Saturday, November 1, 2008

Transforming Violence Through Art and Education

I am excited to share with you that this month I am starting to focus on youth organizing in the community to form a youth group at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte. I recently had a planning meeting.

We sit around the table in our living room in a “cool” (68 degrees F) Sunday night in Managua after Church. Ernesto sits in a rocking chair, his “Che” baseball hat cocked to one side, sipping hot chocolate. He is a senior anthropology student working on a thesis on Nicaraguan immigrants to Costa Rica. Clarisa, a graphic design student, in a black and white striped shirt sits in another chair opening a packet of cookies. Melvin, an engineering student and member of the Batahola Choir, leans back in his chair turning over the cover of a documentary on teen pregnancy. “There is so much misinformation out there,” he says. “And so many young girls who are dying.” “Next Friday,” says Ernesto, “we’ll have the first meeting, we can invite all the young people from the Center.” “We will need to organize games too,” added Clarisa, “We can talk about serious things, but we need to make it fun as well!”

The youth group will be a space for young people to come together and socialize in a safe environment, educate themselves on important issues like intrafamily violence, sexual health, and environmental protection, reflect on their reality, and organize events to reach out to others in the community. Ernesto, Melvin, Clarisa, and other scholarship students of the Center are excited to get the group going.

One of the central values of the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte is of solidarity, of encouraging students who benefit from the Center’s projects to pass along what they have learned to others. This is the focus of the youth group—to bring together the Center’s high school and university scholarship students to organize educational campaigns and activities in the community to reach out to other young people with the aim of preventing an increase in violence, delinquency, teen pregnancy, gang activity, and other social problems.

Some of the Center’s staff members are working on similar issues with youth in the Oscar Romero Center in then nearby neighborhood of Jorge Demitrov. Patricia, the dance teacher, Gerardo, the art teacher, Bayardo the theater teacher, and Karen, the psychologist have been working at the Romero Center since March on a violence-prevention program.

Every passing car creates a dust-storm on the narrow street. The children momentarily cover their faces, then return to hopping in potato sacks across the street while the Reggaeton music blasts. Neighbors are laughing to each other, crossing street to see the new mural at the Romero Center. Gerardo had to plaster over the bullet hole punctures before starting the mural, but now the wall is covered by images of children disarming a gun, a green tree bearing fruits of peace, tolerance, solidarity, and hope, and loving families. A teenage boy shows off his work to his mother and aunts, explaining the meaning of the different images.

Demitrov is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Managua, and the Oscar Romero Center is on the border between the two most powerful gangs in the community. Each month at least two people are killed. Most of the children who come to the Romero Center have family members who are in the gangs and have lost loved ones in the violence. The goal of the Romero Center is to give children and young people a space in the community where they can be involved in healthy activities.

On November 1, there was a celebration of the project between the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte and the Romero Center, which included dance, theater performances, and games. The streets, usually empty for fear of the gangs, were filled with children playing and dancing to music. The children were proud of the mural they helped to paint, and to take part in dance and theater performances. It was a rare moment in Demitrov when people came together to promote a culture of peace.


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