Beautiful Child of God

This blog is written by Irena, one of our Guatemalan friends and volunteers. Irena, along with other Guatemalan volunteers, have been making monthly trips to one of our partner organizations, Oasis, to help build and maintain relationships with the girls throughout the year. We are so inspired by the work that they do and the way they spread their love of God. 

**All pictures of girls here are not associated with the girl mentioned in this story as we want to protect her privacy**

Every time we enter the gates of Oasis, we feel overjoyed to be back and have the best time of our month! We’ve been making it a regular trip for a while now and there has been a lot of impact being made since the beginning of the year!

In February, we were able to start this journey again with the girls and in March we wanted to follow-up an activity we did last year. Our activity from last year was about their dream job or what they want to do when they grow up. We had some doctors, presidents, athletes and artists. So this year, we got some accessories so they could dress up as their dream job. Honestly, I was impressed because some of them seriously allow themselves to dream, and to dream big I must say. Some would like to go to Law School, to be advocates for children’s rights, while others would love to be teachers, musicians, nurses. We even had a maxillofacial surgeon!

Once they were dressed and ready to go, we took a picture to each one of them and let them decorate their own photo frame for it. It was such a fun experience! But none of us had a clue of how gorgeous those pictures were going to look like! Weeks later, the pictures were printed and when I got to see them, I could see real doctors healing people, real advocates fighting for justice, real artists sharing their stories through art, and real athletes being an example of discipline and attitude. Those pictures revealed just how determined those girls are and that they are embracing their future right now.

Then in April we came back and talked to them about how good is to help others, and that we must do it daily. We wanted to strengthen the love among them and emphasize that they could do favors without wanting something in return. We wanted to transmit the idea of a movie called “Pay it Forward”. The girls were told to write five favors they would do to their friends and were given a notepad where they could write favors they plan to do or that they did and the person for whom they did the favor. The five favors were written on paper with hand shapes, as to represent their selves. After making the helping hands, we hung them on a string creating a chain of favors.

After this activity, we were able to present them with their pictures! They were really excited and nervous to see how they looked! They didn’t want us to show their picture to the rest of the girls, because they didn’t feel pretty; this is the complete opposite of what we saw, because we all think they are gorgeous and seriously a masterpiece of God. But, when the activity was done and we were leaving, one of the girls approached to me and said, “Irene, take my picture with you, I don’t want it. I don’t like myself!” I was shocked because she was almost in tears when she said that. I talked to her and tried to make her understand how God sees her, how we see her, and that she is gorgeous herself both inside and out! She is loved, cared, cherished and valued by lots of people including us, which is what makes our time together so special.

After this visit, I had all sorts of emotions! I felt excited because I had seen the girls, but I also felt sad I couldn’t see some of the others because they were back with their families again. Plus, I was overthinking about this girl and how she felt about herself!

But then I could feel how God was trying to tell me that the way I see those girls, gorgeous and powerful, is the exact same way He sees all of us. We will never be able to comprehend His love, but we must understand something: We are loved by the creator of this earth. We are his children and He will never stop loving us no matter what.

And just to finish with this, while writing this post, I’m listening to “Who you say I am” by Hillsong Worship and the bridge of the song describes perfectly what I got to experience this that beautiful Sunday at Oasis.

“I’m chosen, I’m forsaken, I am who you say I am.

You are for me, not against me, I am who you say I am.”

And then in the chorus there’s a part that says:

“I’m a child of God, yes I am.”

It’s Good, Even When It Isn’t Good

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1523301570920{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Not too long ago was the start of Holy Week, a time familiar to Christians all over the world. On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples when he washed their feet and commanded them to love one another. The following day, which we know as Good Friday, Jesus is sent to his death. Betrayed, as it has said in the scriptures, by one of his own disciples. This is not good for Jesus. One of the most popular questions I get on Good Friday from people who do not share my beliefs is, “If Jesus was hung on a cross and left to suffer, why would anyone call that good?”

