MALEKU CHILDREN SHARE THEIR STORIES: My World Project in Costa Rica

My World Project on Facebook

“Conservemas la Naturaleza y aseguremos la Vida al Mundo.”

~ Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, teacher in the Maleku school.

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Maleku school children, their teacher, Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, and Daniel Spreen Wilson

On July 6, 2016 I landed in Liberia, intent on staying near Lake Arenal for three months, maybe longer. It’s now September and the time has flown by. I am returning to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks and then, I will probably come back. I haven’t quite had enough of this beautiful place yet.

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Arenal Volcano

During my time here, I’ve had the joy of conducting the My World Project with Maleku youth on the Reserva Indigena Maleku. There are only about six hundred Maleku left in Costa Rica. They have been rounded up and given land on which to live. Meanwhile, much of the land they used to call home has been cleared in order to create pastures and fields. Many Maleku are now farmers. The Maleku can no longer build their traditional homes, since the palms they used have become endangered. Kind of ironic. The Maleku are not the ones who caused the plants and animals to become endangered. Yet, they are the ones whose lives have been changed forever because of it. Now they must live in cement houses that do not “breathe.”

Maleku 7  Maleku 15  Maleku 2

Everywhere I go I meet people who offer to help with My World Project. And I have people contacting me who want to do it in other places around the world. So, day by day, this community is growing.

As happened in the Sahara Desert, I had no idea when I got to Arenal how I would make this project work. But I have always found if you open yourself to possibilities, they will find you. Sure enough, I met a great guy, Daniel Spreen Wilson, who founded La Reserva Forest Foundation. This great nonprofit has taken upon itself to help reforest the Maleku Indigenous Reserve, allowing native animals, such as the Mantled Howler Monkeys, sloths, reptiles, amphibians and tropical birds to once again live in their natural habitat.

Maleku 16  Maleku 18 Maleku 19

Daniel has been here for thirty-three years and speaks fluent Spanish. So I was very thankful to have his help. Together we traversed the bumpy road from Lake Arenal to the reserve. We met with the teachers in three schools. So far, we have been to the first school to do the program and we go to the others over the next week.

Maleku drawing 7

From Africa to the Americas and beyond, what are children telling us with this project? Well, they are telling us that they love their natural world. They love their lakes and rivers, mountains, forests, deserts and oceans. They love their plants and animals. They love their families and their traditions. They love peace. They are interested to share their ideas with other children around the world who feel the same.

Maleku drawing 2

What they don’t want is the continued destruction of their worlds by outside forces. Not only is their natural world being destroyed but so is their spiritual world, meaning their traditional ways of life. And the drug culture that is now so prevalent in the United States is slowly but surely invading their lives as well. These are not just clichés to be switched off because we have heard them a thousand times. These children do not know the meaning of a cliché. This is the world they live in. This is what is happening to them. These are their real day-to-day struggles. These children see very clearly, without anyone having to tell them how express it, that their worlds are being destroyed.

Perhaps we should listen more to our children.

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My Guest Post for Author Christine Potter!

My Guest Post for Author Christine Potter!

I want to thank Christine for hosting me. This is my first experience writing a post in an exchange with another author and it was fun! Here is my post about how my traveling experiences inspired Book of Angels and the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, with photos and everything! The photo featured here is the seventh century Swiss castle I lived in as a child.

Do Artists have a Responsibility to Society?

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Inspiring view from my balcony, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.

It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.

As artists our struggle is to be true to our own voices, not some else’s. An artist shouldn’t feel a burden or obligation to set an example for the entire world. They shouldn’t feel that they have to reflect the beliefs or opinions of a certain segment of society. Pressure should not be put on an artist to “set a good example.” Or to change people’s political or moral views.

The first books I created were beautiful and sweet children’s books. The Rumpoles & The Barleys series, which I wrote and illustrated, will always be favorites of mine. I am blessed to know they have been a positive force in the lives of children around the world. On the other hand, I always knew I had so much more to say and I fought for years to be able to say it. With my creative nonfiction works and the publication of the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES, I feel I am finally an artist who is true to myself.

Artists create from a deep place inside. It takes courage to go to that place and to let it out. Sometimes this can be horrifying. Sometimes it can be beautiful. Sometimes it can be painful. Sometimes it can be sweet and innocent. Playful. Brutal. Violent. X-rated.

My art (and I mean my paintings and drawings and writing) is mostly fantastical worlds of escape. This is because I find the real world to be horrifying on so many levels. I don’t have answers to the world’s problems. Well, actually, the world doesn’t need answers, it is humanity that needs a makeover. I don’t think we have even come close to figuring out those answers. Or perhaps we are afraid of them…or…I just don’t know. Due to my personality, my life experiences, my spirit, I am compelled to create art that uplifts and brings a ray of light to the darkness. That said, my art can be quite dark in its reflection of my own experiences and the suffering that I see around me.

