Monday, December 5, 2022

A Jungle for Special Children


Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
Tepezcuintle (detail)

Sixty 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.

It 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.

The 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.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
Of 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 day.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
While 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.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
I 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.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque

The 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.

I 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.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque

This 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.

In 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!

But 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 year!

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque