Photography in Motion
OJOS nuevos is a social documentary project that puts cameras in the hands of at-risk youth in South America. Photographers Lindy Drew and Christine Mladic started the project to let girls living in (hogars) group homes explore the creativity, enjoyment, and importance of photography. As photographers, the kids were able to lose themselves in a rewarding activity and tell their stories from their points of view, capturing what life is like for them and what life is like in Chile. Using digital cameras and computers, 10 girls participated in photography workshops for over 5 months. They watched slideshows exposing them to international photography, learned about the history of photography and when cameras used to use film, learned how to protect and hide their cameras in public (the hard way), and felt the anticipation of waiting for their pictures to come back from the printer. The grand finale to the workshop was to photograph for a day in Valparaíso, a picturesque coastal town about 2 hours away from Santiago. Some girls preferred to shoot in their neighborhood, whereas others only found interesting subject matter in new surroundings. Some girls would walk right up to strangers and shoot their portraits, whereas others embraced self-portraiture. With so much to document and so much to learn from making pictures, the kids soared with the opportunity. OJOS nuevos was first introduced to Hogar San Francisco de Regis with cameras collected through donations by Christine Mladic. She continued the project in Hogar Aldea María Reina. Lindy Drew brought OJOS nuevos to Hogar Nuestra Señora de la Paz thanks to a generous donation from PENTAX and TakeGreatPictures.com.
The Girls Hogares
Hogar Aldea Maríia Reina and Hogar Nuestra Señora de la Paz are homes for girls in the neighborhood of Puente Alto, Santiago’s south side. Started by religious foundations, both hogares receive funds from the government organization SENAME, Chile’s National Service for Minors. The hogares provide the girls with a safe temporary home that their families cannot give them. There are girls that have been in the system their whole life and will probably remain in it until they are self-sufficient. Many have godmothers and family members that take them out of the hogar on the weekends, celebrate the holidays with them, and buy them special gifts. In some cases, however, parents do visit their children and work with the directors, social workers, psychologists, and other professionals to eventually take their girls back home and surpass the struggles the families are dealing with. Each hogar is different, but these hogars have room for 30 to 60 girls between 5 and 19 years old. On a typical day, the girls wake up early, shower, get dressed, and go to class until the afternoon. When they get home they help with chores, work on their homework, and eat dinner. Apart from going to school, eating meals together, and bedtime, there is little structure, so the staff and kids welcome volunteers to contribute new ideas and projects to keep the girls active and involved. Occasionally there are field trips, guest visitors, or holiday celebrations, but normally the older girls plant themselves in front of a TV with fuzzy reception while the younger ones run around outside in the plaza picking fruit off trees, swinging from homemade hammocks made of sheets, or wiggling their way into the office in search of adult attention. The school system in Santiago is unequal, under-funded and in need of development. Sometimes homework consists of copying words from books or cutting and pasting letters in notebooks. In addition, some of the girls have difficulty reading and it is a challenge motivating them to study because they may lack patience, may not see the advantages, or may not have the constant adult attention they desire to help them excel. Nevertheless, they love to draw, paint, dance, make jewelry, play soccer, exercise, and listen to hip-hop and reggaeton. Resting on a continent with one of the world’s largest income gaps between rich and poor, Chile stands out as having significant success in some areas and serious underdevelopment in others. Thousands of youth find themselves without stable homes or access to services that could drastically improve their lives. The institutions these youth enter vary, as some are bright, clean, and organized, while others are poorer and less structured. In either case, Chile’s hogars do their best to provide their children with the necessary tools to prepare them for a healthy adulthood. For many of the children, hogar life is their daily reality and their only possibility of getting out ahead. A volunteer’s presence can provide a profound influence on one child or on an entire hogar.
VEGlobal : Volunteers of Hope
Voluntarios de la Esperanza (VEGlobal) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing equality of opportunity to Chilean children and ending cycles of poverty and child abuse. International volunteers form a citywide team that works in 14 independent orphanages, community centers, and schools in Santiago. They develop and implement a variety of programs in education, recreation, culture, and resource management while providing love and affection to the kids as positive role models. Volunteers participate in every aspect of life in their institutions from food preparation, helping with homework, driving the kids to the doctor’s office, and attending parent teacher conferences. They act as mentors, motivating and encouraging the kids on a more personal level since their ages are much closer to the kids. Each volunteer defines his or her own experience depending on his or her involvement and creativity. What the volunteers give is paid back in hugs, kisses, memorable stories, and learning experiences. Beyond day to day activities, volunteers work together to organize eclectic and entertaining workshops for the kids while providing concrete support to the institutions. Together volunteers work to build a better future for a select group of Chile’s children by improving their social situation. Volunteers that have left Santiago continue their service in a worldwide network in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. They may continue being an active part of VE by educating the public about the effects of poverty, organizing fundraising events, or collecting resources in their own countries. Combining the desire for a better world with the determination to obtain concrete results, VE does not only dream of change, but continues to be it.