Creating and Teaching in Suchitoto, El Salvador

Es Artes!
 Well, it has been over two months since my last post. I am very sorry! I have been on an amazing adventure in El Salvador for the past two months and have not been able to post.  I went as a volunteer with CUSO International and with the Stratford Theatre Festival to work and teach in a small community called Suchitoto.  What I was told when I went down there was that I was giving kids the opportunity to learn new skills so that they could find work and stay out of gangs which are so prevalent in their country.  I went down there expecting a lot of things and what I found was so different from my expectations.  Suchitoto is an amazing place, full of people who care about their families and those around them.  I was treated with such warmth from so many amazing people. The people that worked in adminstration were dedicated, kind, with great senses of humour and even though my spanish was very bad, were incredibly patient with me.

Two of my students working hard creating shadow puppets... It's important for artistic concentration to wear a Tina Turner wig...
One of the reasons I went down there was because I have recently discovered I really like teaching and so I thought that teaching these kids about props and mask making might help them. After returning home and reflecting on my experience I have so much respect for the students in that program. I know that politically there is weird stuff going on with the school, but I didn't go down there for the school I went down there to work with the kids. The students have spent about two years training in theatre, with over twenty volunteers coming down to teach them a myriad of different skills from Theatre lighting, carpentry, welding, propmaking, drawing, drafting, maskmaking, costume construction and fundraising. These kids have gotten a very unique experience that very few people in El Salvador get a chance to do.  There are no arts programs in public schools and high schools in El Salvador so they are starved for artistic ways to express themselves.  The students at Es Artes are about to graduate from the program in a month and like any teenager facing a change they are concerned about what happens next in their lives.  I don't know what the kids were like when they started the program but what I see now is some incredibly intelligent, passionate, talented, driven students who have the ability to become amazing artisans and members of the artistic community in Suchitoto and El Salvador. They have a lot of different opportunities available to them because of the training at the school, not just from the CUSO Volunteers but from working with other artisans in Suchitoto and San Salvador.  There are already students from the school who are working in the community and for the school as welders and carpenters.
A very talented Student creating an amazing totem mask for the production of the Popol Voh.
It was an honour to work with these kids, especially the ones that were on my little production team. Together we created about 30 masks, 45 Shadow Puppets and a whole bunch of props.  I am very proud of the work that they did and of how well they worked together. I spent two months working with these kids everyday, without a translator, they were incredibly patient with me and had an amazing appetite for new skills and knowledge. They also taught me to speak Spanish, which was great as they were awesome teachers.

Some of the animal masks and bowls painted by a local artisan, Javier Gonzalez, an amazing painter who I learned a lot from, and all around great guy. 

It was difficult to leave after that whole time because even though sometimes it was stressful, it was also such an amazing treat to work with such amazing people. I am still dreaming as though I am in Suchitoto and I miss the students, staff, fellow volunteers and the community very much! Hopefully, I will get another opportunity to make it down there again.

One of the younger students and Javier having fun in the masks.


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