There are about 30 kids, most of them between 13 and 17 years old. Sometimes there are children as young as five and six. As the children prepare their materials, Mario begins the day’s workshop by reminding the kids that art is a means to express feelings and emotions that we sometimes cannot put into words. “Expressing ourselves through art helps us get ready to talk about all the emotions that we have inside,” he tells the kids.
For each class, Mario prepares a theme and focuses on a particular art style, technique or project. Today the theme is spring, or primavera in Spanish, and the material is watercolors. He asks them to reflect on spring, what it brings to mind, how they perceive it, what it feels like. Spring then becomes a lens for discussing change and grief. Kids are focused and engaged with their artwork, some drawing trees, other flowers.
Only some of the kids in this class are KIND clients, but often children from the shelter are referred to KIND and become clients. “I take comfort knowing the good work they do here, psychologically and emotionally, is helpful to all the children, whether they are clients or not,” Mario says.
In addition to giving children a safe and fun space to reflect and express and process their emotions, the weekly art class also helps KIND maintain a presence in the shelters, know what is going on there, get to know and build trust with the kids—some of whom will become KIND clients, and develop relationships with the shelters and other organizations working with unaccompanied children, which ultimately strengthens KIND’s ability to do its work and have a presence in the community of unaccompanied children in the border region.
Mario and his team’s work is gaining recognition. On February 16, one of the shelters hosted a celebration of their new space, which the governor of the State of Chihuahua attended. The shelter invited KIND to hold an art class during the visit so that the governor could see the work KIND does as an example of the activities the children do at the shelter. For the class that day, Mario and his colleagues led the kids in making bracelets with yarn, as a technique to teach mindfulness to learn to relax and manage stress, anxiety, and fatigue. When the governor entered the room, one of the boys got up and gave the bracelet he made to her. The governor thanked KIND for our dedication to working with children and for our programming in the shelters. “It was a highlight of our year so far,” Mario shared, “to be able to share our work and get such recognition.”
The class wraps for the day. “Hasta la próxima,” (until next time), Mario says, waving to the kids. The feeling of joy in the room that Mario has created is pervasive. In addition to being a social services coordinator at KIND, Mario is also in law school. These days after work, he goes home to study. “Most of my days are this full now that I’m in law school,” he said. “But I don’t regret it for a second. This work is so rewarding to me. When clients send me a thank you message or share photos after finally being reunited with their families–the parties their loved ones throw for them or their long-overdue reunion at the airport–it’s very gratifying. To know that just by doing my work, I can make a real positive difference in someone’s life–it’s wonderful.”