Under rain-heavy skies, ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió, teachers from the Xeman and Rancho de Teja schools and Josué Morales, the local artist who has collaborated on this project over the past two years, head to the most remote communities in the area of Los Rocosos in Totonicapan, Guatemala.
The picture book workshop is a continuation of the previous training workshops with the teachers with whom we created the book Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides.
To break down the process for the teachers, we divided the workshop into two parts: writing and illustration. The steps we covered included body movement dynamics, word games, drawing exercises with music, shared reading and presentation of visual images.
Mind you, we are not telling just any story. We study and communicate such interconnected topics as reforestation, indigenous practices, recycling and garbage control, natural disasters, forest management and community empowerment. All of these issues are closely related and represent a cascade of causes and effects.
In just one morning consisting of four hours of work, we delved into these subjects, gently encouraging each student to fully participate. At the end of the session, amidst applause and congratulations, everyone got a chance to read their story out loud, show their drawing or pose for a photo in front of their colored chalk masterpiece on the floor.
It was a special activity because we Luis Quino from ArtCorps and Barbara Vallarino and Melissa Haley from our partner EcoLogic Development Fund shared the experience, and the 60-something students and the teachers were brimming with smiles and appreciation. But we are equally grateful to them, for having opened a space for us to share and, together, project a better future.
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The Young Leaders in Conservation and ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio were about to celebrate the completion of a stunning 80 x 90 foot mosaic made from plastic bottle caps, but one of the young artists was dissatisfied.
Aroldo asks me to bend down so he can whisper into my ear: “This isn’t good. I don’t like it.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the group celebrates the conclusion of the project that we’ve worked on for the last two months at the Xolsacmalja community library: An image measuring 80 by 90 feet made completely out of plastic drink bottle tops. An attempt to make a game, and manifest color, out of recycling. A plastic mosaic.
Between the shrieks of the other workshop participants, empty glue bottles scattered on the floor, and struggles to grab the camera, I want to know why Aroldo isn’t happy with the final outcome. He was the one, after all, who created the design on the vinyl and he never missed a single workshop.
Aroldo remains at a distance and continues to shake his head NO.
Finally he says to me: “Tree trunks are not pink.”
Hmmm. “Matisse was a very famous painter who painted trees red.” It is the first thing that comes to mind as I search for an answer that will make him feel like an “understood artist.”
But Aroldo keeps looking for brown drink tops within the bag. There’s not a single one! Funny that the drink companies here don’t use brown in their product design.
I try to make sure that the rest of the group doesn’t get discouraged over the “pink trunk.” So, as a closing activity, we imagine the dawn, when the sun bathes the forests and cities, the adobe houses and the buildings, in pinks and oranges. We can only see it for a few minute. Aroldo, now you see?
His buddies have already put away the materials and are playing ball on the field, but Aroldo is still looking skeptically at the plastic tree.
Meanwhile, evening is falling and if we look beyond the soccer field, the forest is tinged with pinks and purples.
This project is being carried out in collaboration with EcoLogic Development Fund.
Doña Aidé was one of the first women to arrive for the workshop, and she sat down to chat to enjoy her cup of coffee and pupusas and wait with ArtCorps Artist Miguel Zepeda Santos for the other organizers of women’s microcredit groups to arrive.
Doña Aidé has a quiet and kind demeanor, and like many women from a machista culture, she only speaks if she is addressed directly. I wondered how comfortable she would be participating in the activities and telling the group about herself.
I gave each woman a flower that I had created earlier for them to color and fill in (this technique is called the “Flower of my Life”). On each petal, they were asked to respond to the following statements: I work with women in order to…, What I like the most is…, My best quality is…, What I do best is…, My worst fear is…, What I don’t like is…, My greatest dream is…. Doña Aidé told me that she needed help to complete her flower. I approached her and realized that it was difficult for her to read and that only with much effort, and very slowly, was she able to write. But despite these limitations, she didn’t get discouraged and participated along with the others.
When Doña Aidé finished filling out her flower, she shared the following:
I work with women “to help my family cover household expenses.” What I like the most is “to share with the women in the savings group.” My best quality is “to be very nice to others.” What I do best is “to make a delicious meal.” My worst fear is “to get sick and have to go to the hospital.” What I don’t like is “to be selfish.” My greatest dream is “that my son will be a professional.”
If we ask people what they like and what they don’t like, what their greatest fears and best qualities are, etc., without using this creative technique, people don’t participate. But a simple drawing exercise breaks the silence and allows women to express their day-to-day realities as women, mothers, wives and leaders in their communities.
Once all the women had shared their drawings, Doña Aidé expressed that the drawing had served to make her stop and think about who she is, make note of all her good qualities, know herself better and reflect on her life.
Dona Aide knows how to communicate her biggest fears and this is an important step toward overcoming the physical, psychological, verbal and economic abuse, which she and her peers face every day. In the microcredit groups, women share joy, sadness, pain, a sense of community and determination. Now the organizers of the women’s credit groups have one more tool to use to build self-esteem and communicate with one another.
This project is being carried out in collaboration with Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo.