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Once Upon a Time in Palomino

Reflection – Habia Una Vez En Palomino

One evening, after one of our sessions with the children, I’m walking back to the hostel where we stay, I’m exhausted and moved by the work Laura and I are doing with our students in Palomino. We are creating, playing, making art, thinking about who we are, who we are in our homes, who we are in our communities, who we are in the world— at the core is the desire to see and hear each other, to see our community and work together to make it a better place, to treat each other with respect and care and love.

There are sixty students in total. We divided them into four groups of fifteen each. Each session is two hours, and has been structured as follows:

Check-in – 15 min

Physical warm up and play – 30

Visual Art Making – 45 min

Check-in consists of arriving in the space and literally checking in, but not as we would with the usual “hi, how are you, I’m fine thank you.” Instead we check in with our breath and share a movement and a sound that expresses how we are feeling in that moment. This is a way to break the ice, and to establish a sense of play, as well as to begin to build a physical language that we can use to express and communicate, a language that captures something more than a “I’m fine thank you”. It can feel strange and maybe even absurd, scary and embarrassing for young kids or anyone who is doing this for the first time, so, those first meetings had that kind of newness to them: some of the kids jump right in, while others smile shyly and pull away yet somewhat curious about this silly way of doing things.

How we begin is important. And, how we establish a safe space for us to work in is crucial. The work we planned for the four weeks aims to engage students in new ways: using the body, imagination and play to learn about self, community and our voice. This is for me the part of the process that demands that Laura and I listen to each other and then together listen to the students.

One of the themes in one of our sessions was to define and identify super heroes. Who are our heroes in our respective communities? After identifying all kinds of heroes, from superman to our grandfathers. We ask: What makes someone a hero? They reply, loudly, all speaking at once: They save people! They can fly! They say nice things! We ask: If Spiderman’s power is to fly, what are the super powers of the heroes in our lives, in our family, in our community? This got us talking about our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, grandparents and their powers. We talk about the things that these heroes can do. In Spanish “power” translates to “poder” which is also the verb “can.” We shift the focus to ourselves. Asking, What are our powers? What are we really good at doing? We go around the circle hearing from everyone.

I’m really good at running errands!

I’m really good at cleaning my house!

I can cook dinner!

I’m really good at sweeping!

I can dance!I can take care of my little brother!

These are 6-9 year olds speaking. Something shifts inside of me. Suddenly, this seems like a harsh reality, as they continue to list all the things they are able to do, things that I think they are too young to have to know how to do. And I ask myself, who decides what we should know by when and who decides how we learn what? I listen, and I realize again that knowledge is experience and that it comes from our surroundings, our culture, our community, it comes from what’s needed. We learn what we have to learn. I learned that these kids are growing up fast because that’s what their circumstances demand. And yet they are only kids, wonderful and full of wisdom. They are tough, too. And, transparent. And, full of love.

During these four weeks we created a space in which we imagined new possibilities, we asked lots of questions, we played, we told stories, we created a physical language, we found the things we have in common, we created art: paintings and sculptures that derived from our realities, we went on a journey of self-discovery and expression.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn from my colleague and friend Laura Betancur and from the young artists in Palomino.

To see photos visit:

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