USING VISUALS TO BRIDGE THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

I went to Ecuador to do some volunteer work with Free the Children and Me to We. As usual, I took my notes and recorded in my journal visually using graphics and text.

In one portion of our trip, we visited with a Girls Club and a Women's Group in Chimborazo, way up in the Andes. The identity and self confidence of these girls and women are just emerging now after 5 years of hard work, and having a local champion there guiding and encouraging them.

In the past, the females often felt that they had no choice but to fulfil their traditional roles of taking care of the households and the animals, and working the fields, some of which are at the top of these high Andean mountains. Many girls don't go to school beyond the elementary grades. Living in a harsh climate (it's cold and windy there), being isolated in the steep mountains (it took us 7 hours of bus ride to get there), it is not hard to understand that their lives revolve around survival. Through years of persistence and hard work, Free the Children's Adopt a Village approach has resulted in these girls (and women) realizing their own abilities, finding their voices and discovering their own worth.

Many of these women and girls did not speak Spanish, they speak Kichua, an indigenous language. They learned Spanish, they learned speaking in front of groups, they learned that they can find creative ways to make extra money. Despite a language barrier, these girls showed us some of their weaving work and the products they make for sale. Through 2 translators (Kichua to Spanish, Spanish to English), I recorded what they shared and drew pictures of these girls showing us their primitive loom made out of blocks of notched wood and their hand made weaver, also made out of pieces of wood, rope and leather. (Check out the 2 visual journal summaries under Portfolio on this website)

When I showed the girls what I drew, their eyes lit up, their mouths cracked into smiles. They pointed to pictures of themselves working the loom and weaving; they nudged each other to get closer to see. When I put the names of the girls in the pictures, they were so happy to see their names on paper, the smiles got even bigger.

Even though I couldn't understand what they were whispering to each other, I could see the delight and recognition in their eyes and faces. It once again reminded me how powerful a tool visual recording / sketchnoting was. I am glad I was able to share their excitement and laughter in this little gift.

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