It’s incredible how 5 days can change a life. To grow up in the ghetto of La Limonada in Guatemala City is to grow up without hope, to see death, poverty, destitution. Having been to the ghetto in the past, I had seen first hand the depravity of the slum and knew that there were vulnerable hearts and minds that were being shaped by their circumstances. I knew that the week with the kids at the art camp was going to be an incredible one.
One boy in particular stole my heart completely. His home life is enough to make anyone cry. I have a distinct remembrance of him from my last trip. I think he stood out in my memory because of the intense sadness that covered him. His eyes seemed to be pleading for an escape, for a respite from the daily existence that was his life. I had a few pictures of him, smile-less and empty. Things haven’t changed since February. At the start of the week, he caught my eye right away, still stoic in expression. He ended up in one of my dance classes, and ritual began between us where I would give him a huge hug and kiss each time I saw him and would then proceed to push up the corners of his mouth into a smile. After a few minutes, it would typically turn into a real smile, however slight it might be. There would be times where the weight on his shoulders would win out, leaving that small mouth in a straight line. Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe how I felt looking at this kid.
Something happened with him though… Perhaps it was the relief of being away from home. Or perhaps it was his soul getting a chance to express itself. Whatever it was, I began to see this boy come alive in my class. The transformation was shocking in its unexpectancy. He would get so excited when the music came on, as if it was transcending in its presence. That was the moment where the awful bus ride out to the camp, the heat, the sweat, the preparation, the anxiety was all completely worth it. Just for that moment of seeing him smile, unabashed and free. I swear I could practically hear the heavens singing the hallelujah chorus, rejoicing as much as I was at this boy being freed from the sadness that surrounded him.
I spent a chunk of the week going out of my way to make this boy feel loved. By the end of the week, the change in this kid was incredible. He was smiling and laughing and playing. I don’t recall ever feeling such violent love for a kid that I just met. All I wanted to do was to help take the hurt away, to remove him from his reality and give him some relief. I loved him so much that it actually hurt.
I think that is what our time with these children was really about… love. Loving them in giving them our time, our effort, our art. Loving them to help bring healing from the hurt.
Loving them enough to care about the future of their existence, to bring a message of unity to a violently torn apart ghetto.