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These journals are the observations of A.R.T.’s Founder Sara Green during her pilot project in Mae Hong, Thailand and of Project Coordinator (Colombia) Lina Maria Sanchez Ayala Sanchez experiences working in El Carmen de Viboral, Bogotá.

Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand

February 7, 2003
I have spent the past few days trying to get the lay of the land, understand the key NGOs and the structure, programs and hierarchy of the IRC in the camps and in the office in Mae Hong Son.

There are currently three camps in the Mae Hong Son region with a total 21,000 persons residing within them, 41% are under the age of 15. The camps were established in 1991 and have grown from 5,000 to over 21,000 by the end of 2002; some of the children have grown up in the camps. Many have moved on and new refugees have arrived.

I learned a lot about the politics around the refugees and the Thai position on Burma. Apparently, Thailand does not recognize most of these refugees as “refugees.” They are seen as illegal immigrants and have no rights. Now, in the camps, the refugees are allowed to have their own grocery stores where they sell their wares to the other refugees. As of March 1, the shops will be closed and will now be run by Thais. I will learn more about this once I visit the camps on Tuesday.

At the moment, there are six NGO’s working within these camps; the IRC, Consortium, and Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), Catholic Overseas Emergency Rescue and Relief, Handicap International and Burmese Border Consortium. Consortium and JRS provide teaching and educational programs, while the IRC provides health, sanitation, community development and other programs.

After a lunch of papaya salad – very spicy – stir fried veggies with glass noodles, sticky rice and soup (all for a total of 20 baht, that’s 50 cents!!! - the accountant at the IRC office took me there, her mother owns the restaurant), I went for a walk through the town. I found myself in the market. Overwhelmed by the smells, sights and sounds, somehow managed to get lost in this tiny little village.

In the afternoon, I spoke with Lucky, a native Karen. Lucky grew up in Karen state – in what is now Burma - and fled to camp 2 or 3 and has worked with the IRC for the past six years. The IRC provides an internship program for the refugees; they can learn skills and work for the IRC while living in the camps. After several years, the IRC might hire them to work in the local office, allowing them to leave the camps.

The camps are composed of many ethnicities, i.e., Karen, Karenni, Shan, Kayan, Kayaw, Pa-O and Paku. At one point the Karen and Karenni were one people who lived in Mongolia. When they left, they divided into two peoples with different but similar languages and lived in the Karen State. When coordinating the project, I must be aware that it will include all cultures learning simultaneously.

Like the other communities, the Karen traditions of passing on ceremonial and traditional arts, etc. are through the grandparents. These traditions include:

Girls: Weaving, Dancing, Music – making and playing instruments

Boys: Hunting, Dancing, Music – making and playing instruments, Bamboo handicrafts

According to Lucky:

It will be good for the youth and elders/teachers to share and learn each other’s cultures, there shouldn’t be a problem with them learning from each other.

Another idea might be to recruit the elders/teachers from the old age centers, they are the ones who hold on to the culture.

As for religion, it is passed on orally.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted; picked up something to eat from vendors on the street, bought a beer and settled into the little area in front of my bungalow. Ah, paradise.

February 11, 2003
Today was the first day at “camp.” Wow, what an experience! I was more immediately affected when I arrived in Kosovo, but I think that was because NATO soldiers guarded the country and everywhere you looked there were tanks and guns and more tanks and more guns, you never really felt safe. At this camp, it is different. These refugees look as if they are just living their lives, unaware of the fact that they are refugees.

The camp itself is quite well kept. Each family is given materials to build a house – bamboo and wood, so that no one lives in tents or out in the open. They are well clothed and well groomed.

The morning started with a presentation/ community discussion at the Satellite Health Center in Camp 2. Cate, in the IRC’s Community Helath Program who is working with me on this project, is also working on an interesting project in trying to get the community to be more responsible about their health, and not just see the health center as a place to go in an emergency, but rather to integrate good health practices into their everyday lives.

We ate lunch in a little noodle shop in camp. Very strange, they have stores and a few restaurants/shops in the camps run by the refugees. It is rather questionable as to where the money comes from to buy the food for the stores and where the money comes from for the refugees to buy it from the stores. In any case, Cate and I had brought our lunch with us so we didn’t eat anything from the store; I would like to try to keep my stomach in as good shape as possible.

After lunch, we had arranged for a meeting for any and all artists who would be interested in teaching their craft to the youth. 35 people showed up, I was amazed!!! The group was mostly men, although a few of the older women showed up. The presentation to them was a real trial and error. It turned out that they are interested in passing on the tradition, and in fact have a cultural tradition committee in the camp. The leader of the committee was at the meeting, a real wheeler and dealer, but someone I think we can work with – a lot of this is going to be about local politics – which runs deep in these camps. First we introduced ourselves and then explained what it was we want to do – set up the program – and asked if the adults were interested in teaching their traditional art forms to the youth. They were, but were not sure if the youth would be receptive. We are meeting with the youth next week to talk to them about participating in this.

