Meeting Maribel

This week we’ve got a story from someone very special: Maribel*, a beautiful young woman at Oasis Home for Girls.

Maribel and the other girls at Oasis were sent there by the Guatemalan court system after suffering sexual or physical abuse in their homes, or being forced into child labor. Most of the girls arrive at Oasis significantly behind in school or having never attended school, and each one of them carries deep scars from exploitation. Oasis works to be exactly that—a place of restoration and healing—for both the girls and their families. At Oasis the girls attend school, have access to therapy, and are introduced to the transforming love of Jesus.

We were honored to partner with Oasis and make I AM ART camps part of the healing journey for Maribel and her friends. And now we honored to share Maribel’s story with all of you! Your support is an integral part of the fabric God used to weave this story.

Oasis staff member Jenny says that Maribel is well-liked by the other girls at Oasis, but she struggles with self-confidence. “Maribel keeps somewhat to herself but has been slowly opening up to others,” says Jenny. When she drops her defenses, she reveals a kind, responsible girl who loves to have fun—a girl everyone would love to know better if given the chance.

In November’s I AM ART camp Maribel was placed in the self-portrait class with artist Payton. She began the week covering a canvas with every color and design her heart desired. Then, guided by Payton, she traced her own silhouette over top and began painting in the details of her face.

On Wednesday, Maribel and the other girls were instructed to cover part of their self-portraits with tape and paint the entire canvas black. “I felt sick,” says Maribel. “I felt like all of our hard work was being thrown out.” But then the class talked about conflict, and how the piece related to their own lives: “It reminded me that our hearts are full of sin, like the black paint, but it is God who cleans our hearts.”

Though this isn’t Maribel’s work, it showcases a final product of the self-portrait workshop she participated in.

The next morning, Maribel and her classmates returned to their blackened pieces. Each girl carefully pulled back the strips of tape to reveal her own face, shining like a gem in the midst of the black. “I like how it turned out,” Maribel says. “I never imagined I would be able to create something like this.”

“Now Maribel realizes that she can accomplish things even if at first they look hard,” says Jenny. Her self-confidence has grown, and that girl everyone wanted to know better is making more and more appearances.

“I learned that no matter what, God always forgives and cleans us,” says Maribel. “He cares for us and protects us. I AM ART means that I am God’s art. No one is an accident. We are God’s perfect creations, and everything we do is art.”

*Maribel’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

 

Something Changed Forever

 

The following blog was written by one of Athentikos’s volunteers and workshop leaders, Kati Korosuo. 

Going to Guatemala had been hunting me for about 13 years, until last summer (2016) I finally made it there. I spent five weeks in the country teaching Dances to a Beat (DTB), a dance technique I’ve developed myself, to a vast variety of different groups: from teenagers in an elite dance school, to dancers in a wheelchair dance company, to kids in the ghetto of La Limonada. DTB is a technique based on improvisation, repetition and rhythm. It deals a lot with seeing oneself as part of a bigger, meaningful picture and understanding one’s crucial importance there. DTB is a technique where the aim is to not just to accept one’s own movements, history, and personality, but to appreciate and enjoy them. It ultimately is a technique to celebrate the uniqueness in each of us!

 

I was very happy to be able to share DTB at Athentikos’s I AM ART camp with Vidas Plenas in La Limonada. Athentikos’ values about authenticity and transparency resonated strongly in me, and I had a good feeling about this collaboration. In La Limonada the extreme poverty, criminality and violence become a concrete reality that was, literally and metaphorically, thousands of miles away from my everyday life in Finland. Teaching the kids there had an impact on me, that is difficult to put in words. It changed something in my heart forever.

After my experience that summer, the culture shock returning back to Finland hit really bad. It was frustrating and difficult to become interested in all those meaningless things that we, in a western welfare state, have the luxury to become interested in and spend our lives on. And this shock didn’t ease out until I had decided to go back to Guatemala.

I wanted to continue working with Athentikos, and ended up spending two months in the country planning and executing an Artist in Residence pilot program that Athentikos plans to launch in 2018. This residency included two IAA camps and in-between working with Athentikos’s established partner organizations plus creating new connections with the local art scene there. I realized that coming back to Guate to continue the work I had started there was like a reconciliation: an action that had to be followed after that something that had started to stir in my heart.

My third I AM ART camp in Guatemala was held at Oasis, a home for sexually abused girls, where I had visited twice before. The camp didn’t start off so well, and new girls kept coming into my workshop in the middle of the week. They were super shy and reluctant teenagers, who seemed to resist everything I suggested. I quietly acknowledged that this week wouldn’t be so great now, however, I still wanted to do my best. And on the third day things changed. The girls started to open up and they would end up telling me things I would have never imagined. They shared with the group and they shared with me privately. They wrote letters. They told me how important this week was for them and how they had learned so much about dance and self-worth, how this group was like a family to them and how they wished this week would never end. The last days there entailed more hugs and tears than many months would.

