Canadian 5th Graders Raise Money for Bolivian Prison Children through Art

(Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia)

Grade 5 students at Lakeview Elementary are learning art can help break barriers for children living in a prison in Bolivia. Through Kids’ Art for a Cause, 22 students are creating watercolour paintings to raise money for the MCC Global Family Education Program.

Grade 5 instructor Heather Willms heard about Kids’ Art for a Cause through her old friend, and program founder, Grant Bertamini. She had read the book “I Am a Taxi” by Deborah Ellis, about a young boy in Bolivia whose parents are in jail, and when she found this project, she knew it would be a perfect fit. “When I saw the project, I knew I had a novel I can read to the kids to engage them and give a broader perspective of what life is like for those children,” said Willms. “We read the book and halfway through, we realized the school in the book is the same one we will be sending the money to. So, I emailed (Canadian author) Deborah Ellis … and she said she would write to the kids, so now we are interacting with the author which is so exciting for us.”

The school works alongside the San Sebastian prison in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba. Workers from the school pick up the children from the prison in the morning, take them to school, feed them two meals, and then take them back at the end of the day. Funds raised will go towards meals, books and supplies. The class will also write letters to the students in the Bolivian prison, in hopes that some may become pen pals. “We have a Spanish-speaking student in our class, so we hope to do some Skyping as well. And there is an English-speaking person in the school in Bolivia. So it’s very global for us,” said Willms. “That’s the neat thing about Kids’ Art for a Cause. We could just do the artwork and study the cause, but I’m hoping it will be a longer journey.”

Willms said they are trying to incorporate the artistic style of Bolivia, although each painting is unique. The kids have chosen to paint what they think freedom would mean for the Bolivian children. They put “broken bars” down the front of the artwork to show prison, but symbolize freedom. Maxx Hironaka, 10, painted a pair of hands giving a plate of items, which include papaya, homemade bread, and Bolivianos, the Bolivian currency. He said he’s learned a lot about Bolivia and is happy to help the children. “It feels really good because they’re a little underprivileged. I think that giving money to a good cause is really nice,” said Hironaka.

Artwork will be up for sale in February at “We’re very excited to see our art go up, and we’ll check it every morning to see if anything has sold,” said Willms. “It’s $10 a painting, and there’s 22 of us. We also talked about how that $220 will go so much further in Bolivia compared to Canada.”

Herald photo by Melissa Villeneuve. Emma Brydges, 10, creates a painting for Kids’ Art for a Cause. She is one of 22 Grade 5 students at Lakeview Elementary School raising funds to assist children living in a prison in Bolivia. Artwork will be up for sale this month on

This article was written by Melissa Villeneuve of the Lethbridge Herald (Alberta, Canada) on February 9, 2015 and reproduced with permission.

Further information on living conditions in Bolivia's prisons can be found on this page.

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