Foreign Interest bannerHealth section
Front Page
The World
The Middle East
North America
South America
Viewpoint Section
A Foreign Idea
Points of Interest
About Foreign Interest

Health: Healthy Lifestyles

Teaming kidney disease awareness with art and healthy living takes a community devoted to its present and future youth. For some, the MIKE mural transformed more than a wall.


Bookmark and Share
community garden
Youth interns of the MIKE Mural Project during the dedication in September.
© Foreign Interest, 2009

For more information:
MIKE Program
Robin Corbo at Cicada Ink

An Artful Way to Support Healthy Lifestyles

By Sherry Harbert, Foreign Interest


A paintbrush opened Sukoun Snguan to opportunity and accomplishment for the first time in her life. It began as a simple process of dipping the brush into plastic canisters of paint and applying it to the side of a concrete wall outside a dialysis clinic in Northeast Portland. The wall was a regular target for graffiti and gang symbols. It was anything but inviting to patients entering the DSI clinic to sustain their lives with dialysis treatments.


During weekends this summer, Snguan discovered how colors and lines merged to form a series of images for a community mural. The sweeping mural covers the entire side of the building with images of healthy foods, community gatherings, outdoor activities and people.


Snguan, along with a dozen other student interns, were selected by the mural designer Robin Corbo and members of the Multicultural Integrative Kidney Education (MIKE) program which works with diverse and often marginalized youth in the Portland area. The students were selected by the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), a nonprofit which offers guidance, education and support for at-risk youth affected by poverty, family instability and homelessness. POIC manages an alternative high school, a transition program to move youth into college and work training programs. All the student interns participate in POIC programs. According to their website, 95 percent of POIC’s students live in conditions below the poverty line, 85 percent are high school dropouts and 65 percent do not live with their families. POIC, as the MIKE Project partner on various efforts to support the students by offering expanded opportunities that either one alone could not fulfill.


Working on the mural allowed Snguan to express herself beyond anything she could imagine. “MIKE let me be a part of this,” she said at the mural dedication in September. “Before MIKE, I did really bad in school. I never accomplished anything. I’m proud of this. I really accomplished something.”


Snguan’s enthusiasm and sense of achievement was shared by the other interns at the dedication. Chris Tomlin expressed his amazement at the transformation. “I had no idea of the size at first,” he said. “It kind of evolved. It’s really crazy how it changed over time. It took a lot of work.” Tomlin’s experience changed his outlook in many ways. He said he now plans to volunteer with the POIC program for helping him through his life and hopes to someday go to college. “For now, I’m just getting along.”


The message from the mural conveys visual encouragement for the students and community about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and ways to include it in daily life.


Stepping Up to the MIKE


The MIKE Program was established in 2000 to provide youth mentorship in the health community, partnership with other agencies and promote healthy kidneys. Founder and President Cheryl Neal created the program after her husband, Dr. Michael Hartnett, a Portland nephrologist (a kidney specialist) died. His inspiration lives on through the program and people it reaches.


“There are so many youth who don’t know how to eat in this society,” said Neal. “They feel comfortable in fast food environments and all the culture that surrounds it, but I see kids who stumble trying to order in a deli, let alone grocery shop. They have trouble ordering healthy alternatives and don’t know how to cook.”


The program engages marginalized youth in educational and mentorship programs. The mural project offered a creative way to focus students in community service. The selected group of student interns were paid for their work to reflect the value of their efforts and ideas.


The project began with Neal’s concerns and an idea of Annette Arnold, the DSI Clinic Manager for the Northeast Clinic, regarding the continuously tagged wall of the clinic. After seeing enough of the wrong messages, they wanted to extend some positive messages to the community. In late 2007 they began the process to bring the mural to life. The ideas and vision were established, but it would take a lot more to make it happen.


In the spring of 2008, Deborah Schwisow brought all the elements together as the mural project manager. Schwisow had worked at the facility as a dialysis technician for six years before earning her BSBA in 2007. She saw the tagged wall everyday she went to work, so she joined MIKE and the project to make a difference. She organized the logistics, volunteers and funding for the project, which culminated in the dedication ceremony featuring local dignitaries and the community.


