Design4Kids Opens Up ‘Voluntourism’ to Graphic Designers

Just when you thought you weren’t qualified to participate in “voluntourism” because you’re a klutz with a hammer, along comes Design4Kids, in which creative professionals travel to Guatemala to mentor young adults. The brainchild of Seattle-based Jeff Speigner, a graphic designer and photographer, Design4Kids has been gaining momentum ever since its inception and is always looking for more volunteers.
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“Design4kids came about a couple years ago when I traveled and donated my skills in Guatemala,” Speigner told me. He was introduced to a group called Fotokids, run by Nancy McGirr. “I cried when I saw what they were doing. And I wanted to get involved.” Fotokids trains students in Guatemala and Honduras in visual arts and technology.

During Speigner’s initial trip to Guatemala, McGirr learned that he was a graphic designer, and she explained that she wanted to open a design studio in Santiago Atitlan, a Guatemalan village. “As soon as I agreed, I realized, ‘I’m not qualified to do this,’ Speigner said. “So I figured I’d bring back colleagues.” Thus, Design4Kids was born – a year later, Speigner returned to Guatemala with a handful of creative colleagues to conduct a weeklong series of workshops. “We did the first one [in November 2008], and it went very well, and then another one in June and now one coming up in December.”

A typical Design4Kids workshop lasts a week and takes place while the students are on break from school. “We work with an actual client, always a nonprofit, that has a need for visual communications,” Speigner said. The client establishes its need to the Design4Kids volunteers, who are then introduced to the Fotokids students – usually a group of about 10 – to prepare them for the client interview. Once the students have met with the client, they brainstorm and get into actual production, including round-robin critiquing and preparing a creative brief. Finally, the students go before the client with their presentation. “It’s kind of real world that way,” Speigner said. “We’re finding that’s huge for the kids, because they’re doing the whole thing, and we’re just coaching.”

McGirr initially proposed the design studio in Santiago Atitlan in order to provide a chance at employment for the youth – “These kids have opportunities in the city, but not in rural areas,” Speigner said. However, there are nonprofit as well as small, for-profit businesses in the area. But what’s come about, Speigner has noticed, is the students develop a sense of value in themselves.

Speigner, pictured below, described a student in the last workshop who was a talented artist, but once the volunteers found out she was also taking business classes, they encouraged her to take on the role of project manager, “and she really blossomed,” he said. The student learned about setting up spreadsheets, talking to department heads and managing the project. speigner_jeff_1“She just took off with that,” Speigner  said. “It was like she was 10 times bigger in her demeanor. So Design4Kids is really about more than teaching design.

“There are kids all over the world who have creative talents that are rarely ever nurtured,” he said. “I saw the chance to give back into the world something I have had the good fortune to have nurtured in me. So it’s not necessarily that they become professionals in the creative arts but that they feel they have value. Maybe they’re talented with drawing, but they’re more interested in law or journalism or whatever else. When you nurture kids in anything. they’re more inclined to learn more.”

The value of Design4Kids isn’t something only the students gain, however – “Through my volunteer experience, it was really clear to me how valuable it is for adults to give back,” said Speigner, who works full time as a graphic designer, does photography on the side and volunteers his spare time to directing Design4Kids. He explained to me that after the second workshop earlier this year, he asked the volunteers to rate how valuable the experience was. “On a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 being the highest” Speigner said, “I received responses of 10, 20 and 50.”

The next session of Design4Kids workshops is scheduled for Dec. 5-13, and Speigner said he is still looking for a couple more volunteers, particularly designers and others who are experts in Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and WordPress. Speigner has two basic requirements: have a professional level of experience in the creative profession, and have a desire to help the kids.

“This is a volunteer vacation that ends up being win-win,” said Speigner.

For information about how to volunteer, go to the Design4Kids Web site. Even if you can’t make the trip to Guatemala, be sure to check out Design4Kids’ wish list, which includes design magazines, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and design books in Spanish.

Photos © Eric Lolkema.

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