As a woman artist, once I was married and had children, I was told over and over in many different ways, all of them painful, that I should put aside my compulsion to create, for the sake of my family. That my art should no longer be important. I had a husband and children now. They should be my focus. Of course, they were my focus. But I did not understand why being a good wife and mother and being an artist wasn’t possible. I couldn’t give up creating on paper. I couldn’t give up my imagination or the stories inside of me. Not any more than I could give up breathing. This was a difficult time for me as an artist and as a woman. And it went on for many years.

At various times, I have been told by the men in my life, that they needed to guide me. That I wasn’t a real artist, I was just pretending. That I needed to stop because the amount of time I spent doing my art didn’t make sense monetarily. Once, a drawing that I had worked on at night when my family slept, was thrown in the fire the next morning because it was “worthless.” My nose was broken as a punishment when I painted a picture that did not measure up to my husband’s standard. My writing was ridiculous and why would anyone ever want to read it? I should give up. I was a bad wife and mother because my focus wasn’t completely on them. Anyway, I was far too shy and I had no ability to “sell myself.” On and on. Even when I was finally a free woman and I was seeing someone “in the business,” he told me I should leave it all to him. I didn’t have the experience or the personality to know what was best or how to present anything.

My children are grown now and I am without “entanglements.” I am traveling and writing. I embrace all my life experiences. It comes out in my work. It is coming out right now as I write this! I have remained true to my love of fantasy and now I can indulge it. Fantasy is what got me through the darkness. I love creating that darkness in my writing. And then filtering in those moments of light. I know how it feels. I lived through it. How tragic it would be if I had given up. To think that if I had listened to those voices I would never have written Key of Mystery or Book of Angels, or gone on this NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES journey.

We all live through darkness. We are all artists trying to express ourselves. Art is so powerful. It can uplift us. It can spiral us further down. A song or a poem can inspire kindness to a neighbor. Or it can lead to murder and suicide. It can incite riots. It can spark a revolution. It can bring reconciliation. I can’t judge any of that. I don’t understand enough about the forces and motivations behind it all, on a spiritual level.

For so much of my life I was bombarded with angry, resentful voices of society, telling me what I should do with my art. If I had listened to all those voices and let them guide me, I would have lost my balance and fallen too far into the darkness. With my spirit, with the way I see the world, how would I have faced each day?

How can I breathe if I can’t tell a story?

 

 

Interview about MY WORLD PROJECT

The Missing Slate, Interview with My World Project Founder Karen Hunt

For me, this is a way of life. It isn’t a “cause,” it isn’t a “movement.” I can’t put some spin on it. There aren’t any buzz words. It is how I choose to live, and I really can’t help it. It is so much a part of who I am.”

Honored to have this interview, by Constance A. Dunn, published in The Missing Slate, an international arts and literary magazine. The interview tells about My World Project and the backstory leading up to it. Here is a brief excerpt from the backstory…

“I went on a personal quest…I met a woman named Alma Woods, who was responsible for single-handedly getting the Watts Library built. And to illustrate the politics, they didn’t want to name the library after her, they wanted to name it after some big-wig politician and there was a huge outcry and they had no choice but to buckle under public pressure and name the library after her. She was a simple lady, lived in a simple house in Watts and I would go and visit her and “sit at her feet,” as it were, she was a real guru, she taught me so much! She would take me around her neighborhood and I saw Watts through her eyes. If there were kids loitering outside the liquor store she would reprimand them and they would hang their heads in guilt and listen to her. She was respected. She was fearless. I grew to love her. She encouraged me to follow my heart and not be afraid of where it led me. It was after that that I went into Central Juvenile Hall and talked to the principal, Dr. Arthur McCoy, an older version of the nutty professor and the most amazing human being, and he let me start teaching there, along with the amazing teacher in the girls’ school, Cheryl Neely.

Like a beautiful, magical web, one person has led to another in my life. Not big celebrities, or what you would call “movers and shakers,” but the salt of the earth people. The ones who really have the power because they don’t care about it. They are the ones who truly balance the good against the evil. The ones we never hear about. I know I use the word amazing a lot, but really, there is no better word for all these people.