At our I AM ART camps, we spend two days making beautiful pieces of art. Painted tiles, self-portraits, paintings, sculptures, etc. fill each of the rooms or locations where we work. Much like Jesus and the disciples, we gather together. However, instead of washing feet, we humble ourselves in other ways, like opening up and learning about each other’s stories. Instead of breaking bread, we eat mandarin oranges or cookies. Instead of being commanded to love one another, we live out that commandment. Though things are different at camp than they were on the night of the Last Supper, the volunteers know what Jesus knew: by the following morning, the conflict would come.

Jesus was crucified on a cross in the early hours of Good Friday. He suffered death and was buried, yet we call it good. Our little artists, who work hard for the first two days of camp, are instructed to destroy their art on the third day of camp, yet we hope that they can find enough trust in us to know that it is good.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1523301639390-3f505510-f2c4-1″ include=”9368,9355″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1523301586343{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Good Friday is good, not because of the violence and trauma that Jesus suffers, but because of what those events mean for us: redemption. Three days following his death, the tomb was found empty. The details of this event varies depending on which of the canonical gospels you read, but the overall story remains the same. We are redeemed, sins are forgiven, death is conquered. Unfortunately, it isn’t a story that fixes everything and makes the world perfect. If it had, then we wouldn’t be going to Guatemala on art camps to work with kids who have experienced some of the most difficult hardships. However, it is a story that inspires our curriculum.

On the third day of camp, we mourn our art and reflect on the things in our lives that cause conflict, but on the fourth and fifth day of camp, we start to understand why it is good. Death was not the end for Jesus and destruction isn’t the end for art. Tiles are repurposed, self-portraits recreated, paintings reimagined and the kids are renewed. In overcoming conflict and seeing purpose through pain, they learn about the beauty that God has created in them and for them. We continue to live out the Maundy Thursday commandment to love one another. We celebrate victories and relationships and joy. [vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1523236157791-620640a0-9c2f-2″ include=”9360,9358″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1523236314927{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

The pain of the third day of camp is not gone, the pain we experience is not gone, but it is transformed.

The tomb is empty.

It is good.

He is Risen.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Vacationing at I AM ART Camp

My name is Cesar Eguizabal, from Guatemala, this past fall I had the privilege to serve and support the I AM ART camp at Oasis, a home that provides holistic care and counseling to girls who have been abused in different ways. All of the girls come from hard backgrounds and hard circumstances back at their homes.

I have known Athentikos and their work for 10 years, and I had the opportunity to be a part of their production team in 2009 for the documentary Reparando. I absolutely love the heart, passion and vision of the organization from the first time I worked with them. I believe art and creativity are a part of how God created us and Athentikos moves us to discover those talents and gifts in ourselves in various ways.

Cesar got a birthday surprise from girls from Hope and the Future, one of the visiting homes at our Oasis camp.

For many years, I have been connected one way or another with Athentikos and I have been able to help and support in bits and pieces, but this year was different for me. I also work in ministry with another organization that serves children homes, community programs and churches in Guatemala. I love serving and working with children when I can. So this year I challenged myself and instead of taking a trip somewhere or staying at home resting and relaxing, I signed up to volunteer for one of the I AM ART fall art camps in 2017 and let me tell you that has been the best “vacation time” I’ve had in a while.

Now let me be honest with you, I am an introvert and I don’t consider myself very creative; I love music and have played the guitar since I was 10 years old but that’s it. I am intimidated by artists that can create beautiful paintings and murals and play with colors and no matter what they do it’s going to be an amazing masterpiece. But I told Amelia and Kathlyn I just wanted to help. I have management skills and I have experience leading mission teams, but I was still not quite sure how could I help or what could I do, so I volunteered to be an interpreter for one of the afternoon workshops and help oversee the workshops and make sure things were running smooth. A few days after I agreed to come to camp Amelia sent me an email and asked me if I was willing to lead a workshop, again I didn’t think I would be good at that, so I told her that I would rather not lead a workshop; I felt that was too much for me.

