Immigrant Children Learn Through Art

July 07, 2014


There are at least 15 thousand immigrant children living in Iowa, some of them are refugees. As that number continues to grow one Des Moines organization is trying a different approach to help them adapt to their new lives.
On the north side of Des Moines a dozen immigrant and refugee children produced a mini documentary.

They’re participants in a workshop program with Art Force Iowa, a non-profit organization that helps young people in need through art. This workshop teaches refugee and immigrant teenagers how to shoot and edit video with professional grade equipment. Director of Art Force Iowa, John Mark Feilmeyer said while they’re learning the technique, the purpose is to figure out how to live their new lives.

“When immigrant and refugees come to America, come to Iowa, they are kind of confronted with this culture shock mixed with still having that access to their home culture. And I think projects like this can use the arts to bridge that gap.”

In one video, kids described which people they want for the documentary, an immigrant hero.
Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz from Guatemala is one of those heroes.

“Well I’m a United Methodist pastor, so I am the pastor of a Latino congregation here in Des Moines. And I am also an Immigration specialist for the central district of the united Methodist church here in Iowa.’’

13-year-old, Francine Nyinawumwani is from Congo and said her group chose Alfaro-Santiz as their hero because he’s inspiring.

“Because we think he has done a great job and we would like other people to do a great job like him.”

Alfaro-Santiz had never heard of Art Force Iowa, but said he was happy to help.

“It was a kind of a last minute thing and I always like to help kids and whatever I can. So the program they’re doing sounded pretty exciting so I thought I would make time to talk to them.”

17-year-old, Dieudonne Samuel, from Congo participated in the workshop both weeks and said his favorite part was working with other immigrants.

“The biggest question that I like to ask about the heroes is what they miss most about their country because I like knowing the different things people miss because I was also an immigrant once. I’ve been here for 8 years and I miss a lot of things back home, but I also like to hear the different point of views of others.”

At the end of the week the final videos are presented during a viewing party. Alejandro was running late but made it just in time.

“It was really nice to see how they were explaining how to use the camera and they were doing like panning and stuff like that. And so it was really good, I think they will benefit it. It just builds their self-esteem as well you know gives them this confidence that they can do these kinds of things.”

As they introduced their videos and their immigrant heroes…everyone sat quietly and watched.

“I’m originally from Kenya, I was born and raised in Kenya until I was about 22 years old, and then I immigrated to the United States. I miss my family a lot you know its basically it’s the family time, back in Kenya there’s more community life and a lot of family interactions.”

After the videos are over the dozen immigrant students, their teachers, and their heroes shared pizza and Latino food, while listening to American popular music. 

To watch the young immigrants' mini documentary, they can be found on Art Force Iowa's YouTube channel:

See the original IPR story HERE.