After a lot of discussion, we asked what were the types of art forms they would like to pass on. One of the women started to sing the “eyro” traditional folk songs that tell the history of these people – the Karenni. As she began, one of the older men in the room joined, it was a responsive love song – so beautiful! And the look on their faces was priceless – they were lost in the songs, as was everyone around them. Afterwards, another woman got up and started dancing one of the traditional dances – she looked about 90 years old and so frail I thought she would break, until she started moving.

The meeting ended with the decision to meet this coming Friday morning, at this point, they will have discussed this among themselves and identified the adults who would be interested in teaching the children. Also, they will have identified what forms of their traditional art forms they would like to teach.

We left the camps around three. I was drained, exhausted and empty!!

That evening, I had dinner with Michelle, the field director, Cate, and someone from the New York office. Off to bed at an early hour, we are leaving for camp tomorrow at 8am.

February 12, 2003
It was another early morning - up at 6. I saw the monks walking down the road, beating their drums as they walked towards the wat. It is customary for the people of the town to give food to the monks in the morning as they walk through town. After you offer them food, they bless you. One morning I will do this.

Today we went to camp 2 – BK. The day started at the Satellite Health Center with a similar discussion as the day before. We then had lunch and waited for the afternoon meeting with the elders who were interested in participating in the project. Like the day before, we asked around the camp for elders who would be interested in teaching their traditional art forms to the youth. There was an announcement on the loud speaker. The attendance was phenomenal. Hundreds of people showed up and when they were asked if they would like to participate in something like this, they started crying - they were so happy to have something that would bring them comfort and remind them of their homeland. Some of the women got up and danced, and the looks on the faces of all who watched were so beautiful. You could see their souls being refueled and nourished. Some of them started crying again. A very overwhelming experience. Next week I am going to meet with the younger refugees to see what it is they would like to learn. When I return in May, I will put the program into action and they will have a community center in each camp where they can hold teaching workshops. It is amazing to see how important community is, something we take for granted back home. Today was a really wonderful and rewarding day; the most positive to date. It was so amazing to look at these refugees, old and young, and see their faces so intensely engaged, I don’t know when the last time was that they actually engaged their mind – and spirit in something.

It has been nice to be away from the stresses of NY – and the impending war. I don’t even want to think about that. Spending time with these refugees, and knowing how much they have suffered by being forced from their homes, makes me sad and angry. And I don’t know with whom I am angry. Or whether I think war is the answer or not.

February 13, 2003
We left very early this morning, 7:30am for camp. Camp 5 is 3 hours away and it is not an easy drive. The first half of the trip is by highway, but with such twists and turns, you never go more than 100 yards before making the next hair-pin turn, it can get a bit dizzying. The second half of the trip is on dirt roads, and you bounce and rattle and are so thrown around the jeep/truck that by the time you arrive at camp, you feel as if you yourself have been through a war. We arrived around 10:30 – 11 and had a meeting at the Satellite Health Center, same as the previous meetings. Camp 5 is very different from the other camps we visited, 1 and 2. It is much less crowded, the other two camps, which have just been combined and have a total of 17,590 refugees than Camp 5 which has only 3,513. The camp is clean, well organized and looks more like a hilltop village, than a refugee camp. It really is amazing.

After the community health meeting, we held the meeting with the artists. It was very different from yesterday. The refugees who showed up for the meeting were the middle generation – adults, but not he older adults. They too, are very interested in learning the traditional culture and said that the elders want to teach and the youth want to learn. There wasn’t any dancing or singing as there was before, but the enthusiasm is there. We will meet with them again next week.

Tomorrow it’s back to camp 1 and 2, BT/BK. We are meeting at 9 with the artists and then at 11 with JRS and their teaching committee. It should be interesting. I am excited to see who will show at the artist meeting. We asked them to think about what is they would like to pass on to the younger generation, and who would like to teach.

When we first started the meetings we explained what we were going to do and asked if they were interested. By the third meeting, the format was more organized and efficient – and successful. First we introduced ourselves and the project, and thanked them for coming. Then we asked if they would be interested in passing on their traditions to the youth. Then asked what sorts of traditions, songs, dances, music, stories,….. Then, if appropriate, asked if they would like to show us any of these traditions. After that, we asked them to identify who in the community would be interested in being trained to teach the youth, and finally we asked where in the camp they thought a community center that would be used as a site for teaching, should be constructed. Later we will meet again with the refugees in each of the camps to follow up, then meeting with the youth, and finally – in the third week, meet with both the youth and adults.

February 14, 2003
This morning we returned to BT/BK. Our first meeting was with the elders who said they would be interested in teaching their traditional art forms to the youth. It turned out to be a fabulous meeting. There were several hundred people, it seemed as if the whole camp came, and they were all very excited.

The meeting started inside a traditional temple they built out of bamboo, with a performance by a group of very well rehearsed refugee children giving a traditional dance performance. They were dressed in the traditional costumes and the dance was about the rice harvesting. After the dance, we talked with the elders and they told us what art forms they would like to teach. The list was wonderful, and they were so excited – you could see how proud they were to stand up and say what they did well and wanted to teach and felt was important to pass on to the youth. The list was great…. Storytelling, the “eyro,” telling of the traditions and history through song, singing, dancing, fortune telling,by reading chicken bones, basket making, weaving and costume making, drum and flute making, and how to spin cotton. When they spoke about what they wanted to teach, you could see their confidence return, they had something to look forward to in their monotonous lives something that tied them to their past, their homeland.

