Written by: Sasha Hanson Pastran
I can’t believe two months has already flown by since I arrived in Estelí to work with FUNARTE! For the past eight weeks I’ve been working on the “Color of Affection” (Color de Afecto) project in Quilalí and Telpaneca helping to facilitate art-based reflection workshops for children in grades 3-6, as well as capacity building workshops for parents and teachers focusing on violence prevention and developing participants’ psycho-social development, emotional intelligence, and civic participation through art.
Quilalí and Telpaneca are rural, northern communities with little access to resources such as clean water, food and infrastructure, which makes for a challenging but rewarding context to implement art education. When we arrive at the schools the students run up to greet us and lend a hand with the art materials we’ve brought for the day. They have waited patiently for a whole month for ‘art time’ when they get to share their feelings, tell their stories, and reflect creatively upon their learning by drawing and painting freely. When the students see the exhibition of their art pieces in the schools the next day and find out that their art pieces are also exhibited in the mayor’s and Ministry of Education offices their smiles stretch from ear to ear. The colorful and expressive spaces that girls and boys create through art supports their learning long after the paint brushes are cleaned.
Now you might be wondering, “How can something as simple as art possibly help to overcome the daily challenges that people face in Quilalí and Telpaneca?” Well, after just two months with the project I have been continually blown away at the effects that art education has had on both the kids and adults in these communities. For example, during a reflection session in Quilalí after a day-long art workshop promoting civic participation, students in grades 3-6 decided that they were going to lead a community health project to eliminate puddles in their community and educate the public about malaria risks and other negative health effects of standing water. In another example from the last art-based reflection session in the school of San Francisco de Paula in Telpaneca, a group of students decided to organize a project to repair the recreational area, doors and roof of the school. Because these ideas came from children, the entire community including the school, their parents, and local political officials rallied in support of the community development projects.
Through the achievements of the boys and girls in the FUNARTE workshops and through sensitization workshops with parents and teachers, adults in Quilalí and Telpaneca are seeing the potential of children to affect change in their surroundings, both at school and in the community. This has motivated the adults to get more involved in their children’s lives and come together in solidarity to make their community a better place as well. Mothers and fathers have formed committees for the protection of their children, and they talk about how their relationships and their interactions in their daily lives are more positive, affectionate, safe, healthy, and inclusive because of what they have learned working with FUNARTE.
On a personal note, I have started doing art again since beginning to work with FUNARTE and I feel like it has awoken a part of me that has been asleep for a long time. The creative, hopeful dreamer in me has been sparked by being around artists and art, by creating art, and by facilitating learning through art with the kids and adults we work with. I truly believe that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” as good old Albert Einstein noted, and I believe that art is the medium in which we can all communicate and expand our imagination together.
In the short time that I’ve been here I have been constantly reminded of the power of art as a methodology for learning and social change. More than “something as simple as art,” FUNARTE emphasizes the voluntary and active nature of participation, a horizontal and mutually empowering structure of learning between teachers and students, and the shared responsibility of putting into practice the concepts and ideals that are discussed and reflected upon in the art workshops. This pedagogy is the essence of transformative, anti-oppressive education because it ensures that the learning reaches beyond the classroom and into peoples’ sense of self and self-worth, their hopes and dreams, their conceptions and relationships to others, and their daily practices. Now that’s what I call development.
Overall, these last two months have taught me to look at every new day as a promise for more learning and growth, and to confront difficult situations with resilience, solidarity, hope and imagination, as is the Nicaraguan way.
***To find out more about my experiences and lessons with FUNARTE, check out this article published by the Star Phoenix and Leader Post on August 6th and 7th 2013 in Saskatchewan***