Monday, August 9, 2010

If you were to step into your own world and live for just one day an ideal situation, what would your world entail? Who would you be with? What scenery would surround you and how would it be different from what you are now living? The imagination is what helps us to create our own perfect world, and fortunately happiness is not too far out of reach if we will just create it.
However, just imagine for now that you are ten years old again. But your childhood up to this point has been far from ideal. Your house is a potential health hazard with all the pieces of rusted corrugated tin used as walls. There you live with many cousins, uncles, brothers, half-brothers, and sometimes with your dad. Your family is definitely struggling to put the beans on the table, and the love that should exist there is only a distorted selfishness turned into molestation. You’ve been a victim and so has your sister. But now you’re ten years old and the police have discovered you, putting you with thirty other boys behind the bars of a placement home. Now the question is what will happen to you and will you ever see your mother again. Are you still capable of believing in an ideal world? Is your imagination strong enough to create your own happiness?
This describes the typical life of many of the boys I worked with the past three weeks. My group walks up to the gate that fences off the grounds of CIPI BOYS and bangs on the lock to get the attention of the educator inside. Thirty hyper boys meanwhile are running in and out of the dormitory, shirts off, shoes off, and yelling “¡¡GRINGOS!!” We honestly didn’t know how it would be possible to paint a mural with them around—especially since it was oil-based paint that we were using. But we knew that the need was greater than the trying circumstances and with the help of Heavenly Father himself, we found the way to get this mural done. Miraculously, HF also taught me how to involve the boys in the painting process without being overly critical and without them running off with a dripping paint brush.
But painting pictures on a wall is one thing. Using images to stimulate and inspire a constructive imagination of these children has been something completely different. I wanted to design something capable of exciting the boys, but at the same time capable of teaching them some important morals to direct their lives. Hopefully what we’ve been working on will help them create a better future for themselves.
After a couple of weeks of designing the thing with Jaclyn, another help volunteer, we began the process of putting it on the wall. The two walls that we chose to paint are where the boys sleep.

So we projected the image with a projector,

outlined it with black marker,

...mixed paint, danced like Michael Jackson, applied the paint in an orderly fashion, danced like Michael Jackson, and kept painting until every square inch was covered in color.
It’s been a slow process trying to help it all come together.Both Jaclyn and I have considered ways to make this mural exciting for the kiddos. Tigers, motorcycles, puppy dogs, and “paisaje” have all been on the request list from the boys themselves.
Their ideas have inspired this final project. And thanks to a little Imagination from Harry Connick Jr., we've come up with the title for the piece.

It's over. The mural is done. The process of making it is no more. And the boys will most likely go back to living a similar life to what the were living three weeks ago. Hopefully what we've left on the wall will be something that they can look at, be proud of, and imagine while they're looking at it, a better world that they can create for themselves and their future family.


Monday, July 19, 2010


The Final Inauguration has brought a lot of hope into this group. I feel a great sense of relief that this mural is finally finished but completely grateful for how it's changed the attitude amongst the girls in CIPI as much as the attitude of the volunteers in HELP International.

It's taken us exactly two weeks to complete this wall. During that time the CIPI girls ate outside while we were adding our auroma to their cafeteria. At first it seemed like at the rate we were going, we'd never finish. But suddenly it was done and then bam, it was time to celebrate by inviting all the girls back inside for a huge lunch and celebration. The director of CIPI invited all her bosses and people from local universities to come eat and see the finished product.

The hardest part about this whole thing was accepting the fact that everyone was congratulating me on the success of the mural, calling me "the artist." I was told ten minutes before the inauguration began that I was going to say a few words in front of the entire group of educators, administrators, and the CIPI girls themselves. As the cafeteria filled, suddenly I was being introduced to the people and being kissed on the cheek over and over and over and over....and over. Even though I am definitely an awesome person and I can really shimmy when the time is right (especially after midnight), it was hard to accept all the attention that everyone was giving me. To me, this mural was painted by them. To me, this project was a success because everyone other than me pitched in their time and money to make sure it could happen. In my eyes, more people around me put in the hours that accumulated the two-week's efforts. All I did, really, was draw up some crazy cartoons and tell people to get to work. But I was humbled to see the attention that this mural has brought to HELP International and to the girls who are still stuck in their temporary shelter.

