This trip was a collection of firsts for me.
As I started out on my first trip to Guatemala to work with Kevin Macpherson’s Art Ambassador roadshow along with our partner group Xela Aid - Partnership for Self-Reliance, there was no way I could imagine how this weeklong adventure would evolve, or what it would mean to me.
I arrived in Guatemala a few days before Kevin and Wanda Macpherson, and the Xela Aid contingency. I decided to arrive early to become acclimated to the cultures, language, personalities, and people of Guatemala. Our initial rendezvous point was the century old city of La Antigua, which I was told was the original capital of Guatemala.
Antigua is a city somewhat lost in time. Sidewalks are narrow and the streets are paved in large cobblestones. These streets are so rough; it is impossible for anyone to speed around in their cars and trucks. Antigua is filled with ancient sites, and due to the many earthquakes over the years, the ruins of old churches remain standing nearly on every corner.
My challenges began once the Xela Aid group and the other Art Ambassador representatives arrived. I quickly overcame the challenge of learning our group’s individual names, and on Sunday we began our real reason for being there. We boarded our bus and headed up to Quetzaltenango, which served as our home base. Interestingly, the name used by the locals for Quetzaltenango is Xela!
Every morning we gathered for breakfast and were briefed on the day’s activities and schedules. We then left our hotel to travel to a small village of San Martin Chiquito, where Xela Aid has been working for nearly 25 years. A well-staffed group of people, including doctors, a psychologist, a computer technology expert, and specialists in the areas of construction, spousal abuse, child welfare, and education oversees the activities there. In addition, it is the home of some of the country’s greatest weavers.
As our bus approached the central square, we were serenaded by a seemingly endless blast of firecrackers. As the door of the bus opened, young children and their mothers rushed to hug us with their arms wrapped around our legs.. I had the distinct impression they did not intend to let go. Clearly, they were very happy to see us.
This however was only the beginning! On day one, I conducted an art class with a great group of fifth graders. Each of the students was given a kraft tote bag along with an assortment of colored crayons. In addition, they had several large sets of colored markers to choose from. My assignment for them was to illustrate their life with the theme, “I Love My Life”. The guidance I gave them was to close their eyes and think about their lives in the following way:
I love who I am! • I love my family! • I love my friends! • I love where I live! • I love my history and my culture! • I love the things around me like my home, my school, the trees, the animals, and the flowers.
These faces tell the story!
This initial project was a smashing success, especially when I told them they could keep the totes and colored crayons. Although I had more kraft sacks than I personally needed, another member of our group also conducted two classes with the same materials and had a similar resounding success.
On day two, I returned to the Las Nubes Elementary School to work with a group of third graders. My assignment for this group was to imagine the importance of the sun, which as we know, is the most important thing there is to support life on Earth.
Today we will draw our own version of the sun.We have colored markers and paper plates to draw on. When we finish, we will enjoy your impressions together.
The children had no trouble understanding my assignment and quickly began to create their sun impressions. There was quite a bit of chatter among the children, and they were all excited to dive in.
Beyond what we might call the “obvious” solution, many of these children expressed deep meaning in their renditions of the sun. Take Jose as an example. Jose said “The sun is a clown because clowns make magical things happen.”
We then returned to the Xela Aid Clinic and began painting a single panel mural on the wall of the newly completed and magical third-floor. Our mural was a totally collaborative event. Five of us painted the wall simultaneously. It looked much like a circus act. The subject was simply a lady, in traditional dress, peering out a window to a typical hillside farming area. In the end, it was a delightful addition to this gathering place.
With our work now completed at the clinic, it was time for a little R&R for us worker-bees. On Friday evening, we loaded onto our bus and drove out to the beautiful, Lake Atitlán. For many tourists and natives alike, this lake is possibly the single greatest destination in Guatemala. Lake Atitlán brings poetic outbursts from even the most seasoned travelers. Of volcanic origin, the lake is ringed by villages such as Santiago Atitlán, San Marcos, San Pedro, and Panajachel. There we had a fine time exploring the native surroundings, shopping and eating.
In summary, this excursion was everything from breath-taking to humbling. The happiness, love, and appreciation shown to us by all of the children and their parents, is difficult to describe. Words alone cannot explain the pure joy and satisfaction that each of us feels having been part of this Art Ambassadors adventure.
By Jack Vogler
President, Art Ambassador For A Colorful World