I first met Jeff while acting as Social Media Chair for AIGAKC. Jeff saw a real need for design education in Guatemala and has been recruiting creative professionals to help Guatemalan youth ever since through Design4Kids. After learning about the program, I asked him to contribute to our Discussions blog, and I am honored that he agreed to participate this year in my Summer Interview Series.Â Aside from his involvement with Design4Kids, Jeff also works as a designer and photographer.
How did you become aware of the need for a program like Design4Kids in Guatemala?
In October of 2006, I was surfing the web looking for programs that taught photography to impoverished kids. When I found Fotokids and learned that former Reuters war correspondent, Nancy McGirr, was teaching kids from the Guatemala City dump how to use cameras for documentation and self expression I was moved to tears. Somehow, I had to help.
About the same time I learned about photographer Phil Borgesâ€™ foundation, Bridges to Understanding. Bridges unites kids around the world through storytelling using digital cameras, audio recorders, and technology. They had a training program for adults to learn the process and mentor kids in telling their stories. Later when I learned they were conducting their program in Guatemala with Fotokids, I signed up immediately.
During one amazing week in November 2007, 16 adults worked with 16 Fotokids in Santiago Atitlan to develop, write, storyboard, shoot, record, and assemble two simple but powerful films. One of the stories entitled â€œMi Futuroâ€ was narrated by 15 year old David Ixbalan, a talented young artist who dreams of being a graphic designer but loves his village and wants to return there after he finishes his education in Guatemala City. There aren’t graphic design jobs in Santiago, so his dreams seem impossible.
Against this backdrop, Nancy McGirr told me about her plan to develop a Santiago extension of their design studio called Jakaramba. Established by Fotokids graduates in Guatemala City, Jakaramba serves businesses and non-profit organizations and provides jobs for young design professionals. Before you knew it, I was offering to come teach what I could. When I suddenly realized that I couldnâ€™t do this alone I said â€œand Iâ€™ll bring colleagues too.â€ As it turns out, thatâ€™s the best part. Not only is Design4Kids a chance to teach, mentor, collaborate, and grow with talented youth, itâ€™s an opportunity to meet and work with other talented creative professionals from around the world.
You recently finished the Summer 2010 program: could you share a few highlights with our readers?
Design4Kids Workshop 4, aka D4K4, was a little different than the first 3. Instead of working with teens, D4K4 students were mostly in their early 20â€™s: all founding members of Jakaramba. Our workshops are always structured around producing a real project for a non-profit client. This time that client was Fotokids, and the project was a 20th anniversary book which was presented and discussed with Nancy McGirr and one of the board members. You can see the results here.
The heart and soul of our workshops are the creative professionals who donate their time, expertise, and hard earned cash to travel to Central America and join our workshops. D4K4â€™s Traveling Mentors included Dutch portrait photographer Eric Lolkema, who taught Lightroom basics and lead the morning photo walks, Washington D.C. architectural photographer Stu Estler, who taught lighting and HDR photography, and HP Marketing Director Cathy Shea, who taught basic marketing and project management. All coached one-on-one and in small groups during project time.
To expand our studentâ€™s access to more creative professionals we once again invited designers to comment on the students’ first draft designs. Nine creative professionals took time out of their busy days to visit our web site and leave thoughtful critiques: Phil Borges, Rodrigo Zarco, Von Glitschka, Jacob Cass, Stephen Tiano, Neto Gonzalez, Donovan Beery, Dariela Cruz, Nate Voss, and Telva MejÃa Tefel.
Building on the success of using online reviewers in D4K3, we extended our classroom to include two creative professionals teaching and mentoring directly from a distance. Kitty Florido and Vanesa Juarez gave a class on using social media via Skype, and then worked with their students via Twitter, Facebook, and email. During the workshop, students made regular postings to the Design4Kids blog as well as to Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook. They pioneered and proved the concept of Online Mentors so well that we will offer that way of volunteering again.
Aside from coordinating the program and working professionally as a graphic designer, you are also a photographer. How have your experiences working with these teens affected your personal work?
Tremendously: I now consider Design4Kids as my most important creative work. Itâ€™s more collaborative, demanding, and rewarding than anything Iâ€™ve ever done. It benefits the kids, the volunteers, and me. We all grow together. Now the photography I value the most creating and working with, are the images I make of my students and their mentors. Both groups have all challenged me to stretch and grow myself as an artist. For instance, Iâ€™m now exploring different techniques for mixing light, shadow, and hands-on print making processes. One is screen printing, an interest that began as a way to bring our students low-tech printing technique they can do on their own. I think itâ€™s important that they learn the fundamentals of printing in a hands-on way.
How can designers and other creatives get more involved with Design4Kids? Are there other ways to show support aside from volunteering?
Our mission at Design4Kids is to help youth develop their creative potential by working with creative professionals in a project-based learning environment. We are always looking for big-hearted folks with related ad agency, design studio, photography, fine art, or marketing communication skills, to travel with us for a life-changing experience working with talented kids from another culture.
Of course not everyone can afford the time or money, so the next biggest way folks can help is to spread the word about our program to tell everyone they know in the business. You never know who might be harboring a secret desire to combine a love of travel with a chance to make a lasting impact. This is a grass-roots effort, and all of our volunteers have come to us through friends of friends and through social media efforts. So every conversation matters.
Designers may also participate as Online Mentors, or Online Reviewers. If any of you are interested, contact me at jeffspeigner [at] yahoo.com. We also accept design books, art supplies, and teaching aids. You can find a wish list here. People can also support our efforts through tax-deductable cash donations through the San Carlos Foundation and Fotokids. The funds help us purchase and transport books, art supplies, and teaching aids.