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At four years old, Juan David may still be little. His dreams, however, are anything but. “I want to be a painter. I want to paint the whole world,” he declares, matter-of-factly. A lofty goal, no doubt. Just a quick look around his comuna (neighborhood) in Medellín, Colombia, however, paints a less-than-lofty reality.

For children in Colombia, and Latin America in general, poverty is the one constant, dream-crushing companion. According to a 2010 joint study conducted by UNICEF and CEPAL(in English, ECLAC — The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), nearly 81 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean live under moderate to severe deprivation factors such as malnutrition, lack of access to drinking water and sanitation services, lack of adequate schooling and lack of access to information and modern technology.

Edwin Gil, a Colombian artist residing in Charlotte, NC, is more than a tad familiar with this narrative. Like Juan David, Gil also nursed artistic ambitions as a child — ambitions that seemed to be doomed forever due to his family’s socioeconomic status and the country’s shaky political situation in the ’80s. “My childhood was filled with bitter moments: poverty, hunger and abuse, which clouded my hopes of ever having a better future,” recalls Gil.

Having personally lived through these conditions was a determining factor for Gil’s decision to bring his Faces of Diversity program to Medellín. In his native city, the Faces of Diversity project — whose first installment took place in Charlotte, NC in partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools — took on a new focus: socio-economic issues. After Gil and Faces of Diversity Director Brian Cockman took a tour of Buen Comienzo pre-schools this past May, both knew it was a perfect match. So for the next couple of months, they worked to engage private, civic and public U.S. and Latin American entities like ToolWell, AirTight, Clamasan and Sos Paisa to bring volunteer manpower, monetary, clothing and goods donations to help the government-funded program.

The project’s art centerpiece, depicting one of the children from the program, required over one thousand children’s fingerprints and is now part of one of the centers’ structural history — and the kids’ memories. “What better way to recognize these kids’ important imprint on the program than to have their actual fingerprints on this piece of art that will be here forever?” says Adriana María González Cuervo, Buen Comienzo’s Regional Director.

Final Story Collage

The Buen Comienzo program, developed by the Office of the Mayor of Medellín, Colombia, has 14 preschool centers and plans on adding many more across the region. It serves children and their families during their first five years of life, providing much needed early childhood education, family counsel and integral development for these children. Its longest-lasting contribution to their lives, though, is not the daily nourishment, the professional care or even the educational structure it provides, but rather the stable, loving shield from the often-hostile environment they witness in the communities from which they hail. “Our aim is for the kids who attend the center to get more than care. We want them to be happy,” says González Cuervo.

Which is how Gil and Cockman would define budding artist Juan David, one of the thousands of children the program benefits across the city. Seeing the impact of these type of programs first-hand has inspired Gil and Cockman’s to make Faces of Diversity a global project. “Our goal is to complete 111 “Faces” art pieces, and to engage ambassadors in major metropolitan areas and communities around the world over the next three years. The Faces of Diversity art pieces will serve as the platform to launch discussion around the topics of health and wellness, education and human rights,” says Cockman.

Their hope is that the program continues to be a “bridge” bringing together the arts, business, nonprofits, Latinos and Latino supporters with cultures — and hey, maybe even inspire future artists like Juan David — around the world. “I’m grateful to be able plant these art seeds everywhere, to help people across the world dream of and build a better life for themselves,” concludes Gil.

To contribute to the Buen Comienzo program in Medellín, visit their philanthropic arm, The Ximena Rico Llano Foundation.

Collage 1: 1080 children from the Buen Comienzo program added their fingerprints to the art piece.

Collage 2 (left to right): 1) Buen Comienzo participant and aspiring artist Juan David. 2) Mr. Gil and kids at work on the art piece. 3) Over 1000 fingerprints went into creating the final art piece for the project. 4) Buen Comienzo’s Regional Director Adriana María González Cuervo. 5) The final art piece. 6) Volunteers of the Faces of Diversity Medellín project and some Buen Comienzo program kids (left to right): Brian Cockman, Edwin Gil, Elianne Ramos, Charlene Valdez.

DISCLAIMER: Elianne Ramos is the Social/Cultural Advisor for Faces of Diversity.

 

Follow Elianne Ramos on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ergeekgoddess

 

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A city marked by its innovation and solutions to urban problems. An integrated public transportation system complete with cable cars and a metro. A citywide bicycle program. An outdoor escalator that shuttles citizens from steep mountainside homes to jobs and schools in the valley below. A library system with ground-breaking educational programs for children and adults. Community centers built in poor neighborhoods to promote social capital. Government programs to help mothers provide for the emotional and physical needs of their children.

 

I’m not describing a fictional city or utopia. I’m talking about the City of eternal spring otherwise known as Medellin, Colombia. In recent years, the city has undergone a wonderful transformation and welcomes visitors from around the world with open arms. Named the Most Innovative City in the World by Citi and the Urban Land Institute in 2013 – beating out New York and Tel Aviv – Medellin’s rebirth pales in comparison to the one thing that keeps me coming back again and again – its people!

