Setbacks and Exciting Progress

Rosa Druker

Pintando La Parva: Afterschool art classes at La Parva school. Viña del Mar, Chile.

Week 4-6

I’m going to try to keep this entry quite general because I have some big exciting news to share for this current week, and I’d like to decide an entire post to my updates. I hope this cliffhanger is exciting for my dedicated readership (Hi, mom and dad!).

As you remember, since my arrival to Chile, public school teachers have been on strike, making the realization of my project painfully slow. The strikes continued for the past several weeks and we saw inconsistent attendance and a growing feeling of lethargy from everyone. Furthermore, the past two weeks were winter vacation, so many students were visiting family and could not come to class. We decided to open up the classroom twice a week to give more opportunities to the students who were able to come.

Each class we had between 1 and 7 students. We pulled out big paper, paints, markers, went outside to observe trees, googled pictures on our phones, brainstormed positive messages for the community and took selfies. Two friends of mine came to volunteer their time with us– a North American exchange students I met here, and a Chilean artist who currently resides in France. We had a blast. One of the great elements of my project is that the students are being exposed to people different from themselves right there in their own school.

During week four we divided into groups and each group picked a wall in the school to realize their mural. We all donned stylish paint smocks and got to painting the wall with white paint. This class was really enjoyable because we started to truly envision the final products and the impact they will have on the school. I left the school that day feeling that my confidence in our project had been rekindled.


It finally feels real. (The person in the middle is my friend, generously volunteering his time)

The following week we started planning the murals, but our progress felt sluggish. The main frustration with the lack of a consistent attendance is that our project is by nature collaborative. When one or zero group members shows up, the whole process of collaboration falls apart.


Brainstorming with markers.

A major personal success during these weeks has been the growth of my relationships with the students. Since we have had so much downtime, students who show up regularly have seen a lot of me. They feel totally comfortable asking me any random questions that might occur to them about my life. I am so impressed by the confidence with which certain students express their emotions and goals. One young man in particular has spoken to me a lot about his goal if moving into an apartment with friends because he finds his home situation to be stressful. Since I have lived with friends, I encouraged him to follow his dream, and also explained some of the potential challenges of that independence. They are definitely growing on me, even though they totally pretend that they suddenly don’t under my accent when I say it’s time to clean up.

Self portraits, sandwiches, and a mini-history lesson

Rosa Druker

Pintando La Parva: Afterschool art classes at La Parva school. Viña del Mar, Chile.

Week Three

The bad news: the teachers are still on strike with no easy solution in sight. The good news: twelve students came to my class and we shared food and made art. Me and Belén, the art teacher at La Parva, had aggressively launched a campaign to spread the word: calling students, messaging them on watsapp (apparently I am shockingly out of date for not using the online-messaging app), and telling everybody to invite their friends. Plus the added incentive of free food. I looked around at twelve young faces gathered around the table, and launched into my earth-shatteringly inspired speech. “Can anyone tell me what a mural is?” Murals are for everybody. Murals send a message. “What themes can a mural have?” Anti-bullying, friendship, protecting the environment.

Getting ready before class.

Getting ready before class.

Our first activity was to draw self-portrait caricatures on big sheets of paper, to represent our unique characteristics. I walked around the room offering encouragement and admiring their handiwork. I kept having the same exchange again and again:

Me: Wow, that looks great.

Student: It’s ugly/bad. I don’t know how to draw hands/eyes/hair.

Me: You know it doesn’t have to be realistic, right?
Student: *looks at me suspiciously*

Finished products!

Finished products!

Seeing this attitude made me realize why I am here in Chile, doing this project. The students have a timidness with their creativity and self-expression, and there is value in whatever small my workshops change that, or open up their confidence.


In 2006, high school students went on strike for approximately two months, culminating in some of the largest political demonstrations in the past 30 years in Chile. Students in schools all over the country were occupied by students. They were demanding, in short, a more equal education system with better accessibility.
The catalyst of the wide-spread dissatisfaction? Under the Pinochet dictatorship, the legal framework for education was laid into place, and has remain relatively intact, despite the public condemnation of the regime. This neo-liberal policy minimizes the state’s responsibility for education, and puts it into the hands of private corporations and local government. As I explained in my previous post, education had become commodified. These protests set the precedence for social activism and strikes in the schools. However, many of the demands made by students where not met, and continue incite frustration and tension.

