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The Power of Art: My Work in Guatemala

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.

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