When a young mother asked for directions at a downtown bus stop, she had no idea she was about to find a mentor, an untapped skill and a way to help her nine-year-old son discover his special talent.
All it took was connections.
Jasmine, recently arrived in Vancouver from Taiwan, had checked with another transit rider to make sure she was getting on the right bus. The woman noticed Jasmine was having some difficulty with English. Once they got bus numbers sorted out, the woman brought Jasmine to the Learning Exchange and helped her enroll in ESL conversation workshops.
Meanwhile, Ian Savage had connected with the Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV).
Formerly a professional artist with paintings exhibited in London’s distinguished Tate Gallery, the 66-year-old had not painted in many years. But soon after moving to Vancouver, Ian dusted off his brushes and got to work. He participated in CACV’s Let’s Net, a series of technical skills and networking sessions for artists. Through a space-sharing agreement, the CACV series is held at the Learning Exchange.
“We have many talented artists but few financial and space resources,” says Mary Bennett, Program Consultant at CACV. “So we help people get connected and hope they’ll take the next steps.”
Ian had mentioned he might contribute to the local arts community by teaching. Bennett connected him with the Learning Exchange which was hoping to develop an art course for local residents. After a few meetings a cartooning class was launched with Ian as peer instructor. Jasmine signed up as a learner.
But unlike other participants, she had a special reason for joining the class – she wanted to pass along what she learned to her young son, Kevin. She hoped a new skill might give him the self-esteem he badly needed.
In Taiwan, Kevin’s Asperger’s syndrome – a form of autism that affects language and behaviour development in children – made him the target of bullying by classmates and teachers. With little support for kids with special needs, Jasmine and her husband made a tough decision. She and Kevin would move to Canada to get the help he needed and her husband would join the family as soon as he could.
Nervous in her first class, Jasmine found Ian to be a non-judgmental and encouraging teacher and was surprised by her own talent. The environment he created made her want to be better “from her heart” – quite a change from her harshly competitive school days in Taiwan.
Jasmine soon confided her plan to teach her son and got Ian’s support and advice. It turns out Kevin and cartooning were made for each other. Quickly progressing from pencil drawings of animals, the young artist now uses pastels to draw scenes of Taiwan.
“He has discovered a treasure,” says his mother. “He is calmer and happier now that he can express himself. And he feels confident knowing he can do something well.”
Ian is thrilled to be part of the boy’s success.
“I reached out to this child I may never meet and was a catalyst for his learning,” he says. “I thought that was beyond my realm – even at my age I have learned something about myself.”
Bennett says these connections are typical of the Downtown Eastside.
“People share resources and accept each other as important contributors – as neighbours we can help each other out.”