 

The people of Medellin, or Paisas as they are affectionately called, have welcomed me into their hearts and homes since my first visit back in 2009. Through my relationship with programs like SosPaisa – the external relations initiative created by the Office of the Mayor of Medellin – I’ve been introduced to Paisas from all walks of life, occupations, socioeconomic classes and backgrounds. The one commonality they all share, however, is their positive outlook on life. Perhaps this quality is what helped Colombia earn the title of Happiest Country in the World in a 2012 WIN/ Gallup International Association survey. In Medellin, I’ve seen firsthand how being content, working hard, and supporting your friends and family translates to a fulfilling life.

 

In fact, this month I’m traveling with a team of volunteers to participate in Medellin’s strong sense of community. Working alongside corporate sponsors from Charlotte, AirTight and Toolwell, my company Rooster Communications will help bring Edwin Gil’s Faces of Diversity program to the families and children of Buen Comienzo. Faces of Diversity is an interactive art program that breaks stereotypes through art and dialogue, while Buen Comienzo assists families and their children from birth to five years.

 

Edwin is a native of Medellin and is responsible for igniting my love of the city and its people. This past May we were fortunate to get a tour of several Buen Comienzo pre-schools where children’s imaginations and minds were being stimulated by a dedicated staff of teachers. What’s more, it was finally clear to me why Medellin has undergone such a transformation. Programs like Buen Comienzo are hard at work instilling love, respect, and knowledge in the children. In doing so, they are creating future leaders who will carry the torch of innovation to communities across the world.

 

This is the first of a three part series from Rooster Communications president, Brian Cockman, who serves as Faces of Diversity project team leader. He can be reached at brian@roostercomm.biz.

 

PressRelease_FacesofDiv_Colombia

JULY 7, 2013
Contact
Brian Cockman 877-210-3737, ext. 1 brian@roostercomm.biz

International Public-Private Partnership To Bring “Faces of Diversity” To Medellin Artist Edwin Gil Returns Home On Philanthropic Mission With Group of Volunteers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – JULY 7, 2013 – In an extraordinary demonstration of philanthropy working beyond country borders, Charlotte businesses, AirTight, Rooster Communications and Toowell, have joined forces with Colombian based companies, Clamasan and Agro MAIS, to bring artist Edwin Gil’s Faces of Diversity initiative to the families and children of Medellin. Instrumental in this public-private partnership is SosPaisa – the foreign relations program created by the Mayor’s Office of Medellin – and Buen Comienzo (Healthy Start), the beneficiary of this public-private partnership.
“Our goal with this partnership is two-fold,” says Greg Crumpton, president and founder of AirTight. “We are able to support Edwin Gil and his Faces of Diversity as a cultural connector, while also shining a light on the important role that Buen Comienzo plays in some of poorest neighborhoods of Medellin. As the first line of defense against malnutrition and education problems, Buen Comienzo is more than just an assistance program; it’s a lifeline for the hundreds of families it serves.”
“By providing education, nutrition, and love to young mothers and families, Buen Comienzo helps communities thrive,” says Brian Cockman, president of Rooster Communications. “I was fortunate enough to tour some of the Buen Comienzo pre-schools in May, so I’ve seen firsthand how they create a nurturing environment for newborn babies all the way up to five years old. It’s my hope that people at home in the U.S. and Colombia will see how important early childhood education and parental support are in the future success of a child.”
“We are proud to support Edwin as he returns home to Medellin and brings his message of diversity, hope and resilience to the children and families of Buen Comienzo,” says Claudia Vargas, Managing Partner of Clamasan and Agro MAIS. “Strong families play a crucial role in the overall development of our children. With the tools Buen Comienzo provides families, these children may one day become the leaders of their communities in Colombia and across the world.”
Gil and volunteers from each company will conduct the Faces of Diversity program on Friday, August 2 at Jardín Infantil Buen Comienzo Belén – Altavista starting at 9am in order to collect thumbprints from children and families. From these thumbprints, he will make his Faces of Diversity art piece and present it in a special ceremony to government officials and the communities of Medellin at Jardín Infantil Buen Comienzo Carpinelo on Thursday, August 8 at 9am.

About Faces of Diversity: Faces of Diversity helps promote diversity and multicultural awareness through the arts by encouraging thoughtful conversation. It reaffirms a sense of unity between cultures by demonstrating how social well being is a human condition and something not specific to certain cultures. Contemporary, conceptual artist Edwin Gil creates a large piece of artwork using recycled glass and his propriety paint techniques featuring the face of one child. The face of this one child, however, is created using thumbprints from the thousands of participants at each particular event.

About Buen Comienzo: Buen Comienzo is a program from the Mayor of Medellin that serves children and their families during their first five years of life. They promote early childhood education and integral development that is diverse, inclusive and self-contained. They focus on families vulnerable to socio- economic factors through a joint interagency partnership with four departments (Social Inclusion and Family, Education, Health and Inder), as well as the n Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), the Ministry of Education and private enterprise.

Faces Of Diversity

Local artist overcomes poverty and violence and now helps community highlighting international social issues Great story!! by Astrid Martinez
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Project Sponsor by CMS, AirTight, Compared Food, Toolwell, Agro-Mais, Clamasan, Rooster Communication, Buen Comienzo y Sos Paisa
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