Claire Stewart

Year Joined MKLM: 2015
Country: Brazil
City: São Paulo
Focus: Art Education
Project(s): Escola Lar Anjo Gabriel, Projeto PIVI

Populations Served: Children

Project Goal(s): To provide children in vulnerable living situations a safe outlet in which to express their emotions through art. The majority of the activities are planned to be cost affordable and use recycled materials, so that children can continue these projects at home or share with siblings.

Current Ministry:

Claire’s current ministries are at Escola Lar Anjo Gabriel and Projeto PIVI. She currently teaches eleven Art classes to 140 vulnerable children ranging in age from 3 to 12. She also facilitates activities in other projects on occasion, serving 30-40 children.

Claire’s art education ministry first started in a homeless shelter for foreign women and their children. She was inspired to start her ministry in São Paulo, and offered up her skills to fill the needs of the shelter, which was programming for the children at the time. From there, she further developed the program to utilize more recycled materials to help children embrace their creativity without wasting resources. She has taught activities in two different shelters, two different pastoral groups, and now two different schools for extended amounts of time. Within Brazil, many schools and institutions lack the funding to provide for an Art program and teacher. Claire thought this program would be something simple just to keep the children occupied, but has been told by other teachers and directors that it truly changes and calms even the wildest of kids. Claire has learned that when children suffer from an experience they cannot make sense of, aggression tends to be the easiest form of expression. The art activities she facilitates are simple, yet provide a nonviolent alternative for children in difficult situations to truly express themselves.

Claire constantly experiences a sense of joy and hope whenever she arrives at the childrens’ classrooms. The excitement and happiness they share in whatever is planned for the day sustains her in mission. She once brought clay for the students to make turtles. Most of them had never seen clay before. In trying to explain it was like mud, one of the girls in her class responded happily, “Tia, I know what this is. We mix dirt with water and play with this at my grandmother’s house because we don’t have any other toys to play with.” Even though the activities are straight forward, the children always find joy and opportunities when creating the art, no matter the materials.

Claire says, “I have come to understand that Maryknoll Lay Missioners stands for a humility that aims to cross borders, enter hearts and transform the world with hope. This is something I will strive for and I am strongly invested in doing.”

Personal Data:

Claire is from Mount Juliet, TN, but recently lived in Houston, TX. She has a Bachelor of Science in International Studies from Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL. She worked as an activities and office assistant, camp counselor, and English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher while at Spring Hill College. She went on immersion trips to the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. With Jesuit Volunteer Corps, she served asylum seekers in Houston, TX. Claire was an ESL tutor for Catholic Charities of Nashville and volunteered with the Little Sisters of the Poor in Mobile and the Missionaries of Charity in Bologna, Italy, and Houston. She was a member of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Parish and participated in its service outreach programs.

Claire was led to Maryknoll Lay Missioners as a result of her short-term experiences within rural communities in the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. The solidarity and strong connections throughout, built by the community, inspired her to discover how she could develop these sort of relationships within her life and share within the lives of others.  Claire reflects, “This is one of the reasons I applied and completed a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. However, I wanted a longer more in-depth experience, and knew Maryknoll Lay Missioners could provide what I was looking for.”