Neal saw the transformation of the students working on the mural. She said one of the students working on mural, began their MIKE experience with their back to the others in a circle just doing crossword puzzles. “Slowly this person turned into the circle and began to participate, she said. “Now this individual is helping lead the others. This individual still needs help and support, but has come a long way. People need to understand how there are struggles along the way.”


The focus of the mural project was multi-faceted. It utilized the process of involving students who most needed the message of its purpose by providing experiences the students could take away and build upon throughout their lives.

“It’s a reflection on youth and good health,” said Neal. “I look at this mural and all its potential. I think about the individuals I know. There is not anything in their lives that are reflected in the mural. Yet this is what they envision. They need a way to get there.” Neal said the mural represents a world where adults care for children and the environment. “It is a world of harmony and good relationships,” she said. “It is a world built on internal connections and interconnectedness of each person and the earth. How can we ignore that?”


Kidneys and Kids


The long term goal of the MIKE is to prevent chronic kidney disease. It is crucial to educate early since the affects do not hit until much later in life. It is a daunting task to convince people of its dire consequences.


Kidney disease is not a topic of discussion for many people, especially teenagers. With the continuing debate on healthcare, it should not be ignored. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that kidney treatment costs to Medicare alone will jump to $54 Billion in 2020 from $20 Billion in 2005. With the staggering increases in diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure that is above 140/90), the two largest contributors to chronic kidney disease (CKD), the affects of the disease on the healthcare industry and lives is cause for worry. The CDC classifies CKD as a public health threat.


Getting kids to recognize healthy lifestyles early is a struggle. It is more difficult in marginalized communities. MIKE was designed to reach the youngest audience at a time where they form their lifestyles of nutrition and health. The project also works to counter the lack of access for marginalized and multicultural populations which are suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure in increasing numbers than those of other segments of the population.


Healthy Expressions for All to See


The MIKE Mural Project was a way to share healthy lifestyles and public art with the community at large. Corbo’s expressionistic design garnered her an invitation from MIKE for the project. Wearing a paint splattered hat and overalls one weekend in August, Corbo talked about the progress of the mural between nonstop interactions with the student interns. Part nurturer and part task master, Corbo shared encouraging words to reinforce the student efforts. “This has been a two-year project,” said Corbo, a mural artist who specializes in art therapy. “The MIKE program did their research. They liked my style and also that I work with youth.” Corbo said she was first brought on as a consultant, then as the artist in 2008. She has directed other mural projects in Portland since moving to the city in 2001, in addition to projects in Virginia and New Zealand. Much of her work is under the name Cicada Ink.


Corbo began the mural project with a preliminary design featuring a multitude of images depicting health. Her plan allowed for new ideas from the interns. She asked them what they thought health meant and what images were meaningful for them, then incorporated those ideas into the final art. The process opened up the students to thinking about healthy lifestyles, then reinforced those ideas through participation in the project. “There’s a lot of embellishing, color and attitude that went into it,” said Corbo.


Corbo is at ease working with students. She works at a local nonprofit agency, Outside In, which works directly with homeless youth in the city. She worked with the interns every weekend for three months to create the basic mural that spans 100 feet. She harnessed the talents of local professional artists with Inside Track to complete the detail work.


“Robin is an amazing manager,” said Kamyar Jahan, one of the student interns. “I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s a new step in my life.” The other interns include Twandre Hodge, Keshia Taylor, Terry Auxiliadosia Herrera, Ra’Onna Peck, Salminio Kelsey, Abu-Bakar Turay, Tanasia Bishop, Chuck Crocket and Rudy Rolon-Rivas.


For Snguan the mural was much more than a summer experience. “It opened up a door for other things,” she said. “Now I know I can do other things. I can even finish college.”


The mural also opened Corbo to other things. During the dedication she learned that the owners of the building across the street wants a mural of their own.


October 12, 2009

© 2009, Foreign Interest


globe old world
© 2009 Foreign Interest. All rights reserved.