La Mesa De Conversacion: Week Two

Folks file out of the rec center Tuesday nights and I rearrange tables and wash dishes. The frenzy of organizing abates, leaves relief in its wake. At times it’s a satisfied relief, paired with enthusiasm for the next week, yet other times it soon gives way to apprehension: how will I manage to make next week fresh? How could I have better facilitated that conversation?

Week One of La Mesa found me enthused and ready to take on challenges in the next week. The following Tuesday, we catered delicious fajitas from the same restaurant as before, a local Mexican-owned diner that offers few Mexican food options but will cater just about anything. Again, I was ecstatic about the turnout- nineteen people, but a slightly different nineteen than the time before.

I’d had some trouble facilitating one-on-one partnered learning the first week, and so this week had printed off a worksheet-esque set of questions in both languages. The questions ranged from simple (“what is your favorite color?”) to slightly more complex (“what’s your favorite summer activity?”)

Beautifully, the group self-organized so that Spanish learners were sitting next to English learners. The task was simple: use the questions on the sheet to introduce your partner to the group. I paired with Marisol and we quickly went through the questions, soon falling into a conversation about school and work. At some point, I noticed the timbre of the group had changed, and realized that every pair had a) finished with their questions, and b) not stopped talking. Somehow, the activity had successfully led to the more informal dialogue I’d been hoping to create.

The happy buzz of conversation continued for about twenty minutes before I brought the group together for a larger, translated conversation, around the topic of summer celebrations. Very quickly, this morphed into a more specific discussion of weddings, marriage, and divorce, which proved to be a hilarious topic, easily lasting for the rest of the meeting. My mom, who has been attending La Mesa and bravely practicing her Spanish, left the meeting completely energized. “How great it was to laugh with each other!”

SYK Youth Part 4: Cherry Blossom Festival

Week 4- Cherry Blossom Festival

SYK Youth Dance Group,
Wynonna Ardiansyah,
Twin Cities, MN
Part 4

Hello from SYK youth! This week we’re jam-packed with performances and fun activities! This post will focus more on the Cherry Blossom Festival while next week’s will talk about kite activities and our private performance on Monday night.

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Our group in the parking lot getting ready to head over to the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Our group got all dressed and prepped at the stockroom really early in the morning, at about 8 am. Still, everyone was awake and busy helping everyone each other out. We then drove out in cars and vans to the Cherry Blossom Festival, all in record time!

It was a lovely day to plant cherry blossom trees with the sun shining and the breeze all nice and cool. The St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee (SPNSCC) commemorated a couple of cherry blossom trees and a couple of our group members were able to join in on the planting action. There were also performances by the Junshin Ladies’ Peace Singers, the local Taiko drum group and a sweet message by the two guests of honor: Seikoo and Akiko Nakamura, both accomplished kite flyers from Nagasaki!

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Posing for the camera after a successful performance!

We performed our dance and the audience seemed to enjoy it a lot! For many in our dance group it was their first time performing with us. Some of us were a bit nervous before the performance but afterwards, we agreed that it was a lot of fun.

The breeze picked up after we performed and we all had a chance to play, run around and just have fun. It was actually even more fun to do all this in our kimonos and happi coats.

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We tried out Hata kite flying with Seikoo Nakamura (left) and Akiko Nakamura (center). This set had 60 kites to celebrate the 60th anniversary of St. Paul and Nagasaki as sister cities.

The best part of the whole thing though? Kite flying. I said before that it was a lovely day for a festival. Well, it was an even lovelier day to fly kites! We got to try out Seikoo and Akiko Nakamura’s massive kites! Not massive as in large, but massive as in really, really long. They flew two types of kites in commemoration of the 60th anniversary celebrations. One was a set of 60 alternating kites patterned with the the Japanese and American flag while the other was a set of more than 100 rainbow kites.

We had a lot of fun!

La Mesa de Conversacion: Jumping Off

On June 9th I anxiously awaited the arrival of participants to the inaugural conversation table. The Oregon coast rarely gets hot, but today was exceptional; even with all the fans in the community recreational center on at full blast it was sweltering as I anxiously waited for folks to show up. We had ordered a pot of pozole and tostadas for the afternoon, and the hot soup was simultaneously delicious-looking, unappetizing in the heat, and seemed overly optimistic- I had ordered food for twenty people, and wasn’t sure if anybody but myself and Marisol would show up!

