In the small village of La Dalia, Matagalpa, in central area of Nicaragua a little boy called Albert has struggled for many years with autistic spectrum disorder. Unable to walk until the age of five he found it difficult to access the school curriculum. That is until Save the Children, in partnership with FUNARTE, implemented their ‘education with colours’ program in the region. His teacher tells of how: “he has grown a lot” and “before he was more afraid”. As he looks up from his paintbrush and smiles at the camera or when he shows us his artwork and proudly brandishes his paintbrush it’s clear that this is no longer the case.
By allowing him to paint and by tracking his progress every step of the way he is now able to enjoy school and interact with his classmates and teachers. Luz Maria Sequeira, Director of Program Development and Quality , points out: “Being born with a disability doesn’t mean you can’t develop your potential.” This has certainly proved to be the case with Albert. The programme’s holistic approach to education, an approach that treats children’s individual needs and promotes creativity every step of the way, has changed the way he interacts with others. As Albert himself tells us: “I feel really good when I’m painting.”
Since the year 2000 our programme has not only focused on extensive, community based strategies, but it has also elicited support from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. It’s aim is to promote creativity, sociability and self-confidence amongst all children regardless of their personal backgrounds. By focusing on developing community networks locally and by inciting action in government institutions, FUNARTE has earned wide praise, including a Guinness World Record for the longest mural in the world to have ever been drawn by children!
For the past 18 years both Save the Children and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education have worked hand in hand with FUNARTE, releasing a number of books aimed at promoting art-based support networks that help young children with disabilities by way of active participation in art. So far the program works with over 40 primary school teachers but that number is growing with every year.
Nicaragua is a country where over 43% of the population live in rural areas. Of that 43% only 68% has access to clean drinking water. It is the poorest country in Central America and there is only a 35% chance that children born in these areas will manage to complete a basic primary school education. In conditions such as these the story of a young artist called Albert is a story of hope and success, it is an example of what can be done when creativity is encouraged and support is offered. Tamara Martinez from FUNARTE says that “each of his paintings tells a story”, one can only hope that the foundations have now been laid for many more stories to come.