Art workshop a special place for many Honduran girls whose fathers left for the U.S.
Amaris Castillo, a reporter for The Sun of Lowell, the Sentinel & Enterprise’s sister daily, was one of six journalists across the globe selected to participate in the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Adelante Latin America Reporting Initiative. Castillo, who is fluent in Spanish, spent July 12-20 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, reporting on the impoverished nation’s migration issues.
(Second of two stories)
By Amaris Castillo
HONDURAS — Yansy Nicole Sandres looked down at a piece of paper before her. She hadn’t decided yet what to focus on.
Seated at a long wooden table, Yansy’s peers at Escuela José Cecilio Del Valle (an all-girls school in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa) were busy creating postcards from magazine clippings. It was a Friday afternoon in mid-July and the school’s shaded courtyard was filled with the voices of girls and the women who teach them. Pigeons pecked at the concrete ground nearby.
Staff and volunteers with Mujeres en las Artes (MUA, or Women in the Arts) — a nonprofit arts organization — were facilitating the art workshop at the school through the program, Educar Através del Arte (Educating Through the Arts). The girls were asked to recreate the memory of a favorite trip on a postcard using colored pencils, markers, and other art supplies sprawled across two tables.
So far, Yansy’s postcard, done in Spanish, read, “My mom and I went to …” in red ink.
The 8-year-old’s thoughts drifted to her father, Roger Enrique.
“My papa is in the United States and I love him. Mami separated from him, but he’s still my papa,” said Yansy, her dark brown eyes widening. “He helps me and he sends me things.”
Across the courtyard at a second table sat Brithany Stacey Flores. Her father also lives and works in the U.S.
“He left when I was very young.
I can’t remember when,” she said. “I was small, like this.”
The 8-year-old measured her height by lowering her right hand. Brithany smiled politely, even as she spoke about how much she longed for her dad. She cannot answer why he left exactly, but said she’d like him to live with her again.
Yansy and Brithany’s lives without their fathers is a reality that’s all too familiar in Honduras. Poor economic and social conditions plague a large share of Hondurans, according to the Pew Research Center.
An estimated 64.5 percent of Hondurans were living in poverty in 2013, surpassing the poverty rates of Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala, according to data from the World Bank. Poverty and lack of jobs have fueled some parents to leave the Central American country in order to earn money elsewhere to support their families.
For the children left behind, however, the situation has left emotional scars, said artists who work closely with them.
“Many times we forget that, because they’re a child, they don’t have problems or they’re not worried about something,” said Veronica Romero, who works as MUA’s institutional communications coordinator. “With the experience that we’ve had in all our workshops, there’s been that dynamic of working, sitting and talking with them. If you’re an adult, you need to talk … but so do children.”
Romero also organizes MUA’s art workshops such as this one in Escuela José Cecilio Del Valle through the Educar Através del Arte program. She said she has met children with different life circumstances — some have lost a parent or have a parent living outside of the country; others are raised by grandparents while both parents work elsewhere to earn income that is sent back home as remittances.
According to a Pew Research analysis of World Bank data, 15.7 percent of Honduras’ gross domestic product ($3 billion) in 2012 came from remittances, the vast majority of which were U.S.-based. That figure positioned Honduras among the most remittance-dependent countries in Spanish-speaking Latin America; the other two Central American nations that fall into this category are El Salvador and Guatemala. Together, the three countries form what’s known as the Northern Triangle.
Romero said the stories of children like Yansy and Brithany surface at times through art.
“These stories arise and you don’t notice them … you can see the drawing, but you don’t know in reality what lies underneath,” Romero explained. “So we start learning a bit of all their stories.”
Dariana Paola Torres Mencia, a Honduran artist who organizes art workshops for children, said she’s met many children whose parents left them in the care of their grandparents for a life of work in the U.S.
“They (the grandparents) don’t know how to deal with them because they’re older. The children have a lot of energy and are misunderstood,” said Torres. “The grandparents say ‘They don’t listen to me.’ In different communities throughout Honduras, it’s the same story — these children who are misunderstood are emotionally unstable. They don’t have their mother, or they don’t have their father and they’re living with their grandmother … art is like a release for them.”
Both Brithany and Yansy completed their postcards by the end of the workshop. Brithany’s displayed a golden yellow giraffe while Yansy’s boasted clouds with a blue lining, birds, a sun, a heart and a fishbowl. She also drew people — herself, her mother, and sister. Yansy added her father in the postcard, though she said she hasn’t seen him in well over a year.
“One time he called my abuela (grandmother) and said that, if he could, he would send for me with my aunt to come to the United States,” Yansy said.
She nodded yes when asked if she’d ever want to go to “El Norte” (“The North”).
“That way I can see him,” she said. “I would be with my Papi.”
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.