Let me tell you why this project has been a success. At the inauguration, the director over the entire company of ISNA stepped in and said a few words, reminding the girls that "NUESTROS SUEÑOS PUEDEN SER REALIDAD" means that their dreams really can become a reality. She reminded them never to give up hope. Since then, a volunteer with us has grabbed a hold of that theme and created an entire curriculum focusing on how the girls can climb out of their current situation and reach the goals that they have for themselves. Currently we are in the process of asking around at Universities for counselors and actual examples of people who have built themselves a better future. Secondly the girls themselves are more excited to be around us and rather than being smart-elics, they're being more positive in the things that they're learning at CIPI. Instead of shooting down ideas of flying airplanes and opening their own restaurants, these girls are encouraging each other to go for it.

I still don't understand how or why this project has turned out so well. Heavenly Father is always aware of His children, I know. He knows what it is that each of us needs to become empowered and useful instruments in his hands. I feel that He has blessed me so much with the success of this mural, but even more through this mural He is blessing the lives His Salvadoran daughters and they too are coming closer to their Heavenly Father. The gospel of Jesus Christ in these Latter Days is being spread through creative manners.

Now it's time to focus on the success of the little boys here. Let's see how we're able to spread the gospel to these ones.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

¡Qué Chivo!

I never thought I’d describe my art as being goat-like, but “chivo” is definitely the word to explain what’s been happening in the Children’s Crisis Shelter. Here in El Salvador, if you think anything is cool, impressive, or just dang ol’ enjoyable, you’d probably exclaim, “Qué chivo!” Hopefully you can say the same thing as you see the lunchroom mural that the girls at CIPI have been working on.
First of all, I need to say that this mural project was already in great demand before I got here. Marielos, the director at CIPI, has been waiting for HELP International to come this summer so that we can once again create projects to empower these teenage girls and she felt a mural would help accomplish that goal. Alex, a BYU student volunteering here, has done all the knitty gritty so that all I need to do is design and head the project. After a lot of looking around at other murals, creating questionnaires for the girls, drawing up millions of designs (four, actually), and talking to a local artist, the project was ready to start.

We began by applying a base coat of white acrylic paint.

The next step was taking off all the paint we’d put on. And some people chose to use machetes. It turned out that the paint was lifting off the wall in large bubbles so we had to strip the whole wall down to the cement.

Three days later, NOW we’re ready to apply the base coat. And this time, it’s a silicone-based little number that will hopefully prevent future break-outs. Of water.

Blanca, Blanca, Yahira, Karen, and Samaria were the regulars in this process of preparation and painting. Here you can see Blanca looking over the design, giving it her slouch of approval.

Yahira is tracing part of the projected image while Jaclyn, a HELP volunteer, draws her own little diddy.
Finally we got the entire thing drawn up.

And day after day, a new group of HELP volunteers came ready to work, applying paint section by section. I was expecting to paint, but most of my efforts for the first three days of the paint was spent guiding people on how to paint, where to paint, which colors to mix, and trying to keep each volunteer busy with stuff to do—that and, of course, sneaking up behind them while they strain to keep their balance on a ladder. Here are pictures of the process.

Today is the final day to paint. Monday will be the inauguration for the project where all the workers and girls will come and eat in the cafeteria for lunch and look at the beauty of a “goat-like” mural.
I’m going over there right now to put on the final touches and as I reflect on the past two weeks where I’ve been so blessed to work on such a huge stressful project, I think a lot about how God must feel as our Creator. How did he organize His efforts so perfectly to create such a beautiful earth? And how must He feel now that His greatest creations, you and I, are living here and surrounded by such great beauty? I can’t even begin to explain the profound love that I now feel for each one of the girls here at CIPI while working on the mural with them. I’m so in love with this mural also. But even more beautiful than the product has been the process. I love the mural so much because it represents the frustration that each volunteer felt as she/he struggled with oil paint, the excitement she/he felt as a new technique was discovered without Jeanette’s help, the sheer thrill that the girls expressed as they walked in the door everyday begging for a paint brush, and the tender mercies of the Lord that helped us all get along despite differences.
If this goat isn’t empowering, I don’t know what is.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Have you ever been so involved in something--so wrapped up in the meticulous detail of the work--that you fail to notice the beauty of the world all around you? Fortunately that's not happening to me these days since I've been easily distracted by everything around me. It's absolutely necessary that a person who lives in the city of San Salvador be attentive to EVERYTHING that happens around him/her. Here are some pictures of the most simplistic and yet entertaining things of El Salvador. Allow me to show off a little bit through random pictures.

