A white space, first sales and emerging young artists

After two weeks of opening our workshop, things have moved up up up!

1. We’ve painted the space white (thanks to Marlon, Armando and Enok for the help!) and it looks tonnes better.

2. We’ve sold 2 pairs earrings, 4 key rings and a bracelet already

3. At the recommendation of the kids, we’re giving 50% of the sales price to the maker and keeping 50% to help towards the rent and materials (this project is costing us a lot to start up which we are looking for funding for..) Axel (the local handyman) made us a big table and this weekend we are in Xela to get more supplies – scissors, blutak (impossible to find!) paint, moto tool heads to cut coconuts…


4. The popularity of the workshops is extraordinary. We have up to 25 young artists (Aged between 3-18) regularly coming to the workshop, as well as several adults. If we are running 5 minutes late, the kids come to our house to fetch us. We don’t have any chairs, so everyone stands, but noone is complaining. It’s a squeeze and a fight for the one pair of scissors and our attention! We could do with extra help and are going to advertise for volunteers in the surf camps and hostels.


5. Carla has started a friendship bracelet making bar at the front of the shop  whilst I have been working with kids to find new ways to incorporate tin cans and recycled materials into necklaces and bracelets. So far, we’ve taught the kids how to make bracelets, necklaces, key rings, earrings and mobile phone charms. We are learning ourselves too and there is still a long way to go. The medium term plan is for each piece to have either a recycled or natural (from El Paredon) element to it, instead of just bought beads. We have gradually allowed the kids more freedom and they are already making some really creative, beautiful work. These are some examples:

It is nice to get out of bed with a spring in the step on the way to our studio. Although exhausting trying to help 10 kids at a time, it doesn’t feel like work. It is totally satisfying, creatively. It is exciting that things are happening. And exciting that the town is excited too.


Beauty before brains

Beauty before brains

There is no wonder kids literacy levels here are shockingly low.

1/ Kids and/or their parents can decide if they want to go to school or not. Some kids aged 6 don’t go because they’d rather hang out at home or their parents want them to do household tasks. Some parents won’t let their tiny kids come to Carla’s English class.

2. At age 16, the only further education option is to go to a town an hour away every day (by boat, tuk tuk, then bus) to La Gomera and learn machinography – a big machine resembling a typewriter – for a year. After this time you ‘supuestemente’ (supposedly) can then work in an office. It seems crazy that they are not being taught real computer skills for the real world. In El Paredon, there are no formal, or semi-formal education opportunities, just learning how to fish, crab, agriculture, make roofs, from your family.

2/ At any opportunity, the school shuts. Two weeks ago, the entire school closed for 2 days as a 16 yr old student, Dayana, was in the regional junior beauty queen contest and the whole school (and us) went to support her.

the judging panel
support banners

Last week, the school closed because one of the teachers’ sisters’ husband was shot in the street in Sipacate. On Thursday, there were no classes because a teacher had a baby shower (a big event here involving different women putting balloons up their Tshirts and the soon to be mum pretending to feed a baby doll).

A few days ago, kids started leaving my class halfway through the lesson as one of the teachers was taking them to the beach, without telling me first. The next day, they left halfway through to take an exam. Having said all this, the kids have fun. School seems fun. There aren’t whistles or boring assemblies. Bullying doesn’t seem to be a major problem. Teachers have a laugh with their students. The boundaries are less defined. And life and education seem to be more mixed than back home.

It is tricky preparing a lesson, without any resources, then it getting shot out the window. But you just have to go with the flow. Most days, kids wander in and out of the class to buy snacks from the tuckshop – empanadas, juice in plastic bags, chopped mangoes, flavoured crushed ice, tacos. It is hard not to get influenced by this lazy approach, to be late, to be less conscientious. I need to get stricter, probably, but the good thing is they come, voluntarily, my core group of about 8 teenagers, and often other randoms who come and go, and they are starting to learn. And the Mayor has agreed to buy us some English language teaching books which we have ordered from Amazon and they are getting shipped to a contact in Antigua, who will bring them to us. That will transform our teaching here – no more ‘what shall I teach today?’ and desperately cutting out things from magazines. My adult night group are keen – a hotch potch mix ranging from the school English teacher to the local painter and decorator to two women who cannot even say hello in English. Again, this is not an easy group but we have fun and it gives me back a feeling of being useful, skilled, needed and seeing them improve and get confident is really rewarding. I am focusing on language they will need to become tour guides – names of animals, ‘you should wear a long sleeved top’, ‘don’t jump off the boat’.

