I can’t complain about my “office”! This time I
was working high up in the mountains above Antigua Guatemala, with a terrific
view of the Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes. The village of El Hato is a far cry
from the prosperous colonial town of Antigua. In El Hato, most people live in humble
circumstances. Many of them grow flowers (mostly cala lilies, agapanthus and carnations)
which they sell at the market of Antigua. The village just got a much-needed
brand-new school building with plenty of blank walls. A perfect spot for a
About two weeks ago I went up to meet the director
Patricia Toledo to hear about her ideas and have a look at walls. Initially her
idea was to have a mural painted around the sports court, but unfortunately that
wall was in a rough shape (lots of humidity) and would need lots of repairing
without the guarantee it would hold up a mural. In the end we decided on a
wall next to the director’s office, at the entrance of the school, quite visible
from the road. A perfect spot! The wall is 7 meters long and 3 meters high, a
nice size to work at. Theme? Something positive, something colourful and with
the flowers they grow in the community. And, as a special request, could we paint
the school’s emblem on the wall too? Well, why not.
The whole project got delayed a bit because
Covid finally caught up with me, but once recovered, Elio (AKA Henry) and I
went up the hill and up the ladder. We didn’t involve any kids this time
because of possible lingering Covid. The teachers had just started their
holiday, so we had the place to ourselves.
The painting took a little longer than I had
expected. Elio worked on the emblem, just needed me for the letters, that was
all. Then he helped me with the background of geometric shapes that just take
an awful long time to paint. Although the wall was brand new with a fresh coat
of paint, it required no less than three layers to nicely cover up. Oh, and it
was HOT! Freezing cold in the mornings, but as soon as the sun started peeking
over the mountain, it was just blazingly hot with a blinding reflection on the
white wall. But, a few days of hard work in and the mural was done…
When I sent pictures of the result to the
director, she said she loved the mural, but when would I finish the school’s
crest? I was like: Excuse me? It’s already finished!
No, she said, it’s missing the school’s name!
One of those facepalm moments. No one to blame but
me… So soon I’ll make another trip up the hill… But, for now the work is done.
I hope the kids like it too!
This mural was generously sponsored by Dutch
Foundation Colour4Kids. (Thank you, Jos Ruijs!) Many thanks to Catherine for the
ride and to David Dean for the contacts.
square meters, thirty children, twenty litres of paint, five long days and lots
of jungle. That basically sums up the mural project in San Martín Jilotepeque.
has been almost a year since I visited this school for children with special
needs for the first time and met director Telma Calan. It’s thanks to her that
children with all kinds of special needs receive education at a place where
they are treated with love and respect. Not an easy feat because all her
students have very different needs and range in age from four to twenty.
school is located in the centre of the buzzling town of San Martín de
Jilotepeque. It’s a bit of a concrete jungle there, with lots of traffic, stray
dogs, dirt and noise. The children are from the town itself and its surrounding
villages, many of them from low-income families. They’ll likely never go on a
trip and are rarely surrounded by soothing nature. That’s why I decided to
paint them a jungle in their schoolyard. To have a bit of green in their yard,
even if it’s just paint, and of course plenty of animals.
course, the children were going to be involved in the process. The problem was
that I didn’t know them, so I had no idea about their abilities. With that in
mind I made a design in which they could help paint the background on which we
would add details later on.
The teachers had arranged for the children to come in small groups which worked
out quite well. Dressed in old T-shirts we had brought for the occasion, the
children happily grabbed brushes and rollers. Minutes later everything was pale
blue, yellow and green, including the floor and the children’s faces. It was a
lovely mess and the kids clearly had a lot of fun.
The next group of kids was a bit older and quickly finished the rest of the
wall, even the highest parts. We could barely stop them from painting the rest
of the wall which we need to keep blank for the children who’d come the next
the children painted their hearts out under Catherine’s supervision (some parts
of the wall received no less than three generous layers of paint!), Elio (aka
Henry) and I worked on plants and animals. I had planned to work from left to
right, but upon arrival, the director told us they were having a graduation on
Friday and planned to do it in front of the right side of the wall. So that’s
where we started in order to have it ready for the grand finale.
made the mistake of cramming too many things in the first section of the wall which
left us with barely enough time for the rest of the wall. It turned out that
with this kind of design, five long days of painting were scarcely enough. To
be honest, I would have liked to have painted more animals and specific plants,
but alas, we could only stay so long. But since we are already making plans to
paint the outside wall next year, I might be able to add a few critters then.
last day was a big one! It was the celebration of the end of the school year,
the graduation of kindergarten and sixth grade students as well as the
inauguration of the mural. The ceremony included the usual prayer, oath to the
flag, national anthem and the official entrance of honour roll students. Very
cute but a little bittersweet for the sixth graders who will now leave this
special place in order to continue their education at a regular middle school.
have never officially opened any of my murals in such a festive way! It was fun
to cut the ribbon in front of all the students and their parents. Then it was
time for a delicious lunch and afterwards a few more hours of painting for us.
Night was falling when we packed up and headed back home to Antigua. Exhausted,
stained, stinky and dirty, but quite happy.
mural is a true community project. Not just because it was designed for all the
students, their parents and teachers of the school, but also because it would
not have been possible without the help of a LOT of people.
the first place, thanks to Elio Navarijo and Catherine Corry for joining me on
this venture and working their butts off! Many thanks to director Telma Calan
and staff of the school for receiving us so warmly and for providing labour for
plastering the wall. Of course, may thanks too to all the students who helped
paint. So much fun! A special thank-you to Cristy Velasco, our friend in San
Martín Jilotepeque who introduced us to the school and who kept on spoiling us
with delicious snacks. And many, many thanks to all the people who helped
sponsoring this mural! The list is long and for privacy reasons I’ll just
mention first names:
Peter, Fredy, Argi, Wendy, Katie, Pilar, Ria, Casey, Jeroen, Linda, Bonnie,
Tamra, Indara, David, Cathy, Dana, Frank, Maureen, Kimberly, Ana María,
Patricia, Judith, Jeff, Chris, Maite, Debra, Buddy, Christine, Shoshi, Suzanne,
Rokus, Paulina, Judy, Liza and Catherine. Thank you all so much!
it doesn’t end here!!! We have been asked to come back to paint the outside of
the school… The wall already has a mural, quite cute in its own way, but my fingers
are itching… I’m thinking social inclusion as a theme… Can’t wait till next