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.

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