Graphic design and cooking pave the way to emotional resiliency

Bolivia — Apr 2023

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Two people smiling for a photo
Angela Opimi and Adi Nugroho stand by a mural at Talita Cumi, a home for orphaned children and youth and a partner of Mennonite Central Committee. Opimi works as the psychologist and Nugroho is supporting children with after-school help through the YAMEN program.

What do cooking and graphic design have in common? For Adi Nugroho, it’s never been about mastering either of these skills. Technical skills are simply the backdrop for developing emotional tools and creating a space for connection, even across cultures. 

When Adi’s host mom, Angela Opimi, was asked if she’d like to open her home up to a participant of the YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network) program, she was reluctant at first. Angela has been connected to the Mennonite church for years, and she now acts as vice president of Evangelical Mennonite Church Bolivia (IEMB) and is a member of Mennonite World Conference’s Deacons Commission. But despite those strong church ties, having someone live in her home felt like a big step.

Her biggest fear in hosting? Preparing food. 

She remembers telling Adi about her fears around cooking when he first arrived. He assured her that, “as long as there’s rice to cook, I’ll be fine.” To Angela’s surprise, the kitchen has become a place where they’ve built a friendship, shared jokes, and for Adi, learned a new language.

In the beginning, Adi didn’t know any Spanish, so the words they had to communicate were limited. But in the kitchen, his relationship with his host mom and his comfort in Spanish grew. 

When Adi heard about YAMEN, a one-year service term for young adults outside of Canada and the U.S. that provides the chance to learn, serve and grow in another country, he knew that going to Bolivia would be different than his home country in Indonesia. 

YAMEN is a joint program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference (MWC). 

Adi arrived in Bolivia with an openness to see how his experience in graphic design could be used at Talita Cumi, a home for orphaned and at-risk children and youth. Talita Cumi is supported by two churches Restoration Church and Trinity Church, which help provide spiritual support and activities for children. 

For traumatized youth, qualities like time management, patience and teamwork have often taken a back seat to other family priorities. After a few months of building relationships with the children, Adi realized that while teaching a hard skill like graphic design would be fun, it could also be an opportunity to teach emotional development in an indirect way. 

Adi uses the example of developing confidence; he explains that many kids don’t have much confidence in their abilities. Kids might draw something in his class but would quickly scribble on top of it if anyone looked at it. But once they see their own posters hung in the halls of Talita Cumi they think, “Wow, this is my project!” It builds confidence. They might think “Oh, maybe I can do more.” They can picture a future for themselves that they couldn’t imagine before.

His experience with YAMEN has pushed Adi to practice the emotional skills he’s teaching. “When I first came here everything was hard, the culture was difficult to adapt to, and the language made everything harder.” Rice, a staple food in Indonesia, was prepared differently in Bolivia. But after a long day, Adi and Angela would meet in the kitchen to cook a simple meal. He shared some of his favourite recipes from Indonesia and Angela shared easy Bolivian dishes. 

While he’s building skills while cooking with Angela, he’s also expanding his ideas about how food can be prepared and building a relationship along the way. 

Angela shares, “I enjoy spending time with him in the kitchen because he doesn’t just wait for food to appear. He says, ‘let’s make it together and we can make it faster’. I’ve remained an independent person, but he’s not a stranger in my home, he’s more like a nephew.”

Maybe Adi and Angela won’t become master chefs. Maybe the children at Talita Cumi won’t want to continue in a career with graphic design. But the emotional tools that they carry with them as they interact with other people and cultures, will last a lifetime.