The first day of camp, I was excited because I finally had the opportunity to serve the whole week and be at the camp all week and not only one or two days like previous years. I had a very busy week at work prior the IAA camp but I was excited to take a break from work and to serve in another context and with another team of friends and really a big family.

As the camp started, I found out that Tamagochy, the leader of the Miming workshop, wasn’t going to make it to camp until Tuesday morning. So I was asked, along with one of the volunteers, Brandon, to take over that workshop Monday morning. We came up with some games and introduction activities to get to know each other a little bit among the group of girls that were in the workshop. That morning we all went outside to the playground and started our activities; we had fun and the girls were excited to start with Tamagochy the next morning. On Tuesday morning, Tamagochy took over the class and I continued to assist him on Tuesday and Wednesday.

To my surprise, Tamagochy asked me on Wednesday night if I could take over, continue working with the group on Friday, and lead the presentation on Saturday at the Art Show. Somehow, without thinking about it, I told him, “sure I can do it, don’t worry; just tell me what you need and I’ll help out.” After a couple of hours though, I got stressed out and nervous. I knew I didn’t know how to lead the workshop but I decided to pray and let God help me.

Tamagochy told the girls on Thursday that he wasn’t going to be at camp on Friday and Saturday. The girls got discouraged and very sad because they wanted him there and they wanted to continue working, practicing, and rehearsing with him. In that moment, I felt the pressure. But on Thursday I also had the opportunity to walk around all the workshops and check out some of their projects, I loved seeing the creativity of the girls, their perspectives, the colors and shapes they were using. I even worked on one of the workshops with Amelia and it was fun to do something and get a little messy with the colors. It was relaxing and I was able to enjoy spending time with the kids.

Finally, Friday and Saturday came and I started working with the girls. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing but because I connected with the girls throughout the week we had a blast. They wanted to rehearse for Saturday, but they also wanted to play, talk, and open up and I realized that they girls felt comfortable and safe.

We all sat in a circle and talked about life and some of their struggles then finished our workshop praying and letting God come to our lives to changes us and give us joy. Saturday was so beautiful. It was amazing to perform with the group and I felt proud of them because they worked hard and they felt so proud of themselves.

During the IAA camp, I was able to witness a program for children that truly make a change in the lives of the children forever. Athentikos does an incredible job through I AM ART because I believe that they do what most programs or organization don’t.

Athentikos focuses on healing, processing and restoration of the heart; the value of this process through art is beyond measure. I believe that the girls are changed after one week of Art Camp, I know I was restored and changed after that week. At IAA camp God works not only in the kids’ lives but also in the volunteers’ lives.

 

 

The Waters are Calmer

Have you ever stood on one of those floating piers? Where it seems sturdy, so you’re feeling pretty good about it, but then a wave comes, or you step wrong, and then all of a sudden you’re thinking: I’m not so sure about this pier.

That is the same type of feeling I had when I got home from my last two I AM ART trips in Guatemala. Mostly everything is okay, but occasionally, I feel a wave come and I’m thrown off balance again. Those waves are often tinged with a sadness or nostalgia because I miss my trip so much. There are always reasons I am happy to be home again, but I can’t help but miss seeing the girls and their artwork, bonding with my team, and exploring the beautiful country of Guatemala

The first time I came home from an I AM ART camp (fall of 2016), I was standing on my metaphorical floating pier in the middle of some kind of raging storm. I was not at all prepared for all my heart had been through for the past 10 days and my reentry was difficult to say the least. I struggled with coming home after experiencing such a powerful kind of passion and desire for God’s work through Athentikos and I hated saying goodbye to so many people who had left their fingerprints in my heart.

I recently returned from my second I AM ART camp. When I was preparing to go on my trip this year, I was filled with anxiety, but had a hard time pinning down what made me so hesitant. It wasn’t until the last days of camp were approaching that I realized I was afraid of stepping off the comfort of solid land and back onto the floating pier. However, this year I joined a few of my team members for an additional three-day stay at Lake Atitlán to relax and process following the camp. Lake Atitlán is quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever seen and my time there gave me a sense of peace, reflection, and meditation. Now I can’t say that the three days were my solution to everything because either way I’m still out on the pier; however, I can see the difference in where I am now versus where I was last year. For one thing, the waters are calmer.