HOW MY TRAVELS AND WORK WITH YOUTH AROUND THE WORLD INSPIRES NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES

FANTASY LITERATURE Expanded Universe article

Inspired by my current travels to Sucre, Bolivia, where I am writing for two months

Writing is never just about sitting down in front of a computer and obsessing about characters and stories. For me, writing is powerfully connected to my life experiences. And some of the most influential experiences I’ve had have been the result of traveling to incredible destinations and having amazing adventures as a result. This led to me founding the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas around the world through art and writing. Knowing the power of words to create change, I want to give youth a chance to speak out beyond the borders of their villages and towns and connect with other youth, who might have different cultures and faiths, but who share common goals and concerns.

Please check out the MY WORLD PROJECT Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/myworldproject

YA INSIDER GRAND OPENING EVENT

Key of Mystery featured for the month of May at YA Insider Grand Opening Party

This is an exciting event happening the entire month of May at YA Insider. Lots of prizes and Giveaways. Key of Mystery is a featured book so make sure to check it out!

 

JUST BECAUSE I’M AN “ARTIST” I MUST BE FLIGHTY AND DISORGANIZED…EXCUSE ME, WHAT?

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Writing in a café in Kranj, Slovenia

Throughout my life the assumption has repeatedly been made that because I am an artist (include writer in that title), I must therefore be flighty, impractical, moody and disorganized.

Oh, and most likely a drug addict and/or alcoholic, have loose morals and most definitely, my bedroom must be a mess. The list goes on.

“Artists are ‘all over the place,’ aren’t they?”

All over what place? All over the world? Because I have traveled all over the world, but I did it with super organized planning and a dedication and determination to accomplish  important goals.

If you want to describe me as a high achiever, I’m fine with that. If you want to say, wow, you sure have an imagination that is bigger than most, that’s okay too. It you want to say I am a visionary, hey, I don’t mind. If you want to say I am a pain in the ass because I never give up, even when it seems like no one could care less about what I am creating, I will give you a high-five. And, if you want to point out that I spend days, months and years working on projects that do not seem to make me a whole lot of money, I will have to agree with you.

Island of Dreams

 

One of my pieces of artwork inspired by a story I wrote, The Pool of Labrith, which I have yet to see published.

BUT, don’t dare to suggest that I am disorganized. I really take offense to that. I cannot create in chaos. I have to have a clean and orderly environment in order for me to focus.

Although, I must say, even when my kids were little, I could sit down at the table and focus despite the chaos of them running around and playing and crawling under my feet. I could get up, make the lunch, come back and enter the world of my imagination once again. It wasn’t easy, mind you, but it was out of necessity. It was an acceptable chaos, of a positive nature: my children growing before me. It was not the chaos of a disorganized mind.

And no, I do not wait for inspiration to strike. If I did, I would not have nineteen children’s books published and numerous essays and short stories. I would not have won awards, co-founded a creative writing nonprofit and now, at last realized my dream of Key of Mystery, the first book in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, being published.

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Accepting the WOMAN OF DISTINCTION AWARD from the Soroptimists

I do not have to be drunk or high. I confess to having tried marijuana a few times and it was not for me. I have never used any other drugs, no exaggeration. Never. I cannot stand being drunk, but I love a glass of wine or a gin and tonic. Yes, I was young once…. I do know how to have a good time, but I don’t need to be high for that.

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College party at St. John’s College, York, England. The artist paints herself as if she is a garden, sort of.

I am self-disciplined and I work out almost every single day. I do not indulge my feelings, I set goals and go at them with energy. And I teach boxing and kickboxing at a martial arts gym.

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Where I used to teach, I now teach at House of Champions

Of course, there are artists who have drug problems, who are messy, who are impractical. There are lazy people and driven people in every field. There are also messy plumbers who are like that, and drug-addicted doctors (unfortunately) and even impractical lawyers. You can’t automatically lump one group of people together and assume they are all a certain way.

Now, I might not be a drug addict, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have other issues. I am not good at picking the right men to marry, that is for sure. And I can get depressed about life in general. Like everyone, I have my own weaknesses that I need to overcome. Just don’t put me in a box. I most certainly will jump out.

One thing all us artists will agree on is that it is a lonely calling and requires a huge amount of self-discipline and self-motivation. You are not punching a time-clock. No one is telling you to get the job done. Creating my NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES series meant a few years of dogged writing, where no one but myself was encouraging me to do it. There is the danger of beginning to suffer from a myopic view of your art, leading to doubt and discouragement.

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Such an amazing moment, to see my book in print after so much hard work for so long.

But, if you are determined and self-disciplined, you do not rely on your feelings, good or bad. You keep on going.

Never give up, never give in. Write or die. Might sound extreme, but that is my motto, because being an artist is as much a part of me as breathing.

