Our Davis Project for Peace, “Paz a través de mis ojos” (Peace Through my Eyes) aimed to create a three week summer arts and photography program: one with private school students in Guatemala City, and another with local Kaqchikel indigenous children in San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlán. Our goal was to open a dialogue between these two separated communities based on mutual understanding and common visions of peace, while also aiming to show external communities the potential of children in poverty when given the proper resources and creative outlets.
From late May to mid-June of 2009, we taught photography classes to a group of seventeen children in San Marcos La Laguna. We came prepared with a basic artistic and/or photographic concept to teach for each class such as perspective, movement, and composition, but made sure not to impose our own idea of peace on each student while giving them enough artistic license to test their own creative boundaries. One of the most unanticipated difficulties that we ran into was adjusting our lesson plans to accommodate the students. We had originally planned to spend an hour inside of the classroom critiquing each other’s photos and teaching concepts, and the second hour out and about taking photos. After the first class we quickly realized that an artistic critique is a concept that is foreign to Mayan culture. In terms of what we wanted to get out of the students, the first critique did not go as well as we thought. Most of the students were too shy to criticize and comment on each others’ works because respect is a value that is deeply engrained in their culture. What we soon realized is that the students shined the most when they were out taking photos. We didn’t need them to tell us that they understood a concept that we taught in class because we saw them physically execute the skills that we had spoken about earlier. We had to learn to abandon our pre-conceived notions of how to teach and instead conducted the classes in an organic way, letting them explore the world around them through the lens.
As the classes went along, the students became increasingly aware of how important their dedication to the program was not only for their self-improvement as artists and photographers, but for their families and community. They began to see themselves as leaders and representatives of San Marcos and Guatemala. We constantly told them “Enséñame Guate con una foto”, “Show me Guatemala through a photo.” They also felt a certain sense of responsibility in knowing that their photos would eventually provide for the health and wellbeing of their community. The ultimate goal of “Peace Through My Eyes” was to exhibit the photos and sell them to both the Guatemalan and American public. The money raised by selling these photos will go back to the community in San Marcos La Laguna to buy one water filter per family. Additional funds raised will go to sustaining the photography program with a well-respected local artist and photographer, D’Sacach. By allocating funds to sustainable resources and education, we are committed to furthering the development of a small village that is inhabited by children who have all of the potential in the world, but insufficient opportunities to explore that potential. The final exhibition we anticipated having in Saratoga Springs, NY has now been preceded by three more exhibitions—the first two in San Marcos La Laguna and Guatemala City, Guatemala, and the third in Great Neck, NY. The successes of this project outweigh any difficulties we may have had along the way.
In order to build peace between and within these communities, there must be a mutual level of understanding. Cross-cultural understanding can only be achieved through communication. For the purposes of our project, art is the means of communication that will develop understanding, and ultimately build peace. Developing peace among diverse peoples is not a process with a beginning or end, but one that can continue to develop and flourish over time if the seeds are planted in the right place. The civil war in Guatemala has ended, but the country remains economically, politically, socially, and culturally divided between the upper and middle classes that mostly live in Guatemala City and the indigenous population that live in the rural countryside. Our project was targeted at these two vastly different groups of children in hopes of discovering that all people, despite their backgrounds, have dreams of peace. Their portfolios will illustrate the similarities and differences between their visions of peace and how all children have the potential to express themselves through art.
Another component to achieving peace is to open creative channels for people to be able to express themselves. The following poems demonstrate how two students from each of the two programs have similar views of peace:
Peace is to live in harmony
To live calm and peacefully with our family
The love of our parents
Also the love of nature and the state of physical health as well from amidst the environment
Also peace is what we have with our friends, brothers, and relatives
Peace is freedom, purity, harmony, tenderness, love, affection…
-Ruth, 14, San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala
When we think about peace, the first thing that comes to mind is everything there that inspires tranquility, freedom, trust, and furthermore we feel beautiful.
I think that true peace is in having a clean and pure soul. A soul without resentment, without envy, without greed gives us interior peace that allows us to have and give peace anywhere. If we have peace in the soul we can see and appreciate all of the beauty that surrounds us.
-Alejandro, 15, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Both Ruth and Alejandro, participants in this project, see peace as purity and freedom, yet their photographs capture vastly different images. By hearing the voices of children through their creative expressions, the international community can begin to have a mutual understanding peace and build bridges between different groups of people. Through the silent power of art, this project will transcend boundaries that keep us from understanding our fellow global citizens.
Our blog can be followed at: peacethroughmyeyes.wordpress.com
A photo slideshow of some of students’ works can be seen at: http://photopeach.com/album/d4lsdg#spiral
Photos (interaction with kids)
*Additional photographs provided on separate disk
Final Expenditures Budget
Round trip ticket from New York to Guatemala and back for Elana, and a one-way ticket to Guatemala for Verena
Includes printing photos and brochures, buying mats and other supplies needed to put the shows together
Includes 20 digital cameras, 20 carrying cases, and 20 memory cards, and batteries.
Includes transportation by boat and van to various towns on Lake Atitlán as well as back and forth between Guatemala City and San Marcos La Laguna
Purchasing paper, portfolios, pencils, and additional supplies for the classroom.
Shipping donations received in New York and various other materials