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Malnutrition is an alarming problem in Panama that not only affects those who suffer from it, but it also affects the development and well-being of the country at large. Marlene Franco's thesis project, Alimentando el Futuro (Feeding the Future), is dedicated to eradicating child malnutrition in the area of Kankintu, located in the Ngäbe Buglé indigenous reservation of Panama, a district with the highest levels of malnutrition and poverty in the country. This condition affects more than half of the children under five living in this area, which means that one of four of these children will contribute little or nothing to the development of the nation.
Franco traveled to Panama to conduct hands-on research. She identified three main audiences: the international, national, and local communities. Then she created Alimentando el Futuro to draw attention to the plight of Kankintu. The first audience is comprised mostly of the various NGOs whose mission includes alleviating malnutrition, the second is defined by Panama’s middle class, those who have a vested interest and the means to contribute. Franco then created the means for change: a comprehensive campaign, gallery and website dedicated to "filling the spoon." 32 Panamanian artists were each asked to decorate a wooden spoon to help spread the word and raise money for Nutre Hogar, a non-profit and NGO dedicated to the prevention of childhood malnutrition. The artists painted and sculpted them. Finished spoons were displayed in an exhibition to raise awareness for malnutrition, and were then auctioned. A powerful symbol of undernourishment, Franco used images of empty spoons in much of her marketing and collateral materials, including handouts, a donation kit for grocery stories and other establishments. The message: "Help me fill the spoon, not only with healthy food, but also education, hope, and opportunities to make the country grow and be more healthy."
An outreach campaign and a gallery exhibition Alimentando el Futuro at Galeria Mateo Sariel in Panama City, Panama raised over $2500 US through the sale of Alimentando el Futuro spoons—both unadorned and customized by local artists. Inquiries to the gallery continue.
Profits from the exhibition made it possible to assist Nutre Hogar directly. The funds were used to produce educational materials about nutrition habits to enable villagers to become self-sufficient in their fight to prevent malnutrition.Franco's work was covered by the highest circulation newspaper in Panama, La Prensa, Ellas (a magazine by La Prensa), and El Panama America. There remains much to be done to eradicate malnutrition in Kankintu and the rest of Panama, but Franco's work thus far has set the wheels in motion, using design to generate both awareness and action. Phase 1 of the project is complete and continues to receive media attention. Franco's project will be featured as one of 20 artists in The World Bank 2012 exhibit El Cambio (About Change) in Paris and Washington DC.
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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