Fifteen women and two men from the United States and Canada were an excited and professional group of artists traveling to Philadelphia, Egypt, Kenya, Guatemala and Nicaragua to participate in BuildaBridge's annual Diaspora of Hope. The artists were joined by scores of local artists in each country as they planned, trained and implemented an arts camp on the themes of hope, peace, and unity with children from very difficult circumstances. The BuildaBridge Classroom model was the structure for each camp. This was the first year Diaspora of Hope conducted a project in Philadelphia with a local partner--a shelter abused women and their children. The mission of Diaspora of Hope is to provide children with a brighter future and build the capacity and sustainable development of local organizations serving these children who live in poverty. The following blogs from around the world describe the events of the week and stories of transformation.

For the past week we have been working with the children of La Limonada, from two different sides of this barrio in the heart of Guatemala City: El Limon and Mandarina. On Monday we packed 107 children and 30 adults into two school buses. I shared a seat with three children, others sat on buckets, and quickly we became, quite literally, close. The two school buses of children were separated by communities: Limon on one side, Mandarina on the other.

As soon as we arrived at Camp El Faro (seven hours later) the children were put into groups and cabins that mixed up the two communities. Throughout the week the students were in cabins, played games, ate meals, and made art together in their classes. We had six classes total: Voice and Movement, Graffiti, Visual Arts and Music, Drama, Textiles, and Dance.

Today we had a celebration and debriefing lunch with all the artists and teachers who served at the camp this past week. People were sharing transformation stories with one another. One of the assistant teachers shared that she wasn’t convinced that the unity among the students once they were at the camp was really real. She felt as though the students were just hanging out together because they “had to.” But, she saw the transformation on the bus ride home. As mentioned earlier, on the way to the camp the kids were separated in two groups. On the way home, they rode in the buses in their camp groups, so they were mixed up. When we arrived in Mandarina and the kids started to leave the bus, the Limon kids were yelling things to them like, “don’t leave without saying goodbye!” She described how they didn’t dismiss one another anymore, but truly acted like friends. As she told this story she had a look of amazement, “it really worked,” she said.

It did really work. The power of our week of art making together made a real and tangible difference. In our Visual Arts and Music Class the students created their own homemade instruments and made a band, singing a call and response chant, “music has the power to unite La Limonada.” In the drama class students developed their own dramas based on what they wanted to express to their families and communities about the importance of unity in Limonada. The students experienced unity as they learned art skills and created art together. In their classes the students experienced what it was like to work with others, created art that reflected unity, and made this week “work.” Unity wasn’t just a concept for these students, it became a reality.

Not only did the children become a unified community, but the artists teaching the classes did as well. We had three Guatemalan artists, and three U.S. artists on our team this week. During our first debriefing meeting this week the artists shared their curriculum plans and metaphors of unity connected to their art making. The team was overwhelmed with the beauty of things we were discussing. One of the Guatemalan artists shared with the team how thankful she was for all of our team to be together. She grew up in Limonada, and she shared that she had always wanted opportunities like the one these children were receiving through this camp. As she continued to express her gratitude her eyes filled with tears. Every member on this team felt the power of this moment. We were reminded of why we were here and the privilege it is to be joined with such an amazing community of people, providing art making opportunities to these beautiful children. I saw transformation in the children, the artists, and in myself this week. We have many more stories to share.

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