Building human capacity is a critical element of community development. Through the evolution of our programming, Via International and our sister organization, Los Niños de Baja California, have developed a unique model of promotoria (community leadership) that has enabled us to have tremendous success in our work. Promotoras/promotores are community members who have taken a leadership role in organizing and educating their community.
The thread of leadership education runs through all of Via’s programs, whether nutrition education, micro-enterprise, youth engagement or international student travel. First and foremost are our Nutrition & Ecology programs on both sides of the border that in addition to promoting health awareness, are the cornerstone of our Promotora program. The goal of developing individual leadership capacity and training women from the community to become community health workers (known as promotoras) is central to its core objectives and serves to support program sustainability.
Other programs include the Women’s Community Leadership Education Program in City Heights, the Art, Conflict Resolution and Community Engagement Program in the Logan Heights neighborhood of San Diego, and the “Educación y Formación Para Promotores/as Communitarias” (Education and Development of Community Workers) a two-year university credentialed program in Tijuana, Mexico.
In coordination with local partners and local and regional funders, Via International is offering an integrated arts education program targeting low income, at-risk students in the Logan Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Titled ARC: Art, Conflict Resolution and Community Engagement, the program is for high school aged youth participating for one year to 1) develop artistic skill sets and portfolio, 2) learn conflict resolution skills, and 3) engage in community by supporting community arts initiatives while developing leadership skills.
This program began as a pilot in 2016/2017 and is now being offered to students at the Monarch School for homeless and transitional youth. As we develop this project further, we hope to be able to offer this free art-based personal development program to more schools in the Logan Heights neighborhood, where Via is located.
The approach for this component is an old world apprentice methodology, based on methods used in 16th and 17th century artillerie. The training is a technical skill sets application, including painting techniques such as glazing, layout, under painting, blocking and dry brush, juxtaposed with “street art” techniques of mural art and cultural expression. Students receive instruction 8 hours/month for 10 months for a total of 80 hours of studio time. The theoretical/practical approach is applied so that students learn by painting with canvas and oils from the beginning. Outputs include a portfolio of work with hands-on mural restoration activities in and around Logan Heights.
Students learn the art of conflict resolution through a series of participatory workshops to acquire the skills to sustain relationships, help maintain cohesive families, and increase the probability of attaining a job through communication and collaboration skills. These pro-social skills increase student achievement levels and improve student resiliency. As the students engage in their community, skills in conflict resolution enhance their ability to take leadership roles and remain engaged even in the face of controversy. Students receive 10 sessions of peer mediation, conflict resolution and personal reflection/development training, practicing the techniques with their cohort members. Those that complete all sessions receive a certificate.
Service projects use the student’s art skills in support of restoring the historic murals in and around Chicano Park and include lessons in community history from local elders. Activities are led by local muralist Victor Ochoa, and augmented through a partnership between Via and the Chicano Park Steering Committee to provide access to local elders and wisdom-keepers, adding deeper historical and cultural context to the relevance and significance of the restoration activities. A major part of the program is to bolster a sense of understanding and pride in our youth for the rich artistic history of the neighborhood and inspire our youth to engage in the protection of this unique artistic and cultural resource. Students receive school service hours and after completing 5, four-hour projects, receive a certificate.