Not a surprise

Here it is no surprise

Here it is no surprise

To share a bed with sand, crabs or frogs

Or to wash vegetables

In the shower


It is no big deal

To be paid 2 weeks late

Or to buy milk

From the Mayor


We have got used to our names being one

Shouted through cracks in fences

From outdoor sinks

Or a pink plastic bike shipped from the women’s guild

in Mississippi


Here you can only buy

Second hand clothes

With ‘Love not drugs’ worn by the priest’s wife

Or ‘Best Grandpa in the world’

Worn by a 10 year old

Proudly, not knowing English.


Here it is no surprise

When the sun dips red, deep into the ocean

That all you have done all day

Is open the back door

To connect to this one room village

And this has filled your time happily

Welcome to our workshop

our workshop (on the right)

We have opened our workshop/shop! (the building on the right – next to the central hub of the town – el comedor). A quick dust down of the cobwebs, a whiteboard borrowed from the church, a table borrowed from a teacher, plastic stools from home and we are on for business. To begin with, we’re opening between 1-3pm, Mon-Fri, before teaching in the school. This is when the little kids are free (up to age 10) as they go to school in the mornings. We picked up the key from an old man at the end of our street, paid him the £25 for the month’s rent and celebrated with kids and granddads who walked by with 2 big bottles of Mirinda – the local Fanta

inside the space – day one
our custom-made window which lets in as much breeze and light as possible

Day 1

We had invited 8 adults – Janet the hairdresser, William the resourceful maker, Enok’s dad who makes little turtles out of coconut shell, Telma the fierce schoolkeeper, Juan Carlos the grafter, sweet but flakey Pati and a couple of other women who are interested in making artesanias  – to our first meeting where we would explain how our social enterprise would work:

  • We buy the materials (from Guatemala City or Antigua – either way a 5 hour journey)
  • We hold a month of workshops where everyone shares their skills and create a range of products using local and recycled materials
  • Locals buy the materials from us and make the products
  • We sell the products in our shop and in Surf House and Surf Camp to tourists. 75% goes to the maker and 25% goes back into the project.

So we opened for our first day and, true El Paredon style, none of our core adult group showed up and loads of kids did. So we drew birds local to the area – Pelicans and herons. There is some real artistic talent here but they don’t do art in the school. Compared to classrooms in the UK – filled with paintings and displays – the walls are bare with the occasional ‘Jesus loves you’ sign.

In our first hour of our first workshop, we realized we needed to stop kids running in and out with all our precious bits and bobs so sparkly and new. We sent one of our keen helpers to find a piece of wood to lock the door. Another wee boy mopped the floor. Another put up the mask drawings the kids made the day before in an impromptu workshop in the outside eatery. Lots of curious adults wandered by and wandered in, as well as some chickens.

Day 2 in our workshop

our first key rings made by the kids

9 kids came and we made bracelets ‘pulseras’ out of the beads we bought in the city. Everyone were surprisingly calm and orderly, although it was hard to chuck them out at the end of the session. They each made three – 1 to keep and 2 to sell in our shop. It felt like a real success. That night, Telma came round with carved surfboards, triangles and turtles made out of coconut and an enthusiasm we hadn’t yet seen in her. We also met Enok’s dad who is happy to work with us on Sundays when he is not out at sea fishing and show some of the keen kids how to make his beautiful coconut turtles. We need to buy them little saws, files, sandpaper and sanding tools so they can get working. We also need a proper, solid table and lots of chairs (most of the kids are working standing or on drinks crates) as well as a hammer and shelves to put our materials on. We are trying to beg, borrow or steal for these things but may have to tap into our funds and get them from San Jose.

We also made our first sale to some men who were fixing electricity in the village!

our first customers

A new godfather and a big lake

A day, they said it would take. To get a 90 day extension on our visa. So we took the 5 hour chicken bus trip up to the big bad city, making sure we stayed in the relatively safe zone 10 of Guatemala city. Malls and Macdonalds. We could have been anywhere in America.

