Camilo Lopez, 22, takes pride in his photography. He teaches children about the environment and computer basics and hopes to one day become the director of the nonprofit organization Guaruma.
Located in Honduras, a Central American country with high crime rates and gang violence, Guaruma aims to help underprivileged children by focusing on education development and environmental awareness.
John Blake Anand and his sister Julie, who teaches art at ASU, joined Lopez at Guaruma. The three of them shared their experiences in front of 70 students Wednesday at the Tempe campus at a presentation titled Rio Canción.
“We’re helping replace slingshots with cameras,” Anand said. “Instead of shooting the animals, (they) turn it into a photo opportunity.”
When he was 8, Lopez was enrolled as a student at Guaruma. With the help of Anand as his translator, Lopez explained that growing up had not been easy.
Lopez had seven siblings that lived off his father’s job selling fruit and his mother working from home. Street violence was not uncommon. Lopez got assaulted after school, and though he sustained no serious injuries, his backpack and supplies were stolen.
Although Guaruma did not fix his living situation, it gave him a safe location to learn and explore.
Julie said she noticed an enormous contrast between Guaruma’s mission statement and actually witnessing the organization herself.
“It’s functioning more as a community center in the broadest sense,” she said. “When the gates open, people and animals come in … the activity doesn’t happen in terms of discrete classes. The activity goes all through the day and into the night.”
This after-school program keeps the kids safe. Orphans and children who have been raised by a single parent use the location as a refuge, Julie said. It gets children off the dangerous streets for part of the day, she added.
The program also allows the youth to expand their learning.
Anand said 70 to 80 percent of the community go on to finish high school, whereas the rest of Honduras students hover between the 10 to 20 percent mark.
Sustainability sophomore Mary Munoz, who attended the event, said it’s important to use art as a tool for education.
“Art as an expression in itself is very important,” she said.
Sustainability sophomore Aislyn Richmond said she agrees.
“It’s really interesting to see people that are integrating these things,” she said.
Through art, Guaruma’s students are constantly interacting physically with the environment, which teaches them about their surroundings and gives them a greater respect for what they have, Julie said.
“I am really moved by the quality and the diversity of the ways the kids see where they live,” she said. “Artistic expression makes humans become much more sensitive to the way they’re living.”
The Guaruma location is between two national parks, Nombre de Dios and Pico Bonito, which translate to Name of God and Beautiful Peak, and the Cangrejal River Valley, a water valley integral to the lives of the community.
In this, Rio Canción is a fitting name for the project.
“Creativity is a song from the heart,” Julie said.
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