Now they wanted to show us more dancing. So we went outside and watched more dancing and music playing. There were several groups of older Karenni women who performed different dances - very tribal, a group of men who sang, played the flutes and drums as they marched in a circle, a young Shan man who performed a sword dance – using a bamboo stick instead, and finally a group of young Shan girls who performed another very well rehearsed dance. This dance, as opposed to the one performed by the first group of youth, was much more refined, with specific hand and finger gestures. There was not any stomping or jumping – it was rather timid in comparison.

After being given rice wine to drink – very interesting flavor, we left the group for a meeting with JRS.

The meeting with JRS was to see if they had any suggestions about working with the youth in the camps. We decided that the best ages to work with would be 12-20. The chief administrator of the schools is going to help us gather those youth interested in the project. We will meet with them next Friday afternoon.

It has become clear that a committee has to be formed to manage this – there are just too many people interested in the project that we need to work with a smaller group who can help to make decisions and then talk to the community.

This is becoming such an interesting and fulfilling project. It was so evident today, when we met with the elders – and the whole camp showed up, all generations, yearning for something to be involved with. Community is so important. Until you build a strong community, these people will not have the desire to make a better life for themselves. We all need to be involved with something, something that makes us feel a part of a hectic and sometimes horrible world, something to hold onto when there is no explanation for why things are happening – or why you were forced to leave your homeland in fear of being killed. That is why religion has been around for so long. We do not merely exist independent of others; we exist together – as a group. That is why it is so important to form a community.

Once you provide them with the essentials, food, shelter, safety, you have to build their spirit so that they can then go on and live enriched and contributing lives.

I came back to my room this evening and the woman who runs the guesthouse set out an arrangement of flowers in my room. She has two young daughters who have spent the last week making valentines for the guests. I came into my room to find a stuffed red heart saying, “We’re sweet.” It really was sweet.

February 20, 2003
It was a long day today. We left for camp 5 at 8am - I had my own interpreter, Plu Reh. When we got to camp, 3 hours later, we met at the Karenni National Youth Organization’s building – or should I say hut. There were six men – Tele who works with the KNYO, Jospa, a teacher, Konesto, the secretary for the KNYP, Jere, a member of camp 5’s Traditional Committee, Dere, vice Chairperson of camp 5’s Traditional Committee, and Simp, a member of the literacy and cultural committee.

I started off by explaining the project, again. We had met with them last week and explained it then. Apparently, there are already a few people teaching the traditional dances for the holidays – Jospa and Tele, but they were very interested in the program.

As I was talking with this group, it was so interesting to note how different each camp is, and that each has its own personality. Here, at camp 5, it is very relaxed and laid back. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that there are only 3,000 (approximately) refugees as opposed to 18,000 in camps 2/3.

Through the talking, there are three main art forms they would like to teach and learn: the eyro, the dances, and how to make and play the traditional musical instruments. It was decided that the teaching should start with the dancing and instrument making because the eyro is a bit tricky to teach. Apparently, there are three types of eyro: the first tells the history of the Karenni people, the second is a love song, sung between a man and a woman, and the third are songs that tell how you feel. Karenni are shy people and don’t talk about their feelings, this type of eyro allows them the opportunity to communicate their feelings without feeling shy or awkward.

The dances can be taught by Jospa, he knows the traditional as well as the modern dances, and Jospa’s father-in-law can teach how to make the bamboo flutes. There is another man, who I met at Dere’s house, who will teach how to make and play a string instrument made out of bamboo as well.

I asked these men what types of traditional art forms they think are important to preserve and teach the youth, since many of them were born “outside” (outside of Karenni state – Burma). They listed three things: Dances for weddings and funerals, how to play and make the different kinds of instruments of all 7 types of Karenni tribes, and how to make the costumes and traditional clothing. Later, once the project is up and running, they would like to teach the youth how to make the bamboo cups.

About an hour into the meeting, five high school aged youth came into the meeting. They said they would like to learn the traditional art forms, and next week when we meet they will have talked to their peers to see their reaction. They were very sweet kids. The culture is such that the people are very shy, and smile and laugh a lot. I am not sure what that says about what is underneath all of that. There really aren’t any psychosocial statistics for these refugees.

After the meeting, Plu Reh and I were invited back to Dere’s house where he would bring someone who makes instruments. We had lunch in his house/store that his wife runs. They were so warm and inviting, I felt so comfortable, even though I didn’t understand a word they said.

February 24, 2003
Last Friday, Cate and I went back to Camp 1 (Camps 2 &3). Our first meeting was with the elders and traditional committee in the Temple. When we arrived, there were even more people than the previous week. They were sitting in the temple waiting for us, you could see the anticipation on their eyes - something would engage their minds and spirits,

One woman sang an eyro, and again she began to cry. This was the type of eyro that one sings to tell about your feelings because in their tradition one doesn’t express emotions openly and directly. She sang of how fortunate they are to have such kind foreigners – us – helping them and providing them the opportunity to hold onto their past. As one woman said, it means we can feel again. All these feelings have been put away, hidden, until they were given an opportunity and permission. It was as if they needed to have permission to go ahead and remember how it is to feel again.

