Our excitement grew as the bus climbed up the mountain towards the community of San Mateo, outside of Queztaltenango. On our way to spend the morning with youth volunteers in a community radio station we passed cows crossing the road, men pedaling furiously on bicycles, selling the morning paper, and busses that spit exhaust so black the shimmering air around them recoiled. We disembarked, and began the five minute process of greeting kisses and hugs with the few indigenous youth standing shyly outside the radio gate.
"This is Freddy, Ximena, Ruby, Merlita, and Anna!" began Patricia, the multi-media artist who has worked with the youth for the last three months. They stepped towards us timidly, shaking our hands with small smiles and looking at the ground.
Isabel led the group in breathing exercises; we giggled nervously when she made us feel our partner's lungs as we inhaled and exhaled deeply. Then Evelina joyfully jumped in. She taught us how to move our bodies to different rhythms. By the time we got to the African beat, the group was so enthusiastic that one of our cohorts had fractured her foot in two places. The activity paused as everyone rushed to help and five minutes later she was comfortably cushioned on mattresses, with various sweatshirts as pillows and ice on her leg. A little subdued, we kept working.
The youth have worked mostly on radio production, but movement workshops were new to them. We began exploring techniques for story-building using physical theater techniques. Using body sculptures, the youth began to share their different experiences of rural Guatemalan reality.
What did we see?
A portrait of the youth by the youth showing the everyday injustices of their lives. Some were sculpted into gang-members, knifing innocents in the street. Others showed hopelessness, ignorance, and the violence that takes place behind closed doors. It was a pretty powerful and depressing picture.
So where are these young people headed if they're coming from so much hardship?
Well, we did a second sculpture and this time, we asked them what they wanted from life. What a difference! We saw Willy reaching towards hope, Freddy studying hard, Rubi's father hugging her, proud of her achievements. There were no more knifings, and instead of fear, play took center stage.
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