Over the last couple of years, a group of young people from Bloomington has gotten pretty familiar with a small town in Guatemala, and its residents.
Traveling through the Mayan village of San Juan la Laguna four years ago, Gracia Valliant and Sarah Irvine came up with the idea of bringing a school group from Bloomington there to paint a mural, to take its place among the many others in the village, depicting traditional life and customs.
(photos courtesy of Art Across the Americas)
The idea launched the cultural exchange project Art Across the Americas, or "Arte a traves de las Americas". In the summer of 2008, 12 elementary, middle and high school students from Bloomington traveled to San Juan la Laguna to paint a mural with their Guatemalan peers on the side of a textile shop.
The mural design took the form of a traditional Hoosier quilt, incorporating textile designs from around the world, and representations of the local landscape.
As it turns out, though, painting the mural was just one part of an experience that served to empower the young people involved.
Bloomington students as young as eleven, who had never been abroad, not only participated in a non-traditional form of tourism, but planned and executed every aspect of their trip themselves.
In addition to learning about the culture and history of Guatemala, the student participants spent the eighteen months before their trip planning it and fundraising for it, ultimately raising more than $100,000.
Trip chaperone Michael Valliant characterized their efforts as "creating an NGO from the ground up."
During the summer of 2009, a group of students from San Juan la Laguna will experience life in Bloomington while creating a mural downtown.
For the Mayan students, coming to the States for the first time might equally instructive: "This opportunity is giving these students a way of looking at life very differently," trip leader Gracia Valliant noted. "Maybe I don't have to be a coffee farmer; maybe I could go to college and be an advisor to the coffee co-ops…these may be the students who develop Guatemala."
Listen to Yael Ksander second installment of Art Across the Americas.