I am very impressed with how well coordinated and structured and organized they are. When we asked if they had made any progress in creating a committee and identifying the adults interested in teaching and participating in the project, they had already created a five-person committee that will set the guidelines and direction for the project; it is an advisory board of the Traditional Committee. There is also a committee for the project that will oversee the teachers/elders. Then there are the teachers. This is organized very much the same as their governing structure or like a political party.

Finally, they provided us with a list of traditional art forms they are proposing to teach. Throughout this process with the adults and elders, it must be remembered that it will be the youth who decide which art forms they would like to learn. If it is not presented this way, I don't think the project will be successful. It has to take a "bottom-up" approach. If the youth are not integrated in to the formation of the project - from the very beginning and through implementation, it will not be successful.

The adults came up with a list of at least 12 art forms they would like to teach. It started with the eyro, the telling of traditional stories, myths and their history though song. Until recently, the Karenni did not have a written language and all traditions and history were passed to the next generation through the eyro, as well as the dances. The second was teaching fortune telling, this is done by reading chicken bones. Apparently, chicken bones have many meanings in Karenni tradition.

The third subject was traditional dances, which seems to be one of the most popular. Fourth, traditional songs; fifth, fortune telling with beads; sixth, bamboo weaving, to make baskets, floor coverings; seventh, weaving and costume making; eighth, drum making – with animal skins; ninth, bamboo flute making and playing; tenth, how to use a spinning wheel to make thread, and how to use a loom; eleventh, knife and machete making; and finally twelfth, teach guitar playing.

February 26, 2003
Today, Plu Reh and I went to Camp 5.

All of the meetings for the day were help at the KNYO. Konesto, head of KNYO arranged for us to meet with a group of youth in their late teens – early 20’s. I asked them about their interest in learning the traditional art forms, what if any they would be interested in learning and if they think it is important to keep the traditions alive. They were very interested, said that the traditional dances, songs and music were of most interest and that at least 40 other youth in their age group – 15-21 – would be interested as well. Jospeh, Zerah and Tek li have already taught them traditional dances from 4 different tribes.

February 28, 2003
My last day in the camps.

I am proud of what I started in the camps, and I really think it will do some good for the refugees. The fact that I am getting some gratification out of this is secondary – most importantly, they are gaining something valuable. The re-building of their community.

At lunch today, with Cate and a few other IRC staff, we talked about the cultures of the two camps. In camp 5, they have established a real sense of community and self-sustainability, perhaps that is because they are so far away and most of the NGO’s don’t spend much if any time there and even the Camp Committee and governing body is located in Camp 1 and hardly ever visit Camp 5. I think because of this, they have had to rely on themselves, build their own community in order to survive. Camp 1, however, is quite different. The NGOs are ever present, giving and helping, that it has created a culture of reliance on the part of the refugees. They have not had to figure out how to do things for themselves because everyone is so eager to do it for them. As a result, you end up with a dependant culture that is very far from becoming self-sustainable. It really is a fascinating study of the world – it’s like a microcosm, right there in Mae Hong Son.

January 20, 2004
Here I am, back in Mae Hong Son and in a way it feels as if I never left. The town is just about the same as last year – a few changes with new restaurants and shops, but basically it is the same. The sad thing is that there are hardly any tourists. Last year, there were quite a few, apparently since the SARS epidemic, tourism has all but ceased and many of the restaurants have gone out of business – very sad.

My return to the IRC offices here was wonderful. Everyone remembered me with huge smiles and warm hearts. There is quite a bit of work to be done during my three weeks here. First, I will be working to help expand the project – integrating it into the school’s curriculum. We will meet with JRS to discuss the possibility of this and coordinate with the KNED (Karenni Education Department?) The refugees would like to expand the project to include building a museum, record songs and instrumental music as well folklore, increase festival performances, and other ethnic minorities within the camps.

Tomorrow, Plu Reh and I go off to Camp 1 for the day.

January 21, 2004
This has been an exhausting and rewarding day – wow!! The trip to Camp 1 was longer than I had remembered; it took almost an hour and a half of riding through the jungle on dirt roads.

The first meeting we had was with the IAP Committee members, the project was now called the Intergenerational Arts Project (IAP). There were many faces I recognized and it was a good feeling to see them again – they were happy to see me as well. We talked about the project

We discussed the future of the IAP and possible improvements or modifications to last year’s Program. For the most part, the response was overwhelming – all of the committee members at the meeting explained how they needed more space – room for the classes/training. They want to construct more training centers or restrict the number of students. Also brought up was the need to have longer periods for training (their term for teaching the youth.)

Overall, the youth are anxious to start again and have already made a list of subjects to be taught this year. The IAP worked well in that it addressed most of the ethnic groups in the camp. Those groups who did not participate – as the program was open to all – didn’t because they were not prepared.

They all mentioned the need for help in training the teachers, a methodology of sorts. This is exactly where ART’s curriculum comes into play.

