SIGN ME UP! By Grace Canahuati

WE NEED TO HELP

It was a busy Tuesday in March of 2017 that I got an email from Denisse Ambert of R.Evolución Latina with an opportunity that would open a window into a world that we generally only see in the news.

The email read:”ASTEP is looking for talented, Spanish speaking artists to volunteer to bring the magic of the arts to unaccompanied minors. WE NEED TO HELP! We are partnering with ASTEP. Email me if you are interested, CAN’T wait to get emails from YOU.”

These words struck a drum in my heart and within the beat I pressed reply to the email. Sign me up please! “You can teach them to paint” a voice inside quietly guided me. After speaking with ASTEP my excitement grew and so did my motivation. These children are in a new country, with a different language, and without their parents. I want to remind them that they are brave. I went to the classroom early to set up, hang my posters, and a painting of myself I had recently made during a time when I felt lost. In the painting I have wings, a crown, and flowers grow out of my body among many things. Today’s lesson would be to paint themselves as superheroes and choose a superpower. After setting up, the children were brought into the classroom and when I looked into their faces I saw home.

I am from Central America and it’s as if I knew them. One boy in particular was from a small village where an indigenous community lives near my hometown. It was as if I saw a unicorn. I had never seen someone from that village here. What I thought was a class for the children turned into one of the best experiences of my life. I went around the room trying to give as much individual attention as I could and watched them create magic. I saw inspiration and focus. They would see what the other was painting and motivate each other. At their request, I put music on and it turned into a celebration. I heard laughter and singing. There was art and there was joy. For this hour the kids were children without having to think about their survival or situation. With pride one of the girls said that she was going to give her painting to someone she cared about. They each did a show and tell of their work and were received with support from their peers.

I couldn’t wait to see the children again and this time I wanted to know all about their hopes and dreams. They would make their own dreamcatchers. Yarn, feathers, glue, markers, and hand coordination kept them very busy. They had to put the yarn through punched holes on a sturdy ring as the first part of the project. One girl volunteered to read the origin of dreamcatchers that was written on the poster I brought. They listened to each other so well that I made sure to make them part of the lesson. Some were skilled at weaving beautiful patterns with the yarn and they taught each other.  I was surprised how quickly they took this on that one boy started a second one. I looked around the room filled with dreamcatchers and was once again taken to another world, a world we created together. Colors and feathers were everywhere. I assumed the younger children might need more help with this task but instead they were asking for even more supplies. They were fascinated and asked what colors they should use. Others made sure to use the colors of their countries.It was a unique and culturally diverse room.

At the end of the lesson one boy asked for more yarn because he wanted to make bracelets. They have amazing skills and talents that deserve to be nurtured. When you provide them with these tools they come alive and go beyond. I was amazed at their focus, especially the younger children. They were committed to the task and to do it well. They asked what I thought and I told them I saw great beauty in their dreams and dreamcatchers. For those that had time, I asked them to write their hopes and dreams on a piece of paper. Some read them out loud and others preferred to keep them private. Either way, it was important to keep those dreams nourished and alive. I feel privileged to be around their vibrant energy.

I’m grateful to R.Evolución Latina and ASTEP who provide this opportunity that allows me to give back to a community that is my home.

By Grace Canahuati