We all know life is not easy, but we keep complaining about tiny little things over and over. The endless traffic, that rude Monday morning email from that unapologetic bitch from work, the stubborn fat that never goes away (because you drank as fuck over the weekend, but let’s ignore that for now), the monthly bills that never go down, and the number of likes and followers that never go up – honestly, no one really cares about your ugly selfies. But for some, just fundamental things in life are simply not there. Imagine barely starting your life and stepping into a nightmare with no escape. And the people you need the most are not here or are actually against you. Shall we put aside your petty tickety toc dance cringes for a moment? Let’s talk meaningfully now.
Most countries tackle this issue somehow; here in Chile, where I live, we have the SENAME, the National Service for Minors, a central government agency that collaborates with our judicial system to promote the protection of orphaned children and adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17 whose parents cannot care for them. It is up to the SENAME to create and implement specialized programs to protect their rights across 250 residences directly administered by the Chilean state and private non-profit institutions. Ultimately, the SENAME aims to help Chilean children find a much better life but reality might be another’s illusion. Many of these children inside the government facilities are often mistreated, beaten, and sexually abused by those who should be there to protect them, such as caretakers, teachers, and assistants.
Reports from the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) mention that minors registering cases of sexual abuse are increasing yearly. The SENAME, which was supposed to help them, is headed in the wrong direction, worsening them physically and mentally. The system creates new levels of insecurity and ruins the places where the children sleep, eat, and spend the whole day. Based on the constant cycle of mistreatment and fear, the minors’ opportunities to emerge and re-integrate into society are stolen or even completely lost.
This is what I’ve learned talking to Antonia Estai and María Ignacia Paredes, who are Fashion Design and Management students in Santiago de Chile. These two young designers wanted to do something meaningful and take the challenge to create a collection based on these brave and inspirational children who live the SENAME reality day in and out. The designers spent a month at their facilities to interact with the children and bond a connection with them. They wanted to see the reality of these centers through their own eyes and be inspired by the youngsters. The designers researched the procedures and care requirements the SENAME established and mapped out the institution’s regulations and officials. It all makes sense on paper: each child should receive dignified and respectful treatment without necessity or exclusions based on age, sex, religion, opinion, politics, ideology, or economic circumstance. The children should receive timely, transparent, just, and ethical attention. Children can provide suggestions and create claims or comments through appropriate channels, such as when they consider their rights violated. The institution, in turn, must carry out its queries with respect and courtesy. On paper, it makes a ton lot of sense.
Initially, they contacted a psychologist specializing in the subject to support their project. She helped Antonia and María Ignacia execute recreational and artistic activities with the children to create trust since the designers were complete strangers to the children. Terrible past experiences and mistreatments from the SENAME staff could exacerbate the lack of confidence in Antonia and María Ignacia. Therefore, the designers decided to visit constantly for a month and see the children daily to get to know them better and let them open their hearts naturally. They were able to meet with the children in private to avoid any potential retaliation.
Antonia told us about her experience and expressed how happy the children were every time they visited the SENAME and how fascinated they were whenever there was an activity. There were pleased because no one would usually see them, no one cared about them, and no one considered their free time, hygiene, or day-to-day problems. Antonia also told us that they were struck by the fact that the 15-year-old boys did not have goals to study or get a degree; instead, all they wanted was to get a job as soon as possible just to leave the SENAME. And this is when the project began to affect the designers emotionally: they realized the brutal reality behind how inconspicuous the children’s plight was and how little concern there was in caring for them.
Despite the suffering Antonia and María Ignacia witnessed, they concentrated on the positive feelings it generated from creating bonds with the children every day, sharing their personal stories, knowing how they were doing, and being able to add a little support to the children’s growth and learning, giving them novel entertainment and motivation. As the children put down their emotions into paper drawings, Antonia and María Ignacia analyzed colors, shapes, and sizes, which were truly unique for each individual. “You open a secret box; what would you like to have inside?” they showed an image of a heart, “Fill this heart with representations of your emotions.” Delving into their realities showed violations, mistreatment, and sexual abuse.
Ultimately, Antonia and María Ignacia chose the most significant drawings with mixed emotions. The main character in the collection became a repeating theme, a monster. One monster, in particular, caught their attention. A five-year-old boy participating in the project consistently drew monsters with many shadows and details, which could psychologically mean that the child had been abused. And after multiple rounds of endless analysis, Antonia and María Ignacia built a story through all these ideas. They wanted the garments to focus on happiness and childhood with all the colors the children never had. They wanted the collection to heal the children’s wounds and their lives.
Through the color palette, they conveyed the idea that changes are essential and symbolize another attempt to restore the children’s injustices. The rainbow represented the beauty after the storm, and the sun, the light of hope and change. The silhouettes focused on oversized long-sleeved styles, representing a protective layer that these children deserve daily and a separate symbol to the idea that girls need protection during their adolescent development.
But considering the divided world we now live in, Antonia and María Ignacia wanted to avoid the endless nonsensical political debate, the controversies, and the conspiracies (don’t get me started). Despite its negative context, the designers created a more powerful statement about early childhood and the SENAME, respecting the children’s anonymity. “To raise a child, you need a tribe,” and this is why the fashion collection was named SANAME (i.e., “Heal Me”). These children should be healed, cared for, and given love that was initially lacking to enable them to dream and live a prosperous and happy life like anyone else.
Every day new emotions are lived in different realities in this world. We all must live, feel, and learn from vulnerabilities and complex emotions. The SANAME collection expresses both the good and bad sides experienced in the lives of foster children, demonstrated through the colors and drawings in the garments, allowing us to see both realities. Fashion can show daily life’s complex and challenging reality through art, creativity, and a sense of caring.