January 24, 2004
Finishing off the Camp 1 visit: Plu Reh and I met with the KnED (Karenni Education Department), to discuss the possibility of integrating the IAP with the school’s curriculum. I was amazed at how open to the idea they were. In both the Social Studies and Karenni History curriculum, there is mention of the ethnic songs, dances, festivals, etc. The KnED suggested linking the IAP with these subjects, so that if the youth are leaning about a certain festival, an IAP trainer can come in and teach the students a dance or song from that festival. KnED would like to integrate this across all grades, primary and secondary, so we will be meeting with the teachers to discuss this.

One issue came to mind that I would like to discuss further. That is that the integration or linkage of the IAP and the school’s curriculum, should NOT replace the Project. Rather it should enhance it. If we move the Project only into the schools, then we will have defeated the purpose of the project in the first place – empowerment to the refugees and community building. Adding it to the school’s curriculum is just an added bonus.

January 25, 2004
Camp 2. We met with the IAP Committee. Apparently, there are some problems between the Committee members and the IAP Assistant. No one would come out and say it, but the Committee members seemed to be very frustrated and in my opinion, they seemed not to be able to make their own decisions.

One issue I am concerned with is that the youth didn’t seem to be involved with the process of creating the Project. I don’t think they had any say in how the subjects were picked as there wasn’t an assessment conducted in this camp. The leadership in this camp is very autonomous – which is good, but I wonder how the project was put together.

The IRC would like to focus on the following issues related to the project:

  1. Work on a way to integrate the IAP with new psycho/social programs – they are stating a GBV (Gender based violence) program
  2. Integrate the program into the schools
  3. How to make it sustainable
  4. Technique for documentation

The refugees – the trainers – also asked for a training manual.

This week, I think I might travel twice to the camps as I really need to get a feeling as to how they would like the project to progress. Both camps welcomed the idea of including the handicap into the Project.

January 27, 2004
Camp 1. Plu Reh and I met with a few of the trainers and I interviewed them. I asked them about their experiences with the project, expectations, discoveries, lessons learned. It was very interesting, and I have it all on videotape. Mainly, they spoke about how important their culture is to them and how the youth weren’t particularly interested in the traditions until the project started last year. There is much more respect for the elders, by the youth, since the project began.

January 28, 2004
I wonder if the reason I am having so much trouble writing and keeping a journal this year is because – unlike last year when it was all new and I was somewhat detached – I am now intimately involved. I know all of the players – the IRC staff, the refugees – and can’t be as objective. Maybe that’s what the problem is?

Somehow, I feel a bit paralyzed. But maybe that’s because I am in a sort of a vacuum. I don’t feel any emotions. I feel very numb. Maybe that’s the survival technique that I have employed in order to cope with all that goes on in the camps. The reality of it is too extreme.

February 6, 2004
It is hard to believe that my time in Mae Hong Son has ended. Time has passed SO quickly. I am in Chiang Mai for the weekend and am finally relaxing. As I was driving from the airport to the hotel, I began to cry. I suddenly realized that I had been holding on to my emotions so tightly for the past three weeks. A survival technique on so many levels; the basic emotional and spiritual preservation – going to the camps, day in and day out, you have to remove yourself from the situation in order to keep some semblance of normalcy.

Carmen de Viboral, Colombia

June 25, 2007
I arrived to Medellin looking forward to a meeting with the staff of IOM Antioquia. The purpose of the meeting is to talk about A.R.T. ’s methodology and the training process that will take place during the next three days with the people of Casa de la Cultura, Teatro Tespys and some leaders of the community of El Carmen de Viboral.

Medellin seems bigger and modern than what I remembered from 12 years ago. Around 5:30pm I left the office of IOM. It was late and I had to rush to the terminal to take the bus that was going to take me to El Carmen as soon as possible. The meeting was successful but very long; I’m tired, excited and nervous at the same time. I don’t really know what to expect from the little town, and from its people. I have an hour and a half trip to assimilate, that after some months of waiting, I’m finally here, away from home and very anxious.

I got to the main square of the town at 7 pm. I had heavy luggage with me and I was worried about how to get to La Casa de la Cultura with it. I only wanted to avoid any tourist appearance, but that was impossible. I talked to some guy in the street trying to figure out the best way to move out of there and finally meet the people that are going to be my partners during the next weeks. He took a cab and helped me out with my uncomfortable luggage.

“Casa de la Cultura Sixto Arango Gallo” Finally! The first person a met was Irley, from Teatro Tespys. She seems nice and very different from what I have imagined (nicer, as a matter of fact). She took me to the place that will be my “new home” -which is a few blocks away-, and introduced me to the woman in charge.

The place is called “La villa campesina” (the partisan village). It’s a very big house with lots of rooms full of pump beds. I left my luggage and went out with Irley to meet the rest of the people.

When I arrived to La Casa de la Cultura again, I met Kamber, the director, and he asked me if I wanted to eat something and hang out for a while. I accepted, of course. He recommended a place that is known because of its food specialty: homemade sausage. He showed me around town and it seems very nice... very alive. I’m surprised, it’s Monday and it’s almost 10 pm and there’s a lot of people hanging around, having a “manzanilla tea” (a specialty of the town) and laughing.

