Photo by Nicole Tse. The Caras Alegres logo painted on the organization’s headquarters.
By Nicole Tse
A group of about twelve children, between the ages of six and thirteen, chatter and tease each other in the dusty afternoon air. Behind them, stained walls and imposing metal doors are brightened up by cheerful painted pictures of an orange sun and some tips for a healthy family. Christina, a 29 year old volunteer from Philadelphia, asks the children to form a circle (“Grande! Un círculo grande!”). The exercise is simple: decide which emotion is represented by the song that is playing, and demonstrate it through body movements. A few of the children are reluctant to dance, but most of them are laughing and waving their limbs enthusiastically.
This activity is happening just outside the doors of Caras Alegres, a nonprofit organization located in the Las Rosas neighborhood of Quetzaltenango. Caras Alegres (“Happy Faces”) aims to improve the welfare and change the lives of those living in poverty, especially the women and children, in Las Rosas. Its two main programs are the Camino a la Independencia (“Road to Independence”) project, which empowers local women through training so that they can support themselves and their families, and Caras Tardes (“Late Faces”), a free afterschool program for the young children of the neighborhood.
The organization was founded twelve years ago by a pair of Dutch citizens. It began as a nursery in a rented house and has since changed in terms of both size and location. Caras Alegres’ current location is next door to EDELAC (Escuela de la Calle), an educational NGO that is also focused on improving the lives of the children of that neighborhood. In the years following the creation of Caras Alegres, the number of active programs grew to include the women’s program as well as children’s morning classes and the afterschool program. Most of the employees who facilitated these programs were themselves beneficiaries of Caras Alegres’ resources and thus a part of the community. However, due to a recent loss of funding, the organization was required to downsize. Only the Camino a la Independencia and Caras Tardes programs are currently active.
Nevertheless, the staff of Caras Alegres—currently two full-time people—are optimistic. Allan, the director, is full of plans for the future. He hopes to renovate part of the building to restart the nursery (the children’s beds are on the second floor, he explains, and the metal roof gets too hot in the sun for them to safely sleep up there) and add a computer room. New programs are in the works, such as a “backpack project” to provide young students with school supplies, and scholarships for the older children. And of course he plans to hire back some of the staff who had to be let go. In the meantime, he and Irma, the volunteer coordinator, make do with the help of foreign volunteers.
Christina’s music-and-movement project is integrated with the afterschool Caras Tardes program. Her goal is to draw out the natural resiliency of the Las Rosas children, and bolster it by teaching them how to express their feelings through moving their bodies to music. The therapeutic effect of these sessions with the children will help them to process their emotions and deal more effectively with things that happen in their lives. Allan explains that many of these children, especially those who live with their working mothers because their fathers are in the nearby prison, grow up with a lot of emotional distance. Christina’s project, he says, provides “relief for the children” because it is a way for them to express themselves.
The project is still in its beginning stages. Christina draws on arts and music therapy programs in the United States as she develops the curriculum, and she has hired a Guatemalan university student to work with her as a fellow teacher for the children. She expects that the new teacher, who is studying psychology, will bring both professional and cultural insight to the project. Down the road, Christina dreams of expanding her program to the rest of the “Northern Triangle” (Honduras and El Salvador), as well as to the communities of youths in the United States who immigrated from those countries. For the moment, however, she is excited to focus on the children of Las Rosas with the support of Caras Alegres.
When asked what is his favorite part of working at Caras Alegres, Allan pauses thoughtfully and answers, “Seeing the smiles of the children when they are here.” It is clear from their interactions with the children that Irma and Christina feel the same way.
Anyone interested in volunteering with, donating to, or fundraising for Caras Alegres should visit carasalegres.org or contact the organization directly via phone ((00502) 7926 8628) or email (email@example.com).
To support Christina’s project, visit: www.gofundme.com/sonidodelmovimient