Have you just started grinning when reading something? This post by Tomas Quinonez-Riegos will do just that! While being the international program director for iTeach, using video to teach English to kids all over the world (e.g., Cambodia, Panama, etc.) and spending his first semester junior year in Japan, Tomas has started yet another new venture, which he shares with us here. How did this come about? By Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects #RCUS! Read on, revel in his excitement and in the impact it can have.
During the lunch period we were served small, boxed meals and encouraged, in the collaborative spirit of TED, to sit and converse with other attendees we had not met or did not know. After I received my lunch box, the man who happened to be behind me in line met my eye and he complimented me on my bowtie. I thanked him and as we started to walk toward the dining tables he asked me if I was sitting with anyone. I told him that I was recently arrived into Kyoto and knew almost nobody, so I suggested that we sit together. As we made light conversation I learned he was a 30-year old salary-man working at a pharmaceutical company in nearby Osaka. When I asked him why he came to the conference, what he hoped to gain, he completely lit up. He told me that although he is more or less satisfied with his day-job, he is a staunch believer the idea of art as a means of universal communication and dreamed about somehow connecting communities of children around the world through their artwork. I was absolutely thrilled by the idea and could hardly contain my excitement as we bounced ideas off of each other, and furiously brainstormed the potential of the concept until the end of the lunch period. The remainder of the conference fanned the spark we had ignited such that before we parted ways, we had decided on a follow-up meeting in Osaka a few days later.
From that meeting, the organization He(ART) Exchange was born. The concept behind the project is that dialogue between communities that share neither cultural, geographical, nor linguistic commonalities is not only possible, but critical to developing well-rounded understandings of today’s world. By using weekly art projects as the “language” of this dialogue, students have a “conversation” with their partners abroad and in so doing are not only exposed to the lived reality of other cultures and peoples, but also develop an understanding of art as a valid and powerful tool of self-expression. This, I believe, will have lasting effects as participants will perhaps one day be able to use their art to deal with and confront the various obstacles they will face throughout the remainder of their life. From this idea, we developed a rough organizational model, and as my partner worked on developing the website and the legal documents, I began reaching out to schools, teachers, and educational non-profits in my network. After three weeks we had finalized our first partnership between two middle schools in California and Libya, with schools in Panamá, Argentina, Indonesia, and Japan also interested in the project. At this point we are still not sure what the impact of the project will be, yet based on the enthusiasm thus far from the teachers and students, we will try it out regardless. I, for one, look forward to observing what eventually will sprout from the program. I expect we may be pleasantly surprised.