Let's start with a view of what driving through the country is like for us...

Everywhere you look, you'll see someone trying to sell you something. Even on the fast-paced highway roads through the country, the locals set up stands to sell what they can

Texaco and other Americanized businesses exist amidst jungle trees! Check out the load of people in the back of the truck.

This road leads into the suburbs where the public school gathers a crowd. If you look closely, you can see one of the toys that the little ones play on.

Within the heart of San Salvador, traffic is crazy and drivers don't allow road signs to govern their decisions. Everyone has places to go, people to see, and very little time to accomplish any of these. Yet those who are high up in the LDS employment tower can see beyond the car in front of them and enjoy the view of the mountains and lusch greenery.

Just an hour south of where we live is a gorgeous beach house with amazing views of the beach. This is potentially one of them.

 through the daily occurrence of distractions, I've also been working. This week was filled full. While most of the team dispersed to work on various projects including Habitat for Humanity, square-foot gardening with Balsamo, and teaching English classes, my hours were spent observing lots of meetings with the big guys of local NGO's. Together we talked about the different projects that HELP is able to participate in and others that we want to initiate with them. Once those meetings were done, I went to CIPI, a girl's temporary home for those who don't have the adequate care they should have. My job is to totally build their self-esteem with art projects.

It looks like it's working!

Ok well, time is running out and I don't have a creative ending. Until next week!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Ya Llegue!

It's been a wild week in El Salvador--so much work to be done here and so many people who are excited that the kids from HELP International are here. Hopefully I can show just a little flavor of what it's been like for me thus far with some photos.

Here we are...the three mujeres fabulosas flying into the city of San Salvador. This older woman (Maria) was the most talkative lady and so anxious to find out about the Mormon church--I didn't initiate the conversation I promise! Later the girl in the center came and sat next to us since her previous seat was next to an older man who kept telling her she had a beautiful body and he wanted to buy her a drink. I helped her feel better by telling her she needed to lose some weight. We all became really close and swapped information. Maria wants the missionaries to come visit her. ...totally wasn't my intentions in talking to her I SWEAR!

Above, you will see, the whereabouts of our neighborhood. Antiguo Cuzcatlan is the name of our community. It's gated and every day and night we have a guard with his rifle to greet us. The girls in our group are very cool and always ready to go have fun. This picture is right before we went to a Young Single Adult Dance in the city of Ilapongo. There I made friends who taught me lots of necessary culture. I found out the in the very north of El Salvador lives a group of freckled people. They're considered red-necks to the rest of El Salvador.

Once we'd spent a few hours working, it was the weekend already and as necessary, we took a break at one of the member's beach house. It was truly a dream come true. Long story short, there was the beach right there behind us and a swimming pool that we took advantage of instead. All day long in the sun. Sun burn. Farmer's tan.

With time, the country directors felt comfortable in giving us an initiation. We had to go into the center of the market and look for some pretty ridiculous items. Whoever found the most ridiculous won. Instead of ridiculous, I went for most useful. I figured Jill would like gold most of all so I bought that one. I'll let you guess which pair of underwear actually won.

Ok enough fooling around. I'm totally going to show you the groups we're working with. CIPI is a temporary home for troubled teens and little boys. I've been put in charge of teaching art lessons to the teenage girls. The first class was a blind contour drawing of a face and the girls loved it. They laughed hysterically when I drew Christina (not pictured) and didn't look at what I was drawing. They thought I was the worst artist in the world. So we all practiced drawing. Aracely, the girl right next to me, is holding up a drawing that she made especially for me of flowers and birds. Inside the big heart it reads "te quiero." These girls really look up to us as well as the ladies that are working with them.

FUDEM is a non-profit organization that does eye exams for the community of San Salvador. We help them go into schools and do exams for both the students and the community members around the school. It's so interesting to see the public schooling system here. There's absolutely no glass in the windows because almost no one here has air conditioning. The members of FUDEM say that many of the students in public education are wild and rebellious because their parents can't afford private education. I couldn't tell if they were always as wild as they were yesterday because all of them were yelling and screaming as they watched the World Cup. I couldn't help but feel that really the kids here are just the same as those in Salt Lake City.

Ok, I've got to get back to work and teach some ENGLISH. I'm safe, I'm happy, and I'm so appreciative to have been able to come here. The people here are amazing. The country is beautiful. Tune in next week to see pictures of the landscape.... EL PAISAJE!