Tuesday, January 8, 2013

“Yo Vivo Por Las Artes”

After months of planning, which included approximately 320 kilometers of biking and one or two anxious moments, the dream of “Yo Vivo Por Las Artes” (I Live Through the Arts) finally became a reality. “Yo Vivo Por Las Artes” was an arts camp held in a rural community in my municipality, conceptualized through numerous interactions with a theater troupe in my site that works with the local Casa de Cultura (a center dedicated to promoting cultural events).  In May during my second month of service I had the opportunity to attend a performance by the theater troupe in a nearby municipal capital. In true Peace Corps Volunteer style, this involved me hearing about the presentation minutes prior to the group’s departure and shamelessly offering myself a spot in their vehicle.
Participating in the arts, specifically theater is something I expected to be a challenge during my Peace Corps service, and thus I was thrilled when given the chance to experience a piece of this artistic arena performed by residents of my site. The talent this group showcased astounded me, and I knew I had to find someway to incorporate their innovativeness into my work plan. In June members of this theater troupe began teaching classes at a local NGO (created by a previous Peace Corps Volunteer) in the areas of theater, dance, and music. As I had recently implemented my own theater group I was thrilled to observe and gain new ideas from community members on practices in teaching theater. Additionally, I took advantage of the music lessons in order to improve my elementary guitar skills. To witness the youth in my community actively engaged in the arts on a weekly basis was extremely inspiring. Both the commitment of the instructors and students gave me hope that arts education could not only be sustainable in my site, but perhaps in other parts of Nicaragua. As I spent my time getting to know the participating youth on an individual basis, I soon realized that this enriching opportunity in the arts could unfortunately only extend as far as those living in or near the urban center.
The majority of my work has been spent educating populations on health topics in the rural communities within my municipality.  Whenever I have questioned youth in these locations about their involvement in art related activities I usually receive negative responses, as arts education is not an integral part of the Education Ministry’s curriculum and it is difficult for groups (such as the one associated with the Casa de Cultura) to reach these remote areas because of the lack of transportation and road infrastructure. Unlike the adolescents within close proximity to the urban center, those living in rural communities have little or no access to participation in the arts.  Thus, I hoped to use the skills and exuberance demonstrated by the Casa de Cultura’s theater troupe to disseminate artistic knowledge and inspiration to youth in my site’s rural communities. In rural Nicaragua, where I have observed the often shy nature of youth, most specifically girls, I wanted to provide an artistic outlet that could potentially motivate and lead to change.
As someone who was extremely timid during my adolescent years, I could personally relate to the power that participation in the arts had in breeding confidence and strength in the archetype of the awkwardly developing youth.  I remember roaming the halls of my high school in a perpetual existential daze, only to be briefly sparked with identity during my hours of rehearsal seeking refuge in the theater wing. It was a space where nothing was too absurd and mistakes could be made. In an academic world mostly comprised of multiple choice tests and specific experimental yields, a place where my errors were considered a part of the creative palate, gave me hope that perfection may not be the answer to success. With this in mind it inspired me to take risks and fulfill my greater potential. I could only hope for the same discovery amongst Nicaraguan youth once given the opportunity to participate in the arts.
The financial support for the camp was provided by the Volunteer Activities Support and Training (VAST) Program, which is a funding source for HIV/AIDS-related Peace Corps Projects. Thus, the camp focused not only on promoting the arts, but more specifically on educating the youth and their community about HIV/AIDS prevention along with other healthy behaviors through the medium of the arts. The camp was a two-day event held in mid December at a local school, which included 20 participants from three nearby communities. The campers were divided into three artistic groups: theater and music, dance and masks. Each group was given charlas on HIV/AIDS as well as other pertinent health topics affecting today’s Nicaraguan youth, such as teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and familial and partner violence. With the given information each group along with the help of their instructors (members from the Casa de Cultura theater troupe) created a piece that would be presented to their communities in a final performance held on the last day of the camp. As a result, the camp’s participants acted as youth promoters to educate their communities about HIV/AIDS prevention and other healthy lifestyles.
The camp was more successful than I could ever have imagined. This is due to the generous contribution of time, effort, collaboration and creativity from the Casa de Cultura theater troupe, other fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, the camp’s participants, the local health ministry (who implemented HIV rapid testing) and other members of the community who helped with cooking, cleaning and promoting the camp’s implementation. When I think of what I am most proud of in regards to this project it is most simply expressed in a quote by the Taoist philosopher Laozi:

  “A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.”

Although I may have initiated the original concept of the camp, once the theory was put into actuality my role grew less and less significant. I gladly moved into the wings to coordinate the logistical flow of the day’s events as the theater troupe took the lead to motivate the campers and produce the culminating performance. When the community itself has the strength to direct action and change with little assistance from outsiders it is indicative that development can be sustainable. During training we are taught that Peace Corps Volunteers should act as facilitators in our sites. A facilitator’s job is to enable groups or organizations to work most effectively in order to achieve a common goal.  If we are successful as Volunteers, then when we leave our sites after two years we should be confident that our communities could continue the work we helped to implement without our physical presence. After the events of the arts camp, I am optimistic that my community will be able to replicate such projects even in my absence.

P.S. As of January 11th, 2013 I have completed one year in country!  

The Whole Gang!
Dance Practice


Performance by the Theater Troupe


Making Music!

Promoting Family Planning

Making Masks!

Dance on Contraception

Charla on HIV/AIDS Rapid Testing

Masks Presentation

Play Rehearsal

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