after leaving chengdu, i flew straight to medellín, with an eight-hour stop in athens to pack a suitcase (to replace the one that was still in beijing, but that’s another story). i went to medellín to attend a workshop on photographing with nonprofit organizations; my “client” was la fundación las golondrinas, a social services organization that provided child development services, education support, small business technical assistance, and other programs in the low-income communities of medellín.
like rio de janiero, the low-income areas of medellín are located in the hills above the city. the view is spectacular, but the conditions in the street are rough.
the city and the foundation have sponsored a lot of community improvements, but not everyone has been able to take full advantage of them.
staff from the foundation told me that in these neighborhoods, there can be 8-12 members of a family living in one small apartment or shack. as a result, family members often suffer from abuse – physical abuse, substance abuse, sexual abuse. one way that the foundation tries to counter these problems is through its animal therapy program: social workers introduce children who have suffered abuse or trauma to therapy dogs, and the children learn first to confide in the dogs, and then to social workers. the dogs also work with children with mobility impairments, by leading the children through simple obstacle courses. (there is a video about the program here.)
each week, the program staff bring a dog to one of the local schools where they introduce him to the children, and then engage in a few skits and demonstrations. in one of the demonstrations, the program staff show the children a picture of two children fighting over a toy, and two children sharing it, and ask them to pick which situation is better. the dog then selects the “nice” picture. during one of the demonstrations i saw, the dog had to choose between a fighting family and a loving family, and instead of choosing the picture of the loving family that the children called for, he picked the fighting family; the staff were surprised, but i covered by calling out “he’s taking the bad picture away!”
|the children meet the dog.
||the dog plays mailman during a skit (and gets a lot of snacks for his work!).
||with the help of a laser pointer, the dog picks the right picture.
||a child reads a simple illustrated description of the program.