All set up for dinner and conversation!

All set up for dinner and conversation!

Luckily, as 6:00 neared, people started filing in. By 6:15, we had a group of nineteen clustered around the tables I had set up, more than I dreamed would show up for the first week.

I encouraged people to serve themselves and then, after several minutes of eating and casual conversation, I finally jumped in to bring the conversation together. In general, that first meeting was both chaotic and fulfilling: we discussed the theme of welcoming, which led to some good conversation and connection across language barriers. At one point, I left briefly to let the kids present into another room, where they had toys and games to occupy themselves while the adults talked. I returned to a lull in the conversation, and tried–and failed!– to transition the conversation to more informal partner learning with the variety of bilingual books and dictionaries I had spent money on. As a result, the last thirty minutes became a time of very informal connection, which wasn’t on the whole bad, but wasn’t what I had in mind.

I left the Rec Center that Tuesday with feelings of profound relief and gratitude that the first meeting hadn’t completely flopped. Especially heartening were the words of Jesus, a kid my age who had recently moved here from the LA area.

“If you had a program like this where I’m from, people would be lined up out the door to participate,” he said. “Not because of the free food. People want to have this cultural connection. They just don’t know how to make it happen.”

Plan B: Because Something Unexpected Always Happens

Rosa Druker

Pintando La Parva: Afterschool art classes at La Parva school. Viña del Mar, Chile.

Week Two

      I’m sitting across for the principal, Juan Carlos, at Escuela La Parva. “We need a Plan B,” I tell him. I just finished up teaching a workshop attended by one student. One. Despite meeting several other students who expressed interested and committed to come that day, things were not going as planned. I had not dedicate enough thought to the cardinal rule: your lesson plan and impeccable pedagogy are worthless if the students doesn’t show up. So we get down to Plan B: call parents, invite students to share a meal, and decide it’s time to down to painting straight away.

While preparing for my project, I sat around at my desk in the United States and tried to imagine every possible circumstance that might be a barrier to my project. Now I’m sitting at a desk in Chile, dealing with something I never would have expected: the public school teachers of Chile are on an indefinite strike. For over a month, classes have been suspended. Teachers are demanding that the government rewrite its new educational law, raising the base salary, giving special incentive to teachers in schools serving vulnerable populations, and compensation for hours worked in the home preparing to teach. Teachers feel their profession is undervalued by society and that they are being denied the resources to do their jobs effectively.

What does this mean for my project? Although classes are suspended, the school is not shut down. Every day students attend workshops, eat school lunch there, and come to socialize. Most days the teachers come to the schools to attend meetings and plan how they will participate in the next march or demonstration. I underestimated how strongly the strike would impact morale of the community. I asked the one student who showed up to my workshop why his friends didn’t come, and he explained that because of the strikes everyone is “lazy” and doesn’t want to get out of bed. He isn’t the only one saying this: the art teacher who I’ve been working closely with sees the same pattern. The suspension of classes makes students’ backsliding inevitable, both in terms of their learning and work ethic.

My host mom explained her perspective to me as we sat in traffic on the way to the market. “We’ve been fighting the same issues since the 90’s, when I was a teacher,” she explained. “They will never meet their goals because the system is against them. The government prefers them to strike over actually meeting their demands.” Though I was surprised to hear her so pessimistic, her words gave light to a complex situation. Chile is a model of neo-liberal free market policies– a legacy of the brutal Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990)–which is starkly reflected in the educational system. Approximately 40% of Chilean students attend public elementary and high schools; the majority attend charter (a mix of private and public funding) or private schools. Public schools are overwhelming under-funded and serve Chile’s poor. Disparities in the outcomes of students in public and private schools reveal the deep inequalities at play. Education is a commodity, not a right, in Chile.

This Thursday is workshop number two. I’m hoping next time I write, it will be with more positive news. I will also continue to develop the theme of education in Chile, and post some pictures of the school. Hasta pronto!

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Above: Playing chess with Manuel, the music teacher, and Belem, the  art teacher at Escuela La Parva