This past year, fifth grade students across the Carbon County School District explored the art medium of printmaking. And their final art prints were not just displayed on the walls of their classrooms or on their refrigerators at home.
They were displayed on another continent.
“Our partner school from the Samburu region in Kenya received printmaking supplies and detailed instructions for the exchange program and each student made a series of seven identical prints. They kept two and the rest were exchanged between the two schools,” said project leader Daniel Bear, the Visual Arts Specialist with Carbon County School District. “At the end of the day it is a very affordable project that helps students see that we are not so different from one another even though we may live in other parts around the world.”
Gonzi Ria, the partner school in Kenya, was originally built of sticks and mud from the parents of the community. Yet while it is only a one room schoolhouse, all the teachers are extremely ambitious in support of their student’s education. Even under extremely impoverished conditions, the school is performing second in national exams for the Samburu District.
Most students stay at the school as boarding students even though there are no real boarding accommodations, kitchen facilities or adequate food. They sleep in the classrooms and eat their meals of rationed rice and beans under a tree and cook over a fire.
“The Headmaster of Gonzi Ria School has a huge heart and big goals to help increase the quality of their students’ education,” said Bear.
To facilitate this artistic meeting of international students, Bear reached out to The Helper Project, a Helper based non-profit. The print exchange project fit perfectly with their goals of creating cultural connections in Carbon County, and board member Roy Jespersen got Bear in touch with CHOICE Humanitarian, a Salt Lake based organization where Jespersen had once served as Board Chairman.
Founded in 1982, CHOICE (Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange) Humanitarian is working toward ending extreme poverty by focusing on sustainable village development in seven different nations, including Nepal, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and the Kenya location that Bear, The Helper Project, and CHOICE ultimately selected.
According to Bear, The Helper Project was instrumental in the success of the project with their funding and networking support. With their help, 240 first-eighth grade students of the Gonzi Ria School in Africa were able to participate in this project with no out of pocket expense to them. Carbon schools had 278 5th-grade students participate.
“I loved this project,” said Carbon School District Superintendent Lance Hatch. “Daniel actually tried it out last year and it worked well, but this year he got photos from Africa back. To see what their lives are like in their school compared to what ours are like was a great opportunity. It really is what the essence of education is about; opening one’s mind to different ideas, different ways of life, and different cultures.”
Bear who is taking a one-year leave of absence from the Carbon school district will continue to foster the expansion of this project and would like at some point to act as a visiting artist at one of the partnering schools.
“All of the Carbon students who participated have received an original print from Africa and vice versa. Artwork that allowed the students from each side of the world to portray their cultural makeup,” said Bear. “The theme of this project was Home and I’m so excited with the way it culturally exposed the kids to each others way of life. To each other’s home. Having the opportunity to experience this printmaking process is one that students will not soon forget.”