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

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