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Travel-to-Honduras.com
Copan Pinta Newsletter December 2003

By Carin Steen


Kids at Copan Pinta

"When is Copán Pinta", I get asked almost daily on the street.
"On Saturday".
"When is it Saturday?"
"That was yesterday".
"Oh… 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 correct him.

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 on?

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 Ruinas.


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.

CHILDREN'S CONGRESS
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 solutions.

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 develop.

MURALISM
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 border.

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

MINI-COPAN PINTA
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 Copán!

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Copán Pinta
Arte para Niños
Carin Steen (Directora)
La Casa de Todo, Barrio El Centro
Copán Ruinas, Copán, Honduras, C.A.
Telefax: 504-651-4315
Web-site: www.projecthonduras.com/copanpinta/
www.specialmissions.org

By Carin Steen

© Carin Steen, all rights reserved, used by permission only.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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