Full Lives, Full Hearts

The following blog was written by Courtney Smalley. Courtney has been working with our partner organizations to gather interviews from the children about their experiences with I AM ART camp. 

A few weeks ago staff members of our partner organization, Vidas Plenas, asked their students what they learned in the I AM ART camp held there last July. Today, we’d like to share their answers with you! But first, some context—Vidas Plenas, which translates to “full lives” is an organization dedicated to “giving opportunities, through education and integrated care, to the neediest among us, so that they may have full lives.” It serves the people of La Limonada, a community of 60,000 people wedged into a ravine in the middle of Guatemala City. A river of black water flows through the ravine, and families of up to 10 or even more people make their homes in 10’ x 15’ plots of land on the sloping sides of rock and dirt. According to Vidas Plenas’ website, “this community has been forgotten, ignored, and isolated,” and now struggles with gangs, drug trafficking, and sexual, psychological, and physical abuse. And yet, “all it takes is will and love for the inhabitants [of La Limonada] to lead lives of dignity.”

Vidas Plenas helps the people of La Limonada find that will and love through two complementary programs geared toward the children and young people of the community. The first provides academic scholarships so that the kids and teens can get an education—“the best way to combat the cycle of poverty, abuse, and gangs that plague the community.” The second provides a place for kids to learn, play, and grow outside of school hours in special “little schools” or “life academies” run by Vidas Plenas itself. The students of these life academies are fed nutritious meals, get homework help, receive counselling support, take classes in art, music, English, and Bible studies, and are nurtured and cared for in numerous other ways as well. Vidas Plenas truly puts them on the path to leading full lives!

Athentikos has been honored to partner with Vidas Plenas and bring the I AM ART camp to their life academies several times. What’s even better—the kids hearts are truly changing as a result of the camps! These children and teens who are under constant pressure to join a gang, to mistrust or look down on those from the other side of town, and to doubt their own value, have been transformed by the God’s message of love delivered through I AM ART.

Take a look at what the Vidas Plenas staff and students had to say below:

What did you learn?

  • “I learned how to work in a team, how to be free, and how to share with others.”
  • “I learned not to hold onto ugly feelings, and I learned how we can express our feelings through dance.”
  • “I learned how to work in a team and learned that I can’t do anything alone—I always need help.”
  • “I learned that you should always work to come to an agreement, and I learned to be creative.”
  • “I learned that we are art because we are valuable and God loves us.”
  • “I learned that my heart shouldn’t become filled with sin and to always believe in Jesus. I’m not in any fights anymore.”

What does “I am art” mean to you?

  • “It means to paint, express myself, and draw.”
  • “It means to express myself, to paint, and to play, and it means freedom.”
  • “It means being an artist, a drawer, and a singer.”
  • “It means I am something good for God.”
  • “It means I am a creation of God.”
  • “It means God created me because I am one of his works of art.”

What changes do you see in the students?

(These questions were answered by staff members who work with the kids on a daily basis.)

  • “Many times they suffer from abuse or lack of attention at home. The camp helped Oscar* and the other kids feel free and free to be themselves. He is more expressive.”
  • “Ana Gloria learned to express herself better, to share, and to work in a team. A thousand thanks for the time you took to plant these seeds in the kids.”
  • “Edgar is better at working with others and working in groups.”
  • “Daniela participates more and communicates better. For the kids, the camp was an opportunity to express themselves in a way that doesn’t make them feel vulnerable.”

Thank you for making these stories possible. Your support is helping to change the lives of the neediest among us, to make them full.

*Names have been changed to protect the children’s privacy.

Impact – Oasis 2016

Corbey Dukes, Director of Oasis

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Athentikos, I AM ART processes pain through creative arts, and resolves conflict through God’s greater story of redemption.

We’re grateful to partner with organizations like Kids Alive’s Oasis in Guatemala, a ministry that seeks healing and restoration for girls who have been rescued from abuse. Oasis Director, Corbey Dukes shares his perspective about the impact of I AM ART in the video above. Special thanks to Emily Tuttle for the video footage & interviews.[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Corbey’s Interview”][vc_column_text]

One of the measures I can use for how effective the I AM ART Camp is, is the reaction of the girls. And, the girls love it! The girls are excited about it, and I can guarantee that I’ll have 20 girls ask me, “When are they coming back?”

People want to build things – build a new house, or an office complex. And that’s great. But I’ll say, the most important thing that can be built is a new heart. And programs like I AM ART, programs that Athentikos puts together to come in and make an investment in the child and in the staff … that’s heart building. It may be harder to measure than how many hundreds of pounds of concrete that we pour. But, the impact is huge! Because often, something like this is the first time they (the girls) have done something beautiful in their lives.

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They came from very dark, ugly places, and to be able to generate something beautiful with color, with harmony, with music, with self expression … It’s a way for them to reclaim their humanity. It’s a huge boost to their identity of who they are in Jesus, the power they have over their voice and their body. Their body is reclaimed. It’s theirs. It’s clean. It’s not stained by what others did to them. And, they can start to realize they’re chosen for something different than their past.

I’m running a home and I’ve got responsibility for a hundred kids, and for me, this is an investment that I love. I love Athentikos. It’s a ministry worth your prayers and your encouragement – worth promoting for people in your church or community to be a part of an Athentikos team. Man, it’s worth it. And it’s certainly worthy of your financial support.

-Corbey Dukes
Director of Oasis

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Follow the Light

About 3 months ago, I wrote a blog for Athentikos reflecting on my I AM ART trip to Oasis in November of 2016. I talked about the amazing time I had and how difficult it was to come back to the United States and have to say good-bye to all of the wonderful people I had met. However, as time passed and I readjusted, a lot of those painful feelings started to fade and I was left with all of the positive emotions I had associated with the trip— Love, Joy, Peace, Patience… All the fruits of the spirit and then some. I still miss Guatemala and everyone I met, but the passion I have is so overwhelming that it’s much easier to remember the most beautiful things about my experiences.

This was not the case on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.

On March 8th, I had a heavy heart for Guatemala. Many of you have probably heard about the fire at one of the orphanages in Guatemala, if you haven’t heard about it yet you can read the full story here. This wasn’t one of the homes that Athentikos works with on their I AM ART trips, but the sting of loss is there all the same. This is a particularly difficult story because we know this home was supposed to be safe. The children living there should’ve been protected and they were failed. It is natural to look at this moment with a heavy heart and be upset or angry or saddened or heartbroken and I believe that we should embrace those emotions in all of their reality just as much as we embrace love and joy. As my friend likes to say, “Sometimes you’ve got to just feel your feelings.”

I sent a number of text messages out to my friends upon hearing about the tragedy of the orphanage in Guatemala and immediately received messages like these in return:

“Sending so much love and prayers to Guatemala”

“I hope they get the love and healing they need and deserve”

“They’ll all be in my prayers”

“Let us know if there’s something we can do to help”

 

After those messages, I did some reading and found that John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I still, in spite of tragedy and loss, believe this to be true. The darkness is painful and scary at times, but it will not overcome the light. Athentikos is a light, our partner organizations are a light, the kids we help are beautiful lights, and all of you who put your hearts and souls into Athentikos are lights as well. And eventually, like after my trip, the joy and love will still be there long after the darkness fades away. The passion is part of our hearts. Thank you for investing your spirit into Athentikos and Guatemala. We tell stories that involve an element of conflict and every lesson we teach tells us that after the conflict is a time of healing and restoration. The story does not end here… we just need to follow the light.