I went back to “La Villa” about 10:30 pm; I checked for the last time the agenda of the meeting of tomorrow and went to bed. It’s going to be a very long day.

June 26, 2007
The training started at 9 am and it lasted 3 hours. It was exhausting. I met the teacher and some other people from La Casa de la Cultura. We talked about the current situation of the ceramics and about the expectations that they have as members of the community. The conversation was informal but very useful in order to understand what they think about the project and the result they are expecting.

For lunch, I went to a restaurant that they recommended. The food was very good but expensive. I have to find somewhere else. I walked for a while in the town; it was a beautiful and sunny day, I hope the weather is always like this.

There’s a place I really like called “Calle de la Ceramica” (Ceramic Street) –I saw it last night and now again–. Is such a special project that involves La Casa de la Cultura, the mayor office and some ceramists. The street was always a place of trade, full of noise, cars, motorcycles, garbage and dirt. Now, the street has no cars nor motorcycles; the noise turned down and the place has a different look: it’s colorful, the houses’ fronts are decorated with mosaics, there are new light posts supported by a ceramic base; it is a whole new environment.

The place of the sausages is located on this street and I’m going to call it “Alberto’s place” (because of its owner). I went in looking for a coffee and stayed there for while; there are always people reading, usually poetry.

I went back to La Casa de la Cultura and worked at the director’s office. Then, at night, I hanged out with him and some of his co–workers and friends. We went to Alberto’s place again –an emblematic place as it seems–, we had dinner, coffee and a very nice chat. It’s amazing how much they concerned about the arts and the culture issues in the process of the community development.

June 27, 2007
Before the next meeting began, I saw the workshops places. There is one upstairs with all the tables, chairs and tools for the classes, and there is another one downstairs, used as a warehouse. Both of them looked unfinished.

The meeting started and we found out that there was a big misunderstanding about how the intergenerational transmission process is going to be done. I wasn’t sure of what was going on and I had to talk to Bogotá to make myself clear.

We called for a meeting with the elder people in order to talk to them and make a formal invitation to the project. It’s going to be next week.

I spent the rest of the day talking to everybody in La Casa de la Cultura trying to figure out their perceptions of the old people and the relation existing between them and the youth. It’s very surprising how many people spend a lot of time in that place doing different activities: there are classes of dance, music, literature, philosophy (some of them for free or for a very low price) and people doing theater, singing, playing chess, or just sitting there reading poetry.

June 29, 2007
I had a meeting with the people involved in the project. The meeting last about an hour and then I decided just to walk around town. It was very quiet, there were lots of people walking all over the place but it seemed like everybody was on vacations. Nobody looked worried or stressed and it was a sunny day. I really like being here.

In the late afternoon, the teacher of the workshops took me to the place of the older ceramist of the town, Clemente. He was very nice; he showed me the place and explained to me how a traditional workshop works. It was really exciting; it’s such a big place full of history and memories not only of himself or his family but also of the town. Clemente is one the adults that is participating in the project and he is very enthusiastic, I could feel the nostalgia around the ceramics, I saw it in his eyes. It was almost 8 pm and I knew that they use to go to bed early so I decided to go (he lives with his wife, who used to help him with the designs and decoration of the ceramic). I spent there like an hour and a half and he made me swear that I will come back. He told me about his concern and deception of some people that always went to visit him looking for some pictures or stories but without a real and deep interest in the “ceramics lives”... that’s how he called it. It was very nice to meet him and felt that we establish a good relation, that he trusted me.

Then, we went back to La Casa de la Cultura and watched a movie dicsussion that was taking place there. Again, it is wonderful to have the chance to see how many people went there, on a Friday night, to a cultural event, both children and young people, they always seem to have this big and real interest to take advantage of everything they can get from these activities. They don’t waste any opportunity that involves art and culture.

July 3, 2007
The workshops will start this afternoon and all of us are pretty anxious. We made some phone calls to ensure the presence of everybody involved in the project, both children, youth and adults. Also, we led the place of the workshops ready; we tried to make everything as perfect as we could.

The first workshop is done. The attendance of the young people was lower than what we expected but it was fine. Someone told us that is was because all of them are still on vacations and some are not in the town. It makes sense.

We started with the workshop called “basic formation in ceramics” which was leaded by a teacher and that explained the absence of the elders. Another reason responds to the fact that they are supposed to have a constant participation in the workshop called “intergenerational transference of the ceramics” that is going to be every other week.

The workshop run as it was planned: we introduced ourselves and made a presentation of the project, every question they had was answered and then the teaching–learning activities started.

The teenagers were shy but I think that’s normal. We asked them how they felt and they said it was nice being there; they really seemed interested.

We are having a meeting with the adults in 15 minutes. Let’s hope they like the proposal of the project as much as the others.

July 4, 2007
Yesterday we talked with eight of the adults that we invited to participate in the project. We explained the goals and the methodology that is proposed to reach them, emphasizing in the importance of the intergenerational transference.

They all agree with the proposal. It seemed that they all really want to be involved in the recuperation of the tradition.

