Spring 2018 - Cristina del Hoyo Espinar
I have been working at the Center for Global Health (CGH) as the Guatemala Project Specialist for 11 months, mainly coordinating travel logistics for all the travelers that go to the Trifinio clinic. In April 2018, I had the opportunity to take the trip myself and work on the ground at the project site. This experience definitely gave me a deeper understanding of the communities living there.
Six years ago, I developed an art program for children and teens based on art therapy and it was delivered for the first time in the Trifinio area, where both art and mental health programs are lacking. We had 11 teenagers and 18 children in our art program in two separate groups. We created a space in which they could have a voice and they could express with images what sometimes is so difficult to express through words. The objective of this program is not to teach children how to draw or paint; rather, it is to give voice to a community that has neither voice nor representation in many aspects of daily life. I was excited about bringing to these communities an opportunity for creative expression before I arrived and now I am basically overjoyed by the privilege of sharing time and energy with these children. They are playful and funny and never miss an opportunity to laugh despite the obvious hardships they face every day. I find that when one gets involved in community/social work, it is always hard to actually know who is helping whom because we will always receive so much wisdom from the people we were supposedly here to help. These kids are so eager to learn and to grow as human beings. They have so much to offer to this world.
The first day working with the older group was such a different experience from the younger group. One of the teenagers shared his story and it was such a powerful way to begin. They face so many problems every day but yet they seem to be patient and hopeful with what life brings. I noticed that they speak with a very low voice like if they are afraid of being heard or they are simply not used to being heard. I also think it is a new experience for them to reflect on topics such as self-discovery, emotional intelligence, creativity, vulnerability, dreams and the power that comes from knowing oneself at a deeper level.
One of the kids in the younger group told me that yesterday he didn’t want to leave the art session. He asked us for paper and a couple of crayons to take home so he could work on a drawing in the evening. He brought the drawing the next day and looked for me to show it to me. He was so proud of his artwork. I believe that it is essential for children to create and to be proud of what they create and what they are able to do with their minds, their hands and their hearts/emotions. They are learning about their own potential and their self-worth. Every day, we go deeper in our conversations and reflections, and in every session they enjoy more the time creating and doing art. They are already excited about their collective art exhibit. One of our teenagers told me that she felt like some of her pain and sorrow was liberated when she painted. It made me feel like all my work for this art program was already worth it.
The facilitators of the art program are working great together. Everything flows smoothly and we all help out with whatever is needed. They already are like family to me. We are spending almost every waking hour together preparing materials, delivering the art program, filing and organizing artwork, preparing the sessions for the next day, taking the kids home on the bus or selecting artwork for the art exhibit that we are planning for later this week. There is already a strong sense of community and belonging, but I think this program is reinforcing that feeling even more. The older group created a painting together; they communicated and made decisions together to create a collective piece that represents them and their vision of a healthy community and its values.
The art exhibit we held at the end of the week was a big success. Our older and younger groups attended the exhibit with their families. They were happy, excited and proudly showed their art to their families. Some of their family members approached me to express sincere gratitude and with hopes that we can continue to provide art programs for their children. I believe in the healing power of art and I have experienced myself how important and liberating art making can be. This was a week of bounding through art and conversations, a week of learning from each other as human beings, a week of transformative experiences. A week of empowering and believing in our potential.
As soon as we finished the art program, we started to think of ways to sustain this initiative since the children were already asking us when the next art program would take place. We were also very excited about future possible artistic projects in the Trifinio area that could include other cultural artistic disciplines such us dance, music, poetry, photography, or even theatre.
If you are interested in contributing to the 2019 “Paint Your Life” program, click here.