Copan Pinta Newsletter December 2003
By Carin Steen
Kids at Copan Pinta
"When is Copán Pinta", I get asked almost daily
on the street.
"When is it Saturday?"
"That was yesterday".
So, can I come and play tomorrow?"
Well, who am I to say no? I can understand the temptation all too
well now that Copán Pinta has a real playground with a slide,
a see-saw, swings, monkey bars and even a pool! Not an Olympic sized
one, it's more an overgrown pila, but still, the water is wet and
the pool is fun. And then there're the art classes, of course. Every
Saturday afternoon a group of kids comes to Copán Pinta to
paint and play, to puzzle and swim and swing. Over the last year that
group has grown from about 25 to 50, but so has the playground, so
you barely have an idea that there're so many kids running around.
The children that visit the Saturday workshops are mostly from very
poor families. Maybe half of them go to school. Most hang on the street
all day long, selling souvenirs to tourists, tortillas to the locals
or they just hang around. They usually have a place to sleep and a
basic meal, but that's it as far as a family or school life goes.
So when they come to Copán Pinta they find something they don't
have at home: structure, entertainment, a listening ear and a safe
haven. At Copán Pinta the main rule is that there are no rules.
Of course there are rules, very strict social ones actually, but the
kids are not even aware. Only a new kid on the block might be surprised
to see that there's hardly any fighting or name-calling. And if he'd
put some crayons or markers in his pockets, another kid'll immediately
Parents ask me sometimes how I'm able to deal with all these rascals.
It's true, I've seen some on the street and especially the older ones
can really be a nuisance. But at Copán Pinta they are like
little angels, whether their parents believe it or not. But then,
why would they bother others when there's so much fun stuff going
ART WORKSHOPS IN MAYA CHORTI COMMUNITIES
Way easier to handle because they're so shy and timid, but with their
own set of very complicated problems, are the kids at the rural schools.
In the year 2003 Copán Pinta has been organizing art works
shops in 4 small villages, mostly Maya Chortí communities.
The situation at the rural schools is far worse than at the public
school in town. There are hardly any materials and far too many students
for one teacher, if there is a teacher at all. So there's not much
time and resources for something as art. A real pity, because art
can truly open the mind and make a big difference in the lives of
these kids. Just making something beautiful with your own mind and
hands makes you feel proud and happy. Seeing other people's artwork,
either made by their schoolmates or famous artists feeds their imagination
and stimulates their creativity. The work of Mexican artist Frida
Kahlo for example has a very accessible symbolism for kids that really
appeals to their imagination. The kids soak up whatever is new and
different. If I read them a story, you can bet on it that a month
later they still know it by heart.
COPAN PINTA GOES ON STAGE!
Since January 2003 we've been working with a group of twenty 5º
and 6º graders from the Bilingual Mayatan School in a series
of drama workshops. The result was a play performed the 7th of June
in the Town Hall for an audience of 160 people. The play was based
on a story by Honduran archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia, called "The
Little Princess" that combines a story about the ancient Maya
with a strong environmental message. The play was performed again
on December 19th at the Central Park and the theater group will hopefully
become a semi-professional permanent asset in the town of Copán
Copan Pinta on Stage
SHOVELS AND SEED
Another big project this year was the children's garden, part of an
environmental education program. At the Copán Pinta headquarters
the children created during two weeks of daily workshops their own
garden. They made the trails and flowerbeds and planted over 400 plants.
There's a cactus mountain and a rose garden. The next step will be
a vegetable garden for which they already cleared a spot. Making the
garden went hand in hand with art and science workshops in which the
children learned about plants and animals, all through the art and
having fun. When we'll be done with the vegetable garden, we'll invite
all the parents for a big party. The harvest will be eaten by the
kids themselves, or if there's more than enough, the vegetables will
be sold. With the money they'll by art supplies or other necessities,
so that the kids learn a bit about marketing and enterprising too.
From the beginning, Copán Pinta has been involved in the Children's
Congress that had its first encounter on October 19th, 2002. That
day, 124 children came together from every neighbourhood, small village,
church or school from the whole county. During the congress they talked
about the problems in their communities and together they looked for
During the congress, a children's council of 12 members was chosen.