The biggest difficulty is that any of the adults want to commit for regular attendance to the workshops. This is a problem because it doesn’t allow us, the facilitators, to guarantee the presence of an adult in every session and thus, the intergenerational transference. As a result, we decided to discuss other ways to reach the goal of having regular participation of the elders in the workshops.

July 5, 2007
In the two workshops, we presented the proposal to the children and youth clarifying every aspect. Both sessions were fine and, again, even if the participants were too shy, they looked interested and said they wanted to come back. After the workshops, we reorganized the space taking into account what we saw during the activities in order to make more comfortable and practical the place.

The relation of the teacher with the participants is very good, it is evident that there is a solid base of respect and admiration but also confidence that will facilitate the teaching–learning process.

July 9, 2007
Between last Friday and today, I worked in some papers that I had to give to the operator and the teacher. I also set the schedule for the next activities related with the increase of the participation of the elders in the project, and some meetings. The rest of the time, I decided to spend it with some people of the town that, very nicely, offered their own time to show me some important places related with the ceramics.

Even if there are not a lot of workshops or fabrics in the town, as anyone can expect, is easy to distinguish how traditional is the craft. When I was walking and visiting those places, the history that is behind became self–evident in the locations, the physical structure and the attitude of the owners. Although, whenever I’ve had lunch, dinner o just a coffee, it hasn’t been frequent to find the food served in the traditional plates; the owners used to say that is not because they don’t like it but just because is more expensive than the Chinese and it’s hard to make the decision of a bigger investment.

I think that maybe if the owners of the food and coffee places receive some economical support, this ironic situation can change, mostly, those places located in the “ceramics street”.

July 10, 2007
I had a meeting with the teacher to talk about the diaries, materials and the physical space of the workshops. Since the beginning of the week, we called adults for another meeting (using flyers), in an attempt to find people more committed to the idea of the project. The meeting was set at 2 pm but nobody showed up. We have to keep trying.

At 3 pm, I went to the workshop and fortunately, there was an adult. It is the first time.

There was also people recording for a local tv channel, whose presence was exciting for the teenagers. The adult seemed nervous at the beginning. After all the theoretical part went through, and the practical exercises with the ceramic started, the communication between the youngsters and the adult became more fluid.

The role of the teacher is very important to facilitate the intergenerational transference; without that “profile” it would be very difficult to keep the dynamic and the attention of the participants. The reason of this situation derived from the fact that the voice of the elder is lower than the teacher’s and because sometimes is more comfortable (mostly when you just met the person) to establish a connection with someone young.

July 12, 2007
I woke up sick, I have a strong cold. I went to the first workshop of the day and it was fine. The children were very receptive and the activity was well done. After this, we talked (the operator, the teacher and me) about the topics of the meeting of tomorrow with the people from the IOM. I took a nap after lunch, I felt really bad, the weather has changed and it’s raining too much.

I went to the workshop in the afternoon, and again, the dynamic with the adult was very interesting. The teenagers were accessible as well as the elder but I feel that the teacher has to be aware of every moment of the session in order to clarify or make more easy to the guys, the understanding of some technical issues of what the adult says. At the moment, the transference of memories and life stories under informal chats are very poor. This is because the intergenerational proposal is very new for everybody and, as in any new social relation, it is a process that has to be built and redefined with continuous interactions over time. I think, it was a good start, though.

July 13, 2007
Early in the morning I met with a person from the IOM to have an informal conversation about the program. About an hour later, we started the meeting with all the parts involved and discussed about every aspect of the project that has been made and about others that we have to keep in mind for the future. The feedback resulted very enlightening and the commitments that were established are more than urgent to enrich the process. The general conclusions were positive and satisfying.

I have met the IOM person before but I still have the same good impression, I feel she is very connected with the philosophy and methodology of A.R.T. and very conscious of the specific situation of the tradition in the town. This was maybe my first “very” important meeting with everybody and I felt confident with myself. The meeting was finished at 4:30 pm so I decided to have some rest.

August 21, 2007
I arrived for the second time to El Carmen. The first thing I did was to say hi to everyone; it’s very pleasant being here again. We had a meeting with the teacher and the operator of the project to check the things that had been made while I was in Bogotá, mostly those related with the diaries. In the afternoon I went to the workshop, I saw new people that I haven’t met before and talked to everybody informally in order to figure out their perceptions and feelings about the process. I realized that even if the project is not completely perfect, the experience has been satisfying and the children and teenagers are happy not only with the technical issues of the learning but also, and what is most important for me, with the way in which they are taking place, I mean, the environment and the whole atmosphere of the workshops. More than classes in a formal sense, it’s evident that the workshops are spaces of joy, sharing, entertainment and reinforcement of the social network of the community; I think the effort of making real a project like this is worthy.

August 22, 2007
I had a meeting with the teacher in the morning. We made the corrections of the written diaries until now, trying to identify as many things as we could about the intergenerational process of transference. Making a detailed revision was very exhausting but useful. After that, I met the new girl that is in charge of doing the visual record and the narratives about the intergenerational process, and I explained to her, in the presence of the operator, how does it work and gave her some tips to do it. I think she really got the idea.

