Across the world and back in 35 days

5 weeks in the UK and now we’re back in El Paredon.

Ahhhhh how great to be back

To our little friends running up to us for massive welcome back hugs

To men scaling our palm trees for yellow coconuts

To a fish head lunch from Priscilla

To a softer surf and a peachier sunset than when we left

To big grins from the town, and jumping from the dogs, who thought we wouldn’t return

To have a home again after crashing in different places for 5 weeks

And we have a  renewed energy, after buzzing around London, talking to educated, interesting, creative people. And a little trip to Austria.

 

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Discovery

Hello everyone!

I’m back in the UK for a few months, working for a summer school (Discovery Summer) in the remotest point of Surrey (Woldingham) while I regroup, refocus and fundraise for various projects in Guatemala to start early next year. This week I’ve been teaching photography, alongside English skills, to 9-14yr olds. This is one of the final photo projects which I particularly like.

NB: we used www.pixlr.com to edit, which was very easy and effective to use with kids

There are angels

‘Good morning, I stumbled upon your page while looking for a place to vacation in Guatamala. My questions for you are do you take donations for your school and do you allow visitors. If my wife and I go to El Paredon on vacation we would enjoy stopping by’

Larry found my blog by accident in June. He was researching a holiday to the Carribean island of Antigua and instead he found Antigua, Guatemala and our education project in El Paredon. Three days ago, he and his wonderful wife Wenona said an emotional goodbye to us and the kids from La Choza Chula after a 6 day holiday, leaving us with over $3000 worth of equipment and materials for the school, the workshop and the local community.

Larry’s enthusiasm for our project had rubbed off on his colleagues over the months preceding his trip and slowly they came to him with surprising amounts of money: ‘I didn’t even need to shame them, they just wanted to help!’

And it is incredible what he and the Men’s Church Group of Illinois and lots more anonymous donators have enabled us to buy:

A projector for us to play films and photos to the kids. Here is the moment when we showed them the projector and photos from the project. This is the first time some of the kids have ever seen photos of themselves:

 

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Books for the school for the teachers to be able to teach their subjects properly. Before they had no books. They are over the moon. And it will have a serious impact on teaching standards.

 

Also for the school: a photocopier and lots of paper (priceless), calculators, marker pens, 2 internet modems (the children currently have no internet access).

For La Choza Chula workshop: a superb digital camera, 2 vices, 2 hammers, safety goggles (the latest fashion accessory in the workshop)

For the community: a football and pump, sunglasses for Daniel (who loved Larry’s glasses so he left them) and a goody bag for Maria from a little girl the same age in Illinois. In response, Maria sent back this traditional dress for her new penpal.

And there is still money left over! Which we will spend on more books for the school, world maps, storage for the workshop and more! We have so many new ideas and this money will enable to us to achieve some of our visions.

Larry and Wenona’s visit was much more than what they physically brought us though. They are warm, affectionate, loving, generous, funny people who were great company for both us and all the kids they met and got to know. Larry and Wenona enjoyed the impromptu screening and performance event put on by the kids on Sunday night and the friendliness of the community towards them.

‘This Sunday was the best day of any day on any holiday we have ever had’ (Larry)

The kids are asking us daily ‘when is Larry coming back?’ and they have decided between themselves that they will be back for Christmas. In a very short time, they became part of the community and will be talked about for years to come. THANK YOU SO MUCH from El Paredon.

Ah little handmade notebooks how I have missed thee

Yesterday I went to Edinburgh.

And got caught in the Fruitmarket Gallery Bookshop. Got caught with saucer eyes over all the amazing books and notepads and stuff to make  – stuff you would never EVER find in Guatemala. Because people there just don’t have the money for all this stuff you don’t really need to survive. But it all looked and felt and smelt so nice.

So I got a bit overexcited and bought some things to inspire our project and the kids out there (and me and Carla):

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Cut Out and Make Menagerie animals by Alice Melvin and her beautiful book The High Street, Tree of Life block puzzle by Charley Harper (which we can make a version of out of wood blocks in El Paredon), How to be the Best Bubble Writer in the World Ever by Linda Scott (for getting the kids to think about using text as art) and the most exciting of all, Waterlife by Rambharos Jha – gorgeous folk paintings of fish which use detailed pen techniques almost like aboriginal art. And a lovely little handmade notebook.