My experience reminds me of the story of Jesus calming the storm in the bible (Matthew 8:23-27). My first year, in the midst of feeling lost in my return, I felt kind of angry; I wanted to wake Him up and ask “why aren’t you doing anything to stop this?” Then this year, the water was calm and I could feel His reply: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” And as I sat in the dark, on a literal floating pier in Lake Atitlán, seeing my first shooting star, I knew that there was no reason to feel afraid.

Being at Lake Atitlán gave me the time to sit with God and listen to Him tell me not to be afraid. To learn to trust in His plan for me, for Athentikos, and for the children we work with each camp. I will probably never be able to go on one of these trips and come home and immediately go on with my life as usual. For that, I am grateful. I don’t want Athentikos’s impact to be so easily forgotten or ignored. When my heart is breaking it’s because I am experiencing the extraordinary fullness of it that God intended when He formed us. When I step foot onto my floating pier, it’s because God recognizes that we can’t know all of His wonder by staying on land.

An Oasis to the Soul

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1513271130881{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]This blog was written by 18-year old interpreter, Nicole Grajeda. Nicole was passionate about wanting to serve with a mission program, and after learning about Athentikos through a classmate at school, she served as an interpreter for our 2017 I AM ART Casa Bernabé Camp. We admire her bravery in joining our team without previously knowing anyone and we’re incredibly grateful that she was able to come back for a second time this year to serve with I AM ART at Oasis. 

My week at Athentikos’s I AM ART Oasis camp was one of the most challenging experiences ever!

I had the pleasure of being Jen Galvin’s interpreter, an artist who was leading the “Recycled Art” workshop; Tina Breede and Jen Arif  with Oasis were also a part of our workshop team. The I AM ART camp was hosted at Oasis, a home for sexually abused girls.

I AM ART camp went really deep this time. I felt my heart curious about what the results would be by the end of the week since the workshop seemed so interesting as we would actually be making art with things that other people would see as trash. We had a group of eight courageous girls, all of them with painful stories in their lives.

On the first two days, Jen taught us how to create beautiful landscapes with alcohol ink on recycled tile pieces, the girls were so happy with the results and so was I. It hit me really hard on day three (Conflict Day) when Jen asked us to break the tile with a hammer, even though I already knew what would happen with our art project; I cannot explain how hard it was to me seeing all the girls breaking the sunsets and mountains they had put heart and soul in.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid element_width=”3″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1513271698621-0e66badc-e9ed-4″ include=”9100,9102,9097,9103″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1513271162915{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

These brave girls taught me a lot, and I learned many things through this art process.

The world can be a lonely cold place, and these girls choose hope, even though they have experienced world`s evil first hand; they know that there is something that only God can do, restore. Getting sweet genuine smiles from them without knowing how many times they have been abused or beaten; without knowing how many times their hearts, souls and spirits have been broken, over and over again, was what made me question to myself : “Who says the story has to end in brokenness?”In our lives many things get broken, and I was having a hard time trying to accept the fact that once something breaks, it can never be the same way it was before. I had been stuck for a while, holding my broken pieces close to my chest, not letting anyone help me with them, not even letting anyone see them. In my mind I thought that perhaps somehow I was going to be able to make it the way it used to be, the way I liked it.

However, God opened up my eyes and helped me see the beauty in brokenness, so I could finally let go and let Him take control. Our group leader, David Lee, asked us at the beginning of the week who was God for us, and it took me a while to have an answer for that. I am getting to know God as an artist. There are times when we look at ourselves in the mirror and all we see is trash; we feel like we are useless and unnecessary. I am grateful that God looks at our lives as we looked at the recycled materials, and responds:

“Wow, we could do something beautiful with these broken pieces.”

