Wednesday, April 14, 2010

World Map Project

I have a few projects going on right now but by far my favorite is the world map project. If you want to understand the background of the map project you can read this article…

The idea of the map project is to paint a giant world map mural on a wall in a central location in town to teach kids and everyone else about geography and Paraguay’s relations to the world. In general, most Paraguayans know very little about world geography and I have been asked a lot of interesting questions about geography during my service. But, not until I started painting this map did I realize how unaware Paraguayans are of the world surrounding them. It has been an eye opening experience to say the least.

I decided to paint the map on the wall of the library, the municipal library almost no one knows exists. It is a dreary place and has about 100 dusty books that no one ever looks at. The place remains locked up most of the time and is attended by the town “librarian”, a bitter Brazilian woman who comes to work when she feels like it and is only nice to the young, cute boys.

The youth group was fixing up the plaza where the library stands the weeks before school started, which was my perfect opportunity to get kids involved in my map. Kids where hanging out at the plaza all day and every day to fix up the decrepit old plaza around the library, because lets face it there was nothing else to do, and so I was able to spark some interest in the map project.

The process for creating the map is pretty simple. Peace Corps has published a handbook with everything you could ever need to know about making the map. First I petitioned the municipality for supplies and then got to work. Day one we painted the dirty, disgusting and grafitied wall a beautiful blue. We painted two coats, a new concept. The handbook has formulas and graphics that demonstrate how big to make the map and how to center it on the wall and all other logistics. With the formulas we figured our map to be 3 meters by 1 ½ meters. We were going to draw the map using the grid method, meaning, small box by small box we would trace the world onto the eastern wall of the library. But first we had to draw each individual box, over 1500 boxes actually. Each box was to be 5 cm by 5 cm. So with a meter stick I marked out every 5 cms along the left border and bottom border and then very tediously drew lines up and down the wall all day long. The kids took turns helping me. It was very time consuming.

Then we started to draw. I was recruiting kids from the park to help out. A lot of kids would look on in interest but recoil in fear when I would ask them to actually participate claiming they didn’t know how to draw. I tried to explain the brilliance of the grid method was that you didn’t have to know how to draw but some would still refuse. Paraguayans are afraid of new things so I didn’t try to push them to much. But I still had a lot of participants that would practice drawing on the handouts I gave out and then move on to the wall. Some kids were great drawers and saw quickly how easy and fun it was. A lot of people would walk by and assume I had drawn the whole thing myself. Because I am the Americans they assume I know all and can do all, therefore I must be a professional drawer and painter as well. It doesn’t matter how many time I repeat that I don’t draw or paint they don’t really believe me. Actually, I only contributed a small part, the kids have done a lot themselves. I always supervised but they were the bulk of the input.

Now that the kids are in school I am most likely to get participants in the late afternoon, around 5 o’clock. I can always show up to the library and get out my supplies and within thirty second find myself surrounded by a few kids firing away with questions. Usually these kids are too little to actually put paint to the wall but they love to watch and touch all the paint supplies. But I can always tempt some older kids passing through to lend me a hand.

The map project has been a great way for me to get to know a lot of kids in Fassardi. I have spent so many hours at the library/park where these kids hang out and I have been incorporated into their world. Now while working on the map I have lots of little voices calling my name asking me a million questions, asking me to look here, look there, look at this, to borrow my bike, how you say words in English …..
After one long day of painting and lounging in the shade, two little girls that almost never leave my side scraped all the paint off my hands and arms. They were determined to get every last drop of paint.

The most eye opening part of this whole project has been the questions I have tried to answer about geography. I knew Paraguayans knowledge of the world was minimal, but throughout this process I have begun to slowly see how uneducated they really are. A lot of people understand that I am painting a world map but some do not. I have had a few people ask me what the map is of exactly. As Americans, we have grown up with the image of the world map, I am sure you can conjure up a mental image of it right now and possibly draw an outline of the continents yourself but in the last few weeks I encountered Paraguayans who had never seen this image of a world map before! They had no idea what they were looking at.

Also, looking at and reading maps comes very naturally to us, you probably don’t even remember when you were taught how to look at a map, but I promise you it happened sometimes when you were a kid. Most Paraguayans out in the campo never had this privilege. I thought kids could look at the map in the handbook, pick a country to paint, and then go ahead and paint it. I was wrong on this account. Most kids have been unable to do this, they get lost between the small map in their hands and the big map on the wall even though the picture is the same. The idea of looking at and comparing maps is so new and can be so disorienting for them. For example, once two kids were looking in the book at the map of Europe and pointing to a country in Africa assuming they had found the same country in the book, assuming a map is a map and not realizing they looked completely different. Or I will point to a country on the wall and outline the border with my fingers and show them exactly where they are going to paint, they will say ok, go get the paint and paintbrush, come back to the wall and have forgotten which country they are supposed to paint.

The map project is almost completed. Right now we are in the process of erasing the grid lines. The next steps are to repaint the oceans, label the countries, and finally paint a clear protective varnish coat and then we will be done! Creating the map itself has been a unique and rewarding experience, but this is just the beginning. I have big plans for the map once it is completed. I am planning to teach interactive geography lessons using the map with the high school and elementary schools classes. I always loved geography lessons when I was in school so I am excited to create fun and interactive lessons using the map. Think of the potential for what these kids could learn.

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