I then wandered into little boutique gift shops on Cockburn St and Victoria St to get inspiration for displaying our products in El Paredon, especially good The Red Door Gallery,  with lots of Scottish work. I liked how they displayed earrings on bits of recycled card:

   

The nice girl there told me where to find good cheap Indian food, food I have been craving for the last 3 months.

Cafe Mother India. Fresh crispy onion bhaji, succulent lamb sag, buttery peshwari naan. And a pint of beer. All for me. No compromises on what to have. And I sat alone, the first meal alone in months, absorbing the atmosphere of a buzzy restaurant feeling quite content reading my book about bubble writing.

PS: I LOVE this typography I saw on a sandwich shop

Hubi’s art…from my hospital bed

This post is dedicated to the very special and lovely Hubi, who flew back to Austria today after a month in Guatemala. For the last few days he’s been looking after me in Antigua whilst I’ve been struck down with Dengue Fever (thankfully recovering in hospital now and jelly for breakfast + cable TV = luxury!).

Hubi made a whole new range of products for our tienda and inspired us and the kids and the whole community loads with his passion and creativity and humour. And who made me a bed in four hours from old pieces of wood! Here are some of the amazing products he made – all from things he found…and lots of superglue! The seed and sand rings and pumice stone turtles we are definitely going to make more of.

These are light drawings that Hubi made with a long exposure

And a shark illustration…

He is convinced my surfing will improve leaps and bounds if I use a long board instead of a ‘surfer chic’ short board, so I have promised I will do (for at least a week). Safe journey Hubi and hope to see you again soon….

Now…back to getting better…(and trying not to look too hard at the volcano paintings on the wall when my fever starts up again…..)

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.


anato is born

anato, our company, is born.

anato – little pods with seeds inside used for colouring food or natural lipstick.  We were first shown anato by our Mayan guide in the Belizean jungle where we painted our lips deep orange and listened to howler monkeys

 

It is a good name for our company as it represents the stuff we believe in:

  • Being resourceful
  • Working with nature
  • Collaborating with local communities
  • Design, bright colours, decoration, beauty
  • Hidden potential
  • Enterprise

At the moment, anato has two main strands in development:

1/ Making 

Creating beautiful products from things that fall from the trees. At the moment we are creating little boats and pots. More on this later. The plan is to make prototypes then train local people how to design and make them and buy the finished products from them to sell here, in Antigua and beyond.

2/ Tours

Working with local young people who will be our guides, we have developed three tours for tourists which we plan to start next week.

Other things we are working on to fund living here: private English lessons, offering internet access: 1op for 10 mins, working in the local eatery, sign painting, selling mangoes, surf photography….

Other things we are offering the community for free: photography workshops for kids, teaching English in the local school  AND MORE….

We need to start looking for funding – for computers for the kids, for a photography exhibition we want to create with local families, for materials for the school, para muchas cosas…..

Beyond coconut earrings

On Sunday, Carla and I had a date with the folks who have already started to create jewellery and other ‘artesania’ products to sell to tourists. An American guy came last year to teach the locals how to transform coconuts into earrings, peach stones into carved key rings, mobiles, purses and more. The Mayor has invested money in equipment to help the process. The American guys didn’t come back for the second phase but there remains a lot of nice work created during the course, and some people keen to respark the business. The key players seem to be Janet, who runs the ‘beauty salon’ here, Dora who is the Mayor’s sister and looks after all the equipment and William, who knows how to use all the tools and is currently making more products to set up his own kiosk.

We were shown all the products already created. Here are a few examples, and the tools that exist.

Carla and I got quite inspired at the possibilities for using the equipment, which Dora said we can borrow. We think the jewellery and existing products are a bit fiddly/naff/not unique and don’t have a lot of potential for profit so we are thinking to create a new range of products which can be made quickly and easily by a range of people and which draw on the things unique to El Paredon.

We spoke to William about the potential of these morro fruits. When the inside is scraped out, the cask is very hard and light – perfect for souvenirs. We have commissioned William to prepare 10 for us, of different shapes.

After that meeting, we were given a big bag of shrimps for free by some local fishermen and so we took them to Sandra’s house and cooked them up for her family. After we ate, Kayley showed us some products she has been developing in her spare time – bracelets and these funny little creatures, which I kinda love.

It would be cool to find a space in the village to sell all the best work by local people and also the work we create through our project.

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