What better way to understand redemption than taking those tile pieces and making them into something inconceivable! Because that is pretty much what God does in our lives. We used grout, jewelry and some buttons to decorate a vase, with the tile as our principal material to show it could still be beautiful, valuable, precious and worthy of being used by the hands of an authentic artist.

By the end of the week, the results were astonishing! The girls, God’s masterpieces, were as beautiful as ever, with some tears in their eyes and huge smiles on their faces. The real pieces of art at this camp, made me feel the healing in them all, just like an Oasis to the soul.

“You mend what once was shattered

And You turn my tears to laughter

Your forgiveness is my fortress

Oh Your mercy is relentless.”

Song: Shoulders — For KING & COUNTRY

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Understanding Our Experience

PROCESSING YOUR STORY

After participating in an I AM ART camp, we now share a life experience that touched our hearts, and maybe changed us in incredible ways. The contrast of our time in Guatemala with our life back at home can be jarring, and often it’s difficult to process. It’s certainly difficult to explain it to people who have not experienced it for themselves.

Photo: Sweet Justice Photography

Sometimes we’re overwhelmed with a barrage of questions while other times, we anxiously wait in for people to ask us deep questions about our trip but the questions never come. We want people to care, and know, and feel what we felt. Maybe they do, but they are busy with their lives … and we quietly think to ourselves, “You just don’t understand.”

No matter the situation, our hearts are stirred. But maybe … we don’t understand ourselves.

Have you asked yourself how this experience impacted you, personally? What fingerprints it has left in your heart and soul? Have you found yourself asking “how has my trip impacted my life?” or “how should it impact my life?” Maybe your answer to the question is clear. Maybe you’ve already sprung into action. Or maybe, the question still sits there waiting to be answered.

If you’re uncertain about the answer, the question may make you uncomfortable. You may find it haunting you at times, or you may find yourself avoiding it. But, here is some peace: There’s no wrong answer. Each of us will answer the question differently.

But, the questions will not go away until it is given proper attention. It may fade into the background for weeks, months, or even years. But at some point, the question will reappear.

SO NOW WHAT?

Here’s the good news. Answering this question does not have to be scary, and it does not require dramatic changes in your life. In fact, when you address the question, you will better understand yourself. You will experience more peace and gratitude towards your time of service.

There are many ways to begin processing your one-of-a-kind experiences. We want to encourage you to use the team journals to work through the questions you have. We put in the “Share your Story” section to help you work through your story in the same format as camp. There are sections centered around character, setting, conflict, resolution, and community. Each day has a short prompt that allows you to consider the different aspects of your experience. You can also reach out to someone on the team to connect with and process your stories together. Whatever your method, we hope that you’ll find joy in exploring and sharing your story with others.

Photo: Sweet Justice Photography

Making Lemonade

I AM ART Lemonade Stand

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We’re all familiar with the idiom, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. But what do you do when life gives you lemonade?

For the students in Emily Litsey’s high school art class, the answer was to sell the lemonade and donate the proceeds to Athentikos. We are so privileged to be able to share Emily’s story on our blog. Like all nonprofits, Athentikos depends on the generosity of our volunteers and donors. Stories like Emily’s inspire our spirits, and enable us to impact the lives of at-risk youth at our camps. Emily first learned about Athentikos through her involvement with Lemonade International when she took a trip to Guatemala, specifically, to La Limonada. La Limonada is a huge slum in one of Guatemala’s “red zones”. Athentikos’s documentary, Reparando, highlights La Limonada and a few of the people living there and using their creative power to make positive change in their community.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”8987″ img_size=”800×600″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Everyone who goes to Guatemala with Athentikos comes back with inspiring stories about their experience. Emily was most inspired by the response Guatemalan kids had to art and the creative process. As an art teacher, she found the reaction to creativity was similar to her U.S students. Emily describes her trip as a reminder that kids are kids no matter where you are, and that art is a universal language. She didn’t want her trip to be a single event in her life that she completed and quit. She plans to return to with Athentikos, but in the meantime, Emily wanted to stay connected with Guatemala, and bring her experiences home to the students in her art class.