And all went smoothly at immigration. Until we saw a handwritten scrawl – 10 days. Hmm what’s this we asked? Oh yes, come back in 10 days to collect your passports. Begging with the boss, a small stout Mayan woman, we got this reduced to 7 days by her writing ‘Wednesday’ in the top corner of a scrap piece of paper. Not sure how much to trust this.

So we went to eat some lukewarm rice soup and felt glum and got chatting reluctantly to a guy in his late 60s who owned a car battery business. What would make you feel better he asked. Chocolate icecream I said.

And so it was that Carla and I made a new friend, our new godfather, he told us, named Carlos, who took us to a fancy icecream shop with air conditioning and we had a chocolate sundae with nuts and cream and felt a lot better. Carlos had a nephew who spoke English and wanted us to speak to him so we did, from a real phone he used as a mobile from his pick up truck.

And so we went to Lake Atitlan for a little holiday and research trip while we waited for our paperwork to get done. Winding up lush green mountains we saw the lake spread out in front of us. I got a pang of nostalgia for Scotland – so similar to Loch Tummel but bigger, much bigger with little populations sprinked round the edges.


It was raining hard when our boat bounced across the water from Santiago to San Pedro, a renowned party town where we were meeting our friend Dee. And our hostel, Hotel Peneleu, at 20Q each a  night (£1.80) was friendly with hammocks and good views and nearer the buzzy local market than ‘gringo alley’. We stayed there 4 nights – went horse riding in flip-flops converted into strong walking shoes, swam in the serene magical water, ate lots of cake and drank lots of wine (impossible to find in El Paredon) and watched Mayan girls playing some high quality basketball.


A market in Santiago where we got loads of inspiration for Anato and talked to lots of shop owners about our project and products, a short trip to San Marcos where we did a runner to escape the overt, oppressive hippiedom of the place, a visit to the womens cooperative in San Juan and a couple of chilled nights in the  Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz.

We met some real characters round the lake – Diego – a lost soul trying to make ends meet by selling Mayan relics he finds in the fields and by  offering to cook tourists dinner and then charging for it, with a Dutch couple who had converted a Guatemalan chicken bus into a hostel with 8 beds and were driving it round Central America, and with lovely Antonio – an Ecuadorian resident in London who works for the British Embassy who we walked to the very cute town of Jaibilito with. That is a village I could live in.

Oh so nice to be in the mountains again. With no mosquitos and the need for a scarf and without sweat constantly dribbling down your chest.

And we got our visas finally.  90 more days in Guatemala here we come…..

Hunting, crabbing and tree hugging

We’ve been quite adventurous recently, and making the most of opportunities that fly our way.


I held a big snake that had been skinned and chopped up and it still moved in my hands. I screamed, dropped it and went to hug a tree for protection. Sandra (in the orange) and her family (who had caught the snake) thought this was pretty funny.


Our friends – Carlos and Tara, Henry, Estiven and Armando – took us crabbing – cangregiando – into the mangroves on little rowing boats. It was funny to see the surfer boys dressed like the Artful Dodger, but long trousers and boots were essential.

We got mucky – lurching in the mangrove roots when we spotted a purple crab, hands grappling down muddy holes, clasping their claws shut, into a big sack. The boys gave us their gloves and went bare handed. That is advanced crabbing. It is not easy, but you get better and Carla and I became fearless towards the end.


We went home and put the crabs in our sink, then wrapped them with palms. The whole town is busy doing this. It is a complicated process – on the claw, round the front, back, round and round. Too complicated for my impatient soul, so I cooked the crabs instead. We gave them to friends, neighbours and Henry and Carlos sold the rest.



Dinah and Sandra had some cousins in town last weekend from Guatemala City – all fancy in their four by four. We showed them how to hold crabs and impressed them no end. In return we were invited on their family adventure to go hunting in the plains of El Naranjo national park. We learnt how to use three types of guns, increasingly bigger.  I hit the target twice with two different guns. A proud moment, to have everyone watching.  It was a morro fruit, blasted onto the floor. We didn’t kill anything, which my ex-vegetarian self was quite happy about. It was a great day out though, ending perfectly with a cold beer, and a surprise present of a catapult, which has to be up there in the ‘best present ever’ category.

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