Photo by Amelia J. Moore

Spending longer time in the country gave me the opportunity to understand the Guatemalan culture better, the both wonderful and challenging sides of it, as well as to connect on a deeper level with the locals. There was time to form real friendships and to see the kids in different moods, having good days, having struggles, having graduations. Returning back to places, seeing the kids again outside the camp setting also made me to understand that I’m just a visitor in their lives. I will be gone, and they will be just fine. However, after my last IAA Camp at Oasis, this perspective was challenged once more as I realized that the experiences we had and lessons we taught will stay with them forever.

One night at the camp the director of Oasis told our team some statistics and facts about the sexual violence in Guatemala and generally about some of the girls’ cases. I had not prepared for such hard facts and intense stories. This reality was very difficult to take in. In the beginning I had surely wondered about what kind of a story each girl there had (especially when some of them went to court and hearings during the week), but later, every time a story would get a face and a name, I crashed. I then felt that it was better for me to work with these kids without knowing all the details of their pasts. When I taught them, I wanted to concentrate on the things we were doing together and the qualities that make all of them incredible kids, not their heart-breaking pasts. 

All these three art camps by Athentikos have been different yet equally meaningful for me. The highlight of this last camp was the process with the girls. Again, like after each of these camps, I feel that I have been operating with something that is like the most important thing on Earth. And that my heart is exposed and broken in a way that it hasn’t before. It feels absurd that I wouldn’t return here anymore.

Photo by Amelia J. Moore

Celebrations, Diarrhea, Prison, and Awe

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In January 2008, our lives were changed. We celebrated New Years in Guatemala with our family, and then received our son Elliot on Amelia’s birthday (Jan 2). It was awe-inspiring to celebrate this trilogy of milestones with our family in such an incredibly beautiful place!

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Fast forward a week … Our family returned home to the US. Amelia and I were waiting for Elliot’s immigration papers in Guatemala, not knowing exactly how long it would be until we could come home as a family of four. Suddenly, we felt extremely ill-equipped to handle reality. I’ll never forget … We were sequestered in a hotel with our two year old, Micah and 8 month old Elliot, who was just getting to know us. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like us at the time. But who could blame him? His whole life was turned upside down. Our lives were turned upside down. And the kicker … we all started getting sick. I don’t mean a little cough. I mean epic proportions … diarrhea. Yep! And, what wasn’t exploding out our downstairs, was rocketing from our upstairs! Imagine eating breakfast in a hotel, surrounded by businessmen in fancy suits … and here we were, the circus sideshow, but not the kind with funny clowns. We were more like the freaks. And … As if it couldn’t get more awkward, the hotel kicked us out due to security concerns because international diplomats were arriving for the Guatemalan Presidential Inauguration. Perhaps they couldn’t risk of an international epidemic of the trots???

Picture us walking down the street to another hotel, with all our baggage and two kids in tow, covered in poo and vomit like unfortunate vagabonds in search of shelter, comfort, and healing. Some might call it uncomfortable. In the middle of it all, it felt quite … horrific. We weren’t sleeping, couldn’t keep food down, and were becoming quite delirious. AND … There was no clear end in sight, because we didn’t know exactly when we would get our embassy appointment. In that moment, it felt like an eternity of torment. Thankfully, I had enough sense to press record on the video camera.

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You might ask why I would want to record such a seemingly bad time in our lives. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it then, but now I know. I wanted perspective. I wanted to look at that moment of time through a different lens – a different chapter of my life. 

Looking back now … It wasn’t really that bad. And, no matter how horrific it might have seemed at the time, it was all worth it. All of it was worth it because it brought us our son, whom we love dearly. I guess it was like our own version of the delivery room (I don’t really know for sure, cause I’ve never experienced it, but I can imagine) … anticipation … discomfort growing into pain … confusion … screaming … body fluids … delirium … and not knowing when any of it was truly going to end. But, we kept breathing, and pushing, and breathing … running for hot, wet towels …  and then, in the right time, our tears were turned to joy. Our personal conflict was resolved. We got the paperwork we needed, and we flew home a family of four, greeted at the airport by people we adored! It was awe-inspiring! All of it was awe-inspiring, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it’s part of our story. It shaped who we are today.

People say hindsight is 20-20. I don’t know if we ever see with perfect vision, but we can certainly try to connect dots and see patterns as we reflect back on our life’s events. I didn’t know it at the time, but two days after I recorded this video, a missionary friend invited me to meet some of his friends. His friends just happened to be gang members in a Guatemalan prison. Hidden behind their frightening tattooed faces were stories of children who were simply trying to survive in an environment with very few options. When I left the prison, I asked the guard to stamp my passport, so I could never forget that I was there.

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Later that night I returned to my hotel (which used to feel like a prison, but not so much anymore). I couldn’t erase the contrast of the gang members – those young lives “left behind”, and my son – the precious baby I held in my arms and rocked to sleep. My heart was stirred to respond. All of our stories collided into a new story, that ultimately birthed our nonprofit, Athentikos.

I watch this video every year as a reminder of how blessed we are as a family. I still tear up when I watch it, but it also makes me smile. In January 2008, our lives were changed … for the better.

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