We had lunch with the teacher and after that we went over two of the remaining workshops of ceramics in the town “Ceramica Renacer” and “Ceramica El Dorado”. The teacher helping in the project, Nelson, has a close relation with the directors of the workshops (which are also ceramists). We walked all over the place recognizing every step in the process of making the ceramics. It was very interesting to visit a place like that, full of history of the town and life stories.

Some of the adults that are going to participate in the project work there (they haven’t gone yet because of their jobs but are going to help us during the last weeks of the project in the sessions of decoration, which is their specialty). We told them how the project has been doing and re–invited them to attend whenever they are free. At the same time and after we spoke with the manager of the place, we presented the project to some other women that we couldn’t met before but who might be interested. They said that it would be nice to be involved but they refused to make a formal commitment or to promise to go every week to one of the three workshops. Anyway, they are invited and there is a real chance to count on them for at least a couple of weeks, but we have to remind them, that’s a fact.

We asked the manager if it is possible to visit the place with the groups of the workshops; he said it was fine and even if we couldn’t set the schedule immediately, we have the approval and the freedom to go anytime we want (we just have to organize ourselves and make a decision about the visit).

August 23, 2007
The workshop in the morning was all right but the attendance was lower than usual. We inquired about what was the reason of this, and the children told us that some other children just doesn’t like to wake up early and that’s why they rather stay at home before they go to school at noon. The answer was kind of disappointing but revealing.

After the workshop I worked with the teacher and the operator in order to end with the corrections of the past diaries. The process of making the diaries is more productive when it involves more than one person. For the teacher is hard to criticize his own work; I think it would be better if the person who fills the diaries is an observer, instead of someone directly involved in the project.

We tried to fix the lights of the workshop room before the activity of the afternoon started. We couldn’t do it but it wasn’t that bad, anyway, it has to be done before the next week. The workshop was fine and the teenagers were very excited about the activity.

August 24, 2007
From 1 pm to 4:30 pm we had a technical committee, with all those involved in the project including the IOM. We discussed every aspect of the process and finally we made the commitments for the next month. It was evident that the main effort we have to make is to guarantee a frequent attendance of the children and mostly of the adults. We all agreed that the situation of the adults related with the ceramics is very particular and that’s why, despite of their consciousness of the main role they play in the transference of the tradition and their manifest interest, they are not able to acquire a compromise with the project in terms of a regular and disciplined attendance to the workshops. As a consequence of this, the whole team has to find the ways to “nourish the intergenerational process of transference, dealing with this adult’s situation.

What supports the effort, and that was maybe the biggest conclusion of the meeting, is the real necessity inside the community to recover and preserve the ceramic tradition. After few months of executing the project it is obvious that the program is in accordance with other attempts to reconstruct the social network through ceramics.

August 28, 2007
Yesterday, we finished the diaries of the past week and worked on the lists of attendance. Because it wasn’t completely done, we worked on that again in the morning.

Later in the afternoon, I walked around the town and came back to the workshop. I don’t know exactly why, but there were less people than what we expected. The workshop was good, the teenagers were very interested and actually, because of the lower attendance, the activity was more efficient. Two of the adults participated and they were happy about the dynamic. They felt good with the attention received from the teenagers and because of the personal sensation of being useful for them.

August 29, 2007
I have two days left in the town. Today, we finished with some formal issues about the process and I think, we did it right. The final results, of course, will be seen in the next months. But after all the formal and informal conversations with the operator of the project, the teacher, the children and the adults, I can say that everything is going right, everybody is completely articulated with the goals and methodology and only the best is expected from the experience, which is new for all of us that have been a part of this.

August 30, 2007
This was my last day visiting the workshops. In the morning, there were a lot of new children from another school that were invited a couple of days ago; we didn’t expect that much. It was difficult to work with such a big group (almost 40), mostly because of the absence of the adult that was supposed to go. Dealing with that situation was exhausting but finally it was fine. Thanks to the fact that I use not only to watch the workshops but also learn, I was able to help the teacher with the instruction. It felt weird at the beginning but nice at the same time, I realized that I became skilled at some simple techniques that let me help in that situation and that was very pleasant for me.

In the afternoon, the workshop was easy to make and we counted with the presence of the adult.

It was kind of heartbreaking but also satisfying. It’s really sad say goodbye to those amazing children and teenagers that you have been closed to in so many ways. The experience of being there, learning from them and trying to understand their personal and community situation to make the process as good as possible, was wonderful and very different from other experiences that I have ever had.

August 31, 2007
It’s time to say goodbye and it doesn’t feel right. I have met wonderful people, very involved with their community and its culture, and very nice to me. I can just say that it was an unforgettable experience and that I really want to come back either to work –there is a lot to do here–, or traveling –I think I made good friends and the landscape is very beautiful–. I haven’t left yet but the nostalgia is right here.

I have to admit that sometimes it was hard for me to get used to the pace of work of the people in the town and also to the idiosyncrasy of the people in general, in the context of making decisions and compromises. At the end, it was very useful for me to learn how to deal with that differences in levels that I haven’t experienced before. I gained knowledge of other ways to make things happen and of dissimilar ways of living and understanding life.

I’m very thankful for this experience that gave me so much for my personal and professional construction.

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