By Anna McGrath
Para leer el artículo en español.
During the spring semester 2010 Loyola University’s Dr. Thomas Ward, Professor of Spanish and Latin American and Latino Studies, offered students from two of his classes a unique service-learning opportunity. Students from SN201D: Spanish Composition and Conversation and SN351D: Literature and Identity Politics in Peru came together to work with the non-profit organization (NGO) located in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood known as Artesanos Don Bosco with the goal of lowering the high levels of poverty existing in the Peruvian Andes.
The founder of the The Don Bosco School for artisans was Father Ugo De Censi, a Salesian priest from Italy. At the school, children receive their elementary school education and they also focus on the fine arts such as drawing, carving and carpentry. After graduating, students move to the “Familia de Artesanos Don Bosco” where young adults develop their carpentry skills and build furniture to be sold in Lima, Baltimore and Italy. Baltimore is the sole outlet for Don Bosco furniture in the United States.
The hand-made furniture and religious art are made by Don-Bosco trained artisans in their home communities in the high Andes, and each is made by only one person from start to finish. As proof of the individual artisan’s skill, on each item can be found the autograph of the person who made it. All profits from sales in Italy, Lima, and Baltimore are then sent directly back to the artists and their families in Peru.
The service-experience went hand-in-hand with the texts that were being read in SN351D: Literature and Identity Politics in Peru. Students read from the Royal Commentaries by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega who had to defend the Inca ruling class against the attitudes common among the Spanish invaders in Peru. These Europeans saw indigenous Andeans as heathens and uncivilized. Peruvian Traditions by Ricardo Palma revealed how Criollo authors painted native Andeans as dumb or ignorant. Readings by Juana Manuela Gorriti, as well as the Inca Garcilaso, showed how the Spanish conquistadors had developed a lust for gold and to what lengths they would go to extract Peru’s wealth, thereby impoverishing native Peruvians. On the positive side students read Clorinda Matto de Turner’s defense of the Quechua language, the language spoken by many of the Don Bosco artisans. Regarding the connections between literature and the economic reality in Peru, sophomore Kathryn Madigan sums it up this way, “We read the different aspects of Peru, and we were aware that poverty existed there but it was pleasing to know that there are organizations out there that also realize this and are trying to help.” She adds, “Also it was rewarding to contribute towards ending all of this poverty that we have been reading about.”
Professor Ward and his students have reached out to Artesanos Don Bosco to help specifically in their Public Relations Department. To celebrate the collaboration, from March 25 until March 30, the Loyola/Notre Dame Library hosted an exhibit of some of the furniture and artwork. The exhibit was a big success with sales and with spreading word of the overall mission to help the Artisan people help themselves. During the week students, faculty and administrators from both Loyola University and the College of Notre Dame who visited the library were able to appreciate the smart elegance of the artifacts crafted in a design that represented a perfect fusion of traditional Peruvian style and a modernist Italian aesthetic.
“I really enjoyed working with the men from Don Bosco. The opportunity was not like anything I had ever done before and was a great experience. It is important to help others and the mission of Don Bosco is very good,” said Fernando Borjas-Pavón, who participated in the Don Bosco exhibition at the library. Another student very involved in the planning of the event was Helen White who describes her experience this way: “One of the most striking things I learned from the exhibition was how the compassion of even a small group of people can go such a long way. It is so inspiring to see how the selflessness of the missionaries from Artesanos Don Bosco has truly improved the lives of Peruvian citizens.” Helen’s experience has also helped her to understand something about the uneven lines of economic power in our ever increasingly globalized world. She adds, “There is a lot I will take with me after my service-learning experience with Don Bosco. I now truly recognize the value in supporting all things fair trade, to help respect the dignity of people everywhere trying to make a living. And after this semester, I would never hesitate signing up for another service-learning course.”
After the exhibition, two students from the Composition and Conversation class, Alexa Cavacchioli and Laura Schwartz, organized a cultural event for intermediate Spanish students. They showed a documentary film on Don Bosco and also explained how students could get involved and gave out brochures. Alexa and Laura chose a very concise and descriptive title for their event, “Helping People Help Themselves: The Selfless Mission of Don Bosco
in the Peruvian Highlands.”
What would make a student get involved with this kind of project? Laura Schwartz explains how it was for her: “Don Bosco attracted me because I especially love doing service in the Spanish-speaking community. I have served in El Salvador and Costa Rica, and also with a local parish ESL program. To me, Spanish is more than just grammar and vocabulary. It is immersing myself in a Hispanic community or with Spanish-speaking people to discover how they live and to help in any way that I can.” One of the beautiful things of service-learning is helping people, but it is also finding ways to perceive unequal hierarchies of power so that more equitable economic relationships can be developed. Alexa Cavacchioli hints at this when she reflects on her experience: “Don Bosco attracted me the moment I set foot in their store in Federal Hill. The store was so warm and inviting and Mirko and Jorge were extremely friendly. After watching the documentary on Don Bosco's mission, I was completely motivated to help as much as I possibly could with this organization. The mission is absolutely beautiful. I loved the fact that it wasn't an organization SOLELY helping people, but rather an organization teaching people how to help themselves. Through learning a trade, these artesanos can now help their own families and provide for themselves.”
Of course service-learning is not just about helping others; it is about forming intellectual relationships not only with other students, but with other people. Katie Madigan reflects on this part of the experience: “I have gotten to know so many of my classmates, whom I otherwise would not know. Now we have something to talk about outside of class. Also through this experience and being able to tell people about Don Bosco, I have been able to spread awareness about poverty in Peru to my parents, my friends, and other students on campus.
Loyola students also commented on their work with Don Bosco.
For more product information or store locations, log on to their website www.artesanosdonbosco.com.