“The disparity is stunning,” observed John Lombardo, founder of Artworks for Youth, an afterschool art, mentoring and academic support program for under-served teenagers in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
He was talking about the vast distance between his students’ lives and those of the high school students from New York City’s Packer Collegiate Institute, who spent two weeks with Artworks last month. The multi-day story exchange leveled the playing field and all of the Packer students were inspired by the empathic generosity of their hosts.
John incorporated the story exchange into his program three years ago. “It was one of the most important things to happen for my program,” he said. Since then, he has used the story exchange to build a culture of caring among his students. Discouraged from sharing any personal information by the strict educational system, John’s students have found strength in knowing about the specific hardships each faces. “It has done wonders for the tone of my class,” said John. “They just take care of each other a lot more.”
With just two weeks to get to know their visitors, the Artworks students demonstrated what it meant to be part of an empathic generation. The culminating three-day story exchange included making clay portraits of their partners under master ceramicist Mkahonto Gwazela. And the story exchange, which took place in a new galvanized steel structure, went long into the afternoon – “It was almost dark when we finished,” John recalled.
But it doesn’t end there. The Packer Collegiate Institute’s faculty recently spent a day with N4’s Lee Keylock and Kelsey Roberts learning how to facilitate story exchanges. Perhaps a summit between the two groups is in the future and all can learn from the nurturing culture that John and the teenagers at ArtWorks enjoy!
More from Narrative 4 around the globe:
3/14/17 – Empathy in Israel
3/7/17 – Student Leaders SCHout for Diversity
2/3/17 – Connecting at UConn