 

BEING A BRAND NEW AUTHOR (in a new catagory) IS SO COOL

Evernight Teen Published Key of Mystery

I always wondered what this would feel like. I was determined to know what this feels like. And it feels great. I am just going to enjoy these moments of being a new author. I have had many children’s books published in the past, picture books that I wrote and illustrated, like The Rumpoles and The Barleys, that have been sold all over the world, published with awesome companies like Harvest House and Thomas Nelson. There is nothing like getting letters from parents and children saying things like, “my son won’t go to bed at night without The Rumpoles and The Barleys!”

 

I wrote six early chapter books called Katie’s World that I loved doing, they were sixty pages each. I would get letters from all over the world from kids who thought that Katie was a real girl and they wanted to be her pen pal. And a book called All the Children of the World, and a whole bunch more. It was extremely rewarding. Now, when I look back, I wonder how I did it, as a single mother raising three kids! Now I am a grandma and so I still have little ones running around! I have MANY more picture books that I hope to have published. When I find the time!

 

But writing a series of Urban Fantasy books, with characters that I can develop over the course of six books, creating multiple layers to the stories, is really the kind of challenge I have been waiting for. And it’s a whole new marketing world out there. Blog tours, twitter, Facebook, I didn’t have any of these avenues for promotion when my children’s books were being published. This is an awesome world for a writer and I am enjoying all of it, learning everything that I can and applying it to the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES.

FIGHTING FEAR WITH LIGHT

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Life is strange. Here I am in this beautiful place by the sea in Costa Rica, in a little outdoor restaurant, lights twinkling, the hypnotic sound of the waves, and I am at the same time watching on the news the carnage and suffering in Paris, and thinking next Friday I will be in Marrakech to do the MY WORLD PROJECT with kids in the desert. If I can bring some light into this world with my writing, my art, the work I do with kids, my boxing and kick boxing classes, where maybe someone comes in depressed and feeling like they can’t go on and they go out with a renewed spirit ready to fight another day, inspired to give something of their gifts to others, then I have done what I can to tip the scales towards peace and unity. This giving of gifts is the joy that brings meaning to my life. It is a battle and there is more than one way to fight. We all must fight with whatever gifts we have to shine the light and to dispell fear.

A CHALLENGING LIFE? THAT MEANS YOU ARE REALLY LIVING!

So… life is challenging. I am caring for my granddaughter who is now almost 3, and have been for the past year, and off and on before that. Travel is on the horizon in the fall and to some pretty exciting places032. 036My manuscript Letters from Purgatory is with my editor and I am working on illustrations for a children’s book and a childhood memoir, Into the World. Everyday day we make choices about which direction we will go and every step we take reinforces whether we go towards our higher purpose or away from it. Self-discipline is the key. It doesn’t matter how we “feel” about it. Emotions will lead us astray. Whether we feel depressed or happy, excited or bored, it doesn’t matter. We train ourselves to follow through with what we know we need to do in order to reach our goals. I have lived my life with the highest standard of achievement. That doesn’t mean I always reach that goal and that isn’t what matters. What matters is that we do our best. At the moment, my life is extremely challenging (when has it not been). Getting out of the house to train in the morning is a big achievement because I care for my 2 year old granddaughter. Training with Fernando (Zig Zag) keeps me strong. I love this little guy lol! Then, today I taught a Spin class at noon which was cool. Then, I came home and cared for my granddaughter and I worked on my writing, which required great focus because of my granddaughter wanting my attention. This little girl already knows how to do push ups and yoga moves and punching and kicking and so much more. Soccer will be her summer fun! I draw on the self-discipline I have developed over many years, from when I first gave birth to my daughter in London (in the same hospital and on the same weekend as Prince William was born!) and I had to illustrate books with her there, playing beside me while I met my deadlines. There are no excuses for slacking off and not achieving what you want to accomplish. You simply do what you have to do. Then, tonight, I went and taught my class at Tarzana Boxing at 5:30. Teaching this class always gives me back my energy and my inspiration. Thank you to all of my students who come to train. I appreciate every one of you and love teaching this class! You make my day! On Wednesday nights I also go to train with Joseph Ojomoh from 7:30 to 9 pm. I do this because his class on Wednesday nights is a killer and it pushes me hard. Now, at 11:30 pm, it is time to work a little more, get a little further, make another dream come true. I am thankful I had parents who set a high standard for me and I respected them, although I didn’t always agree with their point of view. I have done my best to set a high standard for my children. We all decide in the end what we will do with the opportunities that have been given to us. I hope that at the end of my days, what will be remembered of me will be the difference that I made in the lives of the people around me. Hey Thor Skancke, shout out to you too. You have helped me with my training in so many positive ways and I have enjoyed seeing how you have grown over the years.