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Highlights From Emily’s Trip to Guatemala with Athentikos

[/mk_fancy_title][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/bBUhRzhbwF4″][vc_column_text]Emily originally began having her students do projects like creating personalized pieces of art for kids in the La Limonada school. However, one day, a student suggested raising money to help benefit Athentikos programming and sending kids to camp. In honor of La Limonada, which translates to “lemonade”, Emily’s students began a lemonade stand at the school. It runs for a full week during the spring semester each year and has become such a staple at the school that students anticipate its arrival each year. Emily loves the lemonade stand because she believes her students benefit from having the opportunity to learn how to organize and implement a project/fundraiser as well as being involved with philanthropy. But what is even more powerful, is that it also teaches her students about being aware of other’s needs and the ability of each person to serve others. While Emily has always loved art, she says that now she has a richer understanding of its importance. She’s motivated to help students realize there is more to the world than just the town they live in.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]We praise God for Emily and her students and for all of those who help support Athentikos by donating their time, money, and talents.

If you’d like to help us, you can donate here:

[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” letter_spacing=”1″ url=”http://athentikos.kindful.com/” target=”_blank” align=”center” bg_color=”#eded00″ text_color=”dark”]Give a donatation to Athentikos[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Pre-Trip Anxiety

Courtney Noya traveling with Athentikos I AM ART

If you are reading this blog, then I hope it means that you’re interested in an I AM ART creative arts mission trip. I’m not saying you must be 100% committed to going in order to read this. In fact, even if there’s only 1% of you right now that thinks it might be a good idea, then I ask that you get comfy, settle in for a minute, and hear me out.

I know going on a mission trip is a lot to think about, so if you didn’t sign up on day 1, that’s okay. I had a lot of protesting going on in my brain when I was first presented with the idea of joining a trip. My protests included:

  • You’ll have to take time off work and school during exams.
  • You can’t afford this, you’re in college.
  • You’re not even really artistic, you just sometimes do crafts, SORTA.

I initially said “maybe” and “we’ll see”, but I knew the answer was going to be “no” because doubt and anxiety chimed in first. Why would I even consider it? But then I did consider it and began to wonder what I should do. I looked for some sort of magical sign from God, like a winning lottery ticket even though I don’t play the lottery. Then I realized that I might be hoping for something a bit too theatrical, so I changed my game plan. After about a week of simply praying for guidance, I realized I was already planning my trip, thinking about how I would get my professors to work with my schedule, how fundraising would work, and what kind of skills I had that might benefit others at camp. God had already led me where He wanted me to be. He was just holding on to the seat of my bike until I realized my feet were on the pedals the entire time and started moving.

And if this were a simple story it would end: “Then, all my fears were gone and I went on my trip with no trace of anxiety and everything was perfect.”

But these things are not perfect and this is not a simple story. Quite often, our stories just don’t work out that simple. The truth is that I was still anxious about a mile long list echoing in my head of everything that might go wrong. But, instead of ruminating on that list, I put my heart in God’s hands and tried to remind myself all of the things I was excited about like:

  • You’re going to be able to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala.
  • You’re going to be able to meet people who are a lot like you.
  • You’re going to be able to meet people who are a lot different than you.
  • You’re going to be able to see what God had been so excited for you to experience.

These are just a few of the benefits that my doubts and anxieties could never conquer. There are so many more. The I AM ART trip changed my life!

I hope as you read through the blogs on our website, or talk to friends who recommended IAA to you, that you also start feeling excitement and joy for all of the potential experiences you will have on one of our trips. We would love for you to join us! From a practical level, the earlier you register, the lower the initial fee and the cheaper the airfare. However, from a more emotional level, the earlier you register, the sooner you can start to let go of some of the nervousness and doubt and replace it with excitement and passion. We would love to have you. If you want to know more about the trip, I encourage you to explore https://athentikos.com/iamart/ and https://athentikos.com/blog/.

Adventure awaits. You just have to start pedaling the bike.

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.

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.