With these twelve children we've been working for over a year now
to train them to become true representatives of their community. They
learned how to recognise and analyse problems, how to write a proposal
and how to develop projects. During the congress all the young participants
handed over a project proposal of something they'd like to change
in their community.
The second Children's Congress took place the 27th of September of
this year. The theme of the congress and the 10 workshops that about
5,000 children received prior to the congress was protection of the
environment. The children learned very practical and profitable ways
to take care of nature and to improve their community at the same
time. The projects that were proposed this year also have an environmental
theme; so there are many requests for help with reforestation projects,
school garden or nursery. The children's council is busy right now
analysing all projects so they can decide which one they'll be able
To celebrate the International Day of Volunteers, Copán Pinta
participated in an event organized by good old friend Aidan Leavy
who now works for the United Nations (Volunteer Program) in Guatemala.
His idea was to paint a border-crossing mural with children from both
countries. Because there wasn't enough time to organize such an event,
and because, really, there isn't even a wall at the border we could
paint, we decided to paint to portable murals and exchange them during
the event. So off I went, first here, then in Guatemala, to teach
the children about muralism and to paint a first attempt. In February
we'll paint together a big mural on the soon to be build wall at the
In January Copán Pinta will be honoured by the visit of Mirian
Hernández, a young mural painter from El Pital (La Ceiba) we're
she has painted a few murals with the Un Mundo Foundation (with Ken
Hutz and Kate Venner). Mirian has never travelled before and has no
artistic background, but lots of talent and ideas. Hopefully we'll
inspire her here in Copán so that after painting a few murals
here together with the kids, she will pass her knowledge on in her
own community and far beyond.
Copan Pinta at Work
If there's any proof of the success of art workshops for children,
it's in the fact that Copán Pinta now has an off-spring! Kala
Yessenia Pontaza, a 12 year old and one of Copán Pinta's first
students, has started her own organization in her neighbourhood. In
Barrio Buena Vista she now teaches art to an average of 30 young children
every Sunday. On Saturdays too, if she doesn't bring them to the "Big"
Copan Pinta workshop.
Karla found a spot in a half built apartment building in her Grandmother's
house where she teaches her classes. The kids would sit on cinder
blocks, on a dirt floor. Tables were made of some old shelves put
on blocks. They didn't have many art supplies, so that's why Karla
came looking for me. Touched by the initiative, I promised to help
her. I send out a message on the Internet with the result that I raised
200 dollars. We bought art supplies, two tables with benches, we had
the walls white washed and a cement floor put in with the help of
Karla's family. I was invited as a special guest for a Children's
Day celebration. I hadn't been up to visit Karla for a while and was
surprised and impressed to see the difference.
Karla is now also a member of the Children's Council and I'm personally
training her on how to raise funds, how to write reports, to keep
an administration etc. It wouldn't surprise me if one day she'd become
the president of Honduras!
All in all it has been a good and busy year for Copán Pinta.
For next year it will be much of the same, but bigger and better:
the garden will become a paradise, the kids will become Picasso's
and for the young actors, there's Broadway. Well, not yet, maybe.
But who stops us from dreaming!
Dreams tend to come true actually
That's why I finally decided
that I can't do everything by myself any longer, so I hired Karen
Leiva, a wonderful young Honduran woman, as an accountant and my oldest
friend in Copán, Cathy Meyer de Marroquin is going to help
me, part time, administering the project. I also rented a room for
volunteers (that is already almost completely booked throughout the
year!). I'll try very hard not to take on any new projects this year
so that my personal life will be less hectic and especially to be
able to maintain a good quality rather than quanity. At least, that
is the plan. I've never been good at saying "no" to a new
challenge. We'll see!
Although I make an effort to tell my students that art supplies don't
grow on trees and donations should be appreciated, the Copán
Pinta program will never be self-sustainable. We do sell some of the
children's artwork and we like to give artwork in exchange for a donation,
something that the children enjoy doing. But it's just not in the
character of the program to become self sufficient, let alone make
money. That's why it is so important to have people like you who believe
in the project and support it, who really make all the difference
in the world by doing so!
Thank so much for your help, also in the name of the children of
Arte para Niños
Carin Steen (Directora)
La Casa de Todo, Barrio El Centro
Copán Ruinas, Copán, Honduras, C.A.
By Carin Steen
© Carin Steen, all rights reserved, used by permission only.