings to a number of bus stops around the city.

My next step is to go around different high schools in the city and take pictures of near by bus shelters in order to see how well identified students are, as well as how inspired they may be to take public transportation.

Till next time …