How would you describe yourself?
My name is Toña Pineda. I come from planet Earth. Sometimes (laughs). No, just kidding. I’m Venezuelan, I’m Latin American, I’m a woman. I’m a storyteller. I love telling stories, that’s what I do. I’m very playful. I love the verb ‘to play’. I like to relate and communicate with others while playing. I’m a composor of music for children. I’m an educator of open spaces, which is why I like working with the mobile school. And that’s who I am.
What did you study?
I studied to be a primary school teacher. Afterwards, I specialised in psychology, group dymanics specifically and then, I studied Culture of Peace Education. Finally, I also did a Master in International Cooperation & Development. For my internship, I went to Guatemala with Clowns Without Borders.
As you can see, I studied a lot, but my real school has been the streets. Looking people in the eyes, being a clown, telling stories, singing and playing. It’s what I do, but also who I am.
Did you ever work as a teacher?
Yes. I worked in formal education for nine years. I worked in kindergarten, in primary school and in secondary school. I got tired of being locked between four walls, though. So I left and I went to the streets.
And now you tell stories, among other things. Do you have a favourite story?
I have a lot of favourite stories. If I have to name just one, I’ll choose the story of the baobab tree. It’s a story about trust that’s been broken and has to be regained and a comparison can be made between the baobab tree and people. If you read the story, you can see that the tree closes down its heart, which is what we do sometimes as well. We should be willing to open it when we meet rabbits, though!
Do you have a favourite saying as well?
I think life gives you opportunities to make your own sayings and your own beliefs. And well, it just so happens that I’m a storyteller, so I’ve been able to write mine down. There is one, which is part of a song that I wrote, called Octavia. It’s about these yellow flowers that grow everywhere, even in the places where nothing else can grow, in the most obscure and ugly places, like the sewers. That’s what I like about mankind, that we preserve the ability to find yellow flowers in sewers, that there is always beauty to be found. That’s what I believe in.
Something else I believe in is that we lose ourselves every day. Every day I lose myself, every day you lose yourself, every day we lose ourselves, in the eternal game of finding ourselves. For me, meeting with others is part of life’s essence and with others, I literally mean everyone.
How did you get involved in Mobile School?
I met Arnoud in 2002 or 2003, through Jaume - a mutual friend - when I was living in Barcelona. Jaume had just been on a trip to Guatemala City with Clowns Without Borders and he told me about a project of a Belgian friend of his, who worked with a little cart, a school for street-connected children, that I had to get to know. Jaume worked at a puppet theater in Barcelona and, one day, he invited Arnoud over to give a presentation about Mobile School at that theater. I went and when I was listening to him, I thought “I would like to be his friend”. I didn’t have to wait for a very long time, because we became friends that same evening (laughs).
I had saved up money to go and visit my family in Venezuela that year to spend Christmas with them. I was telling Jaume about it and he told me he was going to travel around with Arnoud to implement mobile schools in the Dominican Republic, in Colombia, Peru and... in Venezuela! They were going to be there in December as well. I could’t believe my luck! I asked if I could join them during the implementation and they immediately agreed. So that’s what I did. I joined them for a couple of days. We took the mobile school to the local markets to work with the children working there. I started listening to the workshops and I just loved the methodology and the work on the streets. I also got along very well with Jaume and Arnoud.
When they left to implement the mobile school in Peru, Arnoud invited me to work for Mobile School. Since there were 8 implementations in one year – instead of 4 like now – two teams were formed. Jaume coordinated one team and Arnoud coordinated the other one. He asked me to be a part of his team and I agreed immediately. That’s how the ball got rolling.
In 2004, I travelled to Belgium, to get to know the organisation better, the volunteers, the workshops, ... Afterwards, I travelled around with Arnoud. We first went to Peru and then to La Paz, Sucre and Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Since I had the time, I always stayed at the partner organisations for a bit longer after the training, to accompany the local mobile school teams on the streets.
After living in Spain for a couple of years, I decided to move back to my country in 2005. I said goodbye to all my friends, packed up my things and travelled to Venezuela, where I met Arnoud to implement a mobile school there as well. The local organisation just so happened to be looking for a full-time street worker to coordinate the mobile school project, so I stayed. It was lovely to work with that magical box on wheels for 2 years in my hometown.
Afterwards, I stayed involved in Mobile School. Now I’m a trainer, mostly in Latin America. Mobile School has been my school of humanity. By working with the mobile school with different local teams, I’ve got to know the most humane of humanity.
What was your best experience with the mobile school in Venezuela?
The possibility to work with street-connected children. The possibility of being their friend, opening up to them and learning from them. The loyalty they have towards each other, their capacity to survive and to look out for each other, their resilience and their infinite creativity. I was lucky to meet John, a composer of rap. Although society turned its back on him, he sang his heart out. He composed music about his life on the streets. I had the opportunity to meet many children like John, each with their own story, some shared, others reserved in their looks filled with the sun and with stars that light up and, often, fade away.
I loved the work at the market in Venezuela. Our street team consisted of only female street educators and we were treated like the queens of the market. When we arrived there, it only took about two seconds before there were at least five market vendors at the van to help us lower the mobile school, gather our things,... They didn’t even let us put the ramps in place! What happened there, was really beautiful. The mobile school was a meeting place for everyone: for small children, adolescents and even for grandparents. It was really nice to work there.
What is the added value of the mobile school to street work?
There’s a lot of added value! When the mobile school arrives, it creates an atmosphere, a meeting space. A ton of children run up to it, because they know it’s a place where they can do fun things, where they will not feel or be judged, where they can be safe. A place where they can be who they are, without prejudices. Where they can receive love and positive impulses. Where their joy can be awakened.
Do you miss the work on the streets?
Yes, but right now I wouldn’t be able to do it all year round anymore. I’m like a heart. I need different beats. I need to be able to self-reflect, to create and to recreate myself and to then go outside and work. That’s why, right now, I wouldn’t be able to be a street worker all year round anymore, but I do love doing it.
Do you have a favourite workshop?
I like the workshop on creative therapy a lot, because it’s my big strength. I love giving that workshop over and over again, because it’s a big part of what I do on a daily basis. But I like all the other workshops as well, such as self-esteem, counseling skills, creativity,...
I remember that when I was first giving the trainings, they made me question myself a lot as a person, the things I’d studied, the way I’d worked. They taught me to really look in the mirror and to get rid of judgements, to not judge anyone. That’s why I like giving the trainings. Every training is a new moment of self-reflection too.
If you could change something in the world, what would it be?
The hatred in the hearts of people. Power. I would throw power as far away as possible. Power and hatred. And injustice, of course, but I believe it’s a product of the two previous things I mentioned.
What gives you energy in life? What motivates you to keep going?
Happiness gives me energy. The possibility of meeting with others. Music.
What motivates me to keep going is love. It sounds very ‘hippy’, but that’s just who I am. Love, universal love. Love for people, love for the earth and nature. My love for my mom, my love for love, my love for human beings.
What are your dreams or goals for the future?
I have a lot! I dream of having a van, which will be a library for books and games and a school all at the same time and of course with a mobile school attached on a trailer (laughs). It would be a place for everyone. A place where everybody could be themselves and just be loved for it. A place where there’s time for everyone. A place where it’s possible for everyone to create things and to keep creating themselves as human beings. I would travel the world with that van. Travel all across Latin America and then strap it to a boat and cross the ocean to keep going. But, well, that’s what I’m doing now as well, just in a different way. I want to keep creating, keep doing what I’m doing.
Other songs of Toña Pineda: