Note: This is Part 2 of Nicole Hennessy’s report on her trip to Guatemala with SPDance. Find Part 1 here.
At Caras Alegres — a free after-school program in the impoverished Canton Xeul neighborhood of Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala — mobs of kids swarm SPDance dancers after their second afternoon lesson. Suzzanne Ponomarenko, the company’s founder, catches a little girl who jumps to her. She is surrounded by dozens of smiling faces headed back to their homes in the surrounding hills.
In the morning we dance and team-build with younger kids at a local low-income daycare; and then girls and young mothers at a government shelter for sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors.
Hundreds of colorful handprints fill a purple strip at the bottom of otherwise lime green walls at the shelter — Hogar Temporal. On a bulletin board near the entrance are more handprints. Drawn on paper, they say the girls’ names. Some add hearts and other doodles. One says, “Te amo familia.”
Some girls are so excited we’re here, they run up to us and kiss us right away. Others empower themselves to make one of very few choices and don’t participate.
Chantelle Herrera, one of the dancers, leads a group exercise. The whole room explodes, repeating each phrase she shouts as loudly as possible.
Again in English: “We are strong!” Everyone flexes their muscles.
“Yes we can!” Fists in the air.
“We are one!” All hands in the center of the circle.
The girls are happy to learn English — or how to write. The “madres,” who aren’t allowed to move, little lone dance, keep asking how to say “tristesse” in English as we teach them basic words and phrases so they’re not ignored.
“I love you with all of my heart,” one girl successfully translates. She then spends the rest of the time trying to pronounce it.
The next afternoon at Caras Alegres, the dancers break up into groups of three. Parents arrive slowly. They stroll up the long driveway and sit in rows of wooden chairs under the warm sun, a small field of dried-up corn behind them.
Mothers with babies on their backs and siblings with puppies smile as the kids perform the dances they’ve learned. And then as the dancers perform several pieces without the kids, who stand off to the sides soaking up every minute.
“I didn’t like it; I loved it!” one girl exclaims after the show.
Volunteers pass out banana bread and cake to parents still snapping photos.
The sun won’t set for hours, and it’s warm. Despite the soaked weather forecast, it hasn’t rained in days.
For a little while everything is perfect.
To donate directly to Caras Alegres, please visit carasalegres.org. All donations go directly to families and kids in need.