Art has always been an integral part of my life. I find that there is art in everything. It can be found in the form of beauty as in nature or in words from a speech. Before coming to Guatemala, I had the intention of focusing my work and channeling my energy into women empowerment and art. In my opinion, the two have always been somewhat of a complementary fit. After my return from Guatemala, I am able to see that I did find beauty in everything. Families in need still held together because of their hopes for the future and their gratitude for God. Women in a domestic violence shelter empowered one another after their respective struggles and remained positive for their recoveries. I went to Guatemala with the intention of offering help but instead learned so much from each and every individual I had the pleasure of coming across.

 In preparation for Guatemala, under Dr. Chris Hirschler’s instruction (Guatemala Public Health), we read various articles and watched several documentaries that highlight the struggling lives of rural Guatemalan village residents and odd-job difficulties. We were educated about domestic violence and self defense techniques so that we would be better prepared when working first-hand with the women in Nuevos Horizontes. My fellow classmates focused their health lessons on practicing self defense, engaging in music therapy and following yoga instruction and meditation techniques.

At Nuevos Horizontes, the domestic violence shelter for women in Xela, Guatemala, we brought our own ideas, lessons and activities to the table to share information and knowledge. My classmate, Hope Avalone, and I made the decision to focus on art therapy. The women and children residing in Nuevos Horizontes have experienced extreme emotional trauma and even physical pain in recent time. It was vital that we remained open-minded, sensitive and most importantly, respectful. I discussed my interest in teaching art with Professor Jennifer Gottshall, MPH, and she recommended that we bring adult coloring books for stress and anxiety relief. During my time in her class (Alternative & Complementary Health), she emphasized the importance of self-care and stress relief through words of encouragement and repetitive motivation. She states, “Repeat a phrase 108 times, allow it to resonate in your mind. Leave your worries behind and focus on your mantra.” Such activities can allow a woman to feel empowered and have more faith in herself and her personal abilities. After also consulting with Dr. Hirschler, we were able to formulate a lesson plan incorporating a vision board where the women and children can draw the ideal versions of their selves, express their emotions with colors and write inspirational quotes and sayings.

Throughout the activity, many girls approached me and asked me for help; Mariana, a 9-year-old girl, asked me to draw long, black hair for her because she said it makes her feel pretty. She created long, yellow strokes around the face to represent her bright energy and creativity along with blue stars to represent love and tranquility. Her enthusiasm and motivation warmed me; I was so grateful to have receptive students and to see that giving them an outlet to express their emotions is something that brought positive change to their lives.

We interviewed Lucia, the social worker at Nuevos Horizontes, and when asked about a typical day at her job, she stated that her main role is to coordinate programs for the women and children at the shelter in order to provide help for these individuals who have been abused physically, psychologically and economically. She hopes that all of the women in the shelter experience empowerment in their country because that is an important aspect that brings strength and hope into their lives of recovery.

Before leaving the United States for Guatemala, I found myself feeling very apprehensive about this trip. I was concerned about my main intentions and how I would be able to directly impact the life of another human being. I wanted to know that I would be able to actually benefit another life rather than just benefitting my own through “self-awareness” and “newfound perspective.” Upon my return to Monmouth, I have realized that I was, in fact, able to create positive change in their lives. In Xela, we were given the opportunity to set up water filters and build bunk beds for families in need that struggled with living space. On our last day, the single mother of two children stated that our presence in Guatemala and work in her home has helped her so much that she does not have the words to express her gratitude. She stated that her children will remember this moment for the rest of their lives and she wished that she had a way to thank us for our help. Taylor Sales-Vaughn, my fellow classmate, responded with “Your happiness is a gift in itself.” I am unable to think of a better statement to describe how I feel about my experience in Guatemala. I feel that we were able to change a life in Guatemala for the better and a smile in return was the greatest gift I had ever received in return.

PHOTOS COURTESY of Sneha Bupathi

As published in Monmouth University publication The Outlook: : Volume 90 (Fall 2017 – Spring 2018) Published: 04 April 2018 Written by ELAINE BANTING |

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