Monday, August 20, 2018

Art, Rain and More Art in Alotenango

 Although I no longer post every week about our art workshops in the shelter in Alotenango, it doesn’t mean the workshops don’t continue. And things are finally changing…

Last week we actually didn’t go to Alotenango because the people in the shelter were being relocated to a transition shelter at the outskirts of Alotenango. Here the army has constructed wooden units, one for each family. I haven’t been there yet, but from what I understand it is rather cramped. The residents will have no opportunity to cook in those units, but there is a separate kitchen where they will receive (or cook?) their meals. There is an old school building where the kids will receive classes. A woman called Suzan is constructing a building for recreational purposes out of eco-blocks: plastic bottles filled with waste (chips bags and such). The students of the Carpentry Project are making the wooden frame for this structure. As soon as people are settled in we hope to continue our art classes here as well as some other activities.

In the meantime things start to look “normal”. The tents in the Central Park of Alotenango have been removed. Even the road to Escuintla (RN14) is accessible again thanks to a major effort by the government to clear away the debris. The same government still does not allow residents from the affected areas to keep searching for remains of their loved ones because it is “too dangerous” (and yes, body parts are still being found.) Experts keep saying that the dangerous thing is actually to reopen the road because it is more than likely that soon it will be covered up by millions of tons of debris from the flanks of the volcano. I guess we’ll just wait for the next disaster to happen.
Suzan and Yoselin
But back to the art classes.
On Thursday August 2nd I went to the shelter with Suzan Eleveld, director of the Carpentry Project (not to be confused with the Suzan I mentioned before). She had been away from just days before the eruption, so this was her first visit to the shelter. It was a happy encounter with her student Ermelinda who lives at the shelter with her whole extended family, as well as other acquaintances.
There was no activity going on this day, so all kids came running up to me, barely giving me the chance to set up the activity. I had expected about 15 kids, but there were more than 30 and most of them rather young. I had planned to make decorated paper bags, but that turned out to be a bit too much for so many kids. So we just drew and coloured and had plenty of fun. Later on a group of the older kids did get to work on their bags with some beautiful results.

In the meantime it had started to rain heavily and the little kids playing with their push cars on the patio moved up to the corridor where we had set up the art station. They were playing “ambulance”, mimicking sirens on top of their lungs while racing past the tables. All in all a crazy afternoon that left me pretty exhausted.

One moment that stood out for me was when a little boy, not even two years old I guess, climbed on a chair and grabbed a piece of paper. I gave him a crayon and with a very serious expression he drew a line on the paper. His whole face lit up when he saw the result (a blue line) and he looked up at me with an ecstatic look on his face. I gave him another crayon and he squeaked with pleasure when he drew a red line. This went on for quite a bit. Oh, the delights of making your first work of art…
Neftali and on the left the Youngest Artist
A week later, August 9th, we made it to the shelter despite yet another tropical downpour. Henry Navarijo and Rudy of the Carpentry Project joined me to help the kids make thread spinners. The things actually have a name here: chajaleles. Who knew!
There were some other activities going on so we had a slow start but ended up with about 25 kids. They all loved the thread spinners and some coloured more than one. All went smooth and well, very different form the chaos last week.The only short interruption we had was when we heard a funeral march coming by and all the kids ran out "to look at the dead".

And that was it for now. We’ll see what will happen this week in the transition shelter.
Thanks to all of you who made these activities possible!