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.”

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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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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.

MY SIX ESSENTIAL TRAVELING COMPANIONS

What are my six essential traveling companions (none of them human), especially when sitting in places like the San Salvador Mon Senor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport for seven long hours?

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  1. Indiana Jones style hat and an Arabian style scarf, because you never know when creepy things might fall on your head or down your neck, not necessarily in the airport, but once you reach the jungle or the desert, or wherever, it’s a given.
  2. Leather backpack, for my computer, etc. Mine is a Frye, since 1863, and I can tell you, it will last long past me. I like to think that one of my children will inherit it, the one who takes up traveling, like me.
  3. A cozy mystery. If I hadn’t already read every single Agatha Christie book, more than once, it would be one of hers. Traveling to Central America, I had a Donna Leon mystery. I am enamored with Barbara Nadel and waiting expectantly for the next one in her Inspector Ikmen series. Before I went to Istanbul in the summer of 2014, I read every single one in the series that had so far been published.
  4. Sturdy shoulder bag. I mean, look, you have to have a sturdy shoulder bag that fits with the hat and the backpack. Mine is a Tumi and just like the backpack and the hat, it will last forever. When traveling, buy the essentials only once, let them get battered and gain their own personalities, they will be your friends through many lonely hours in out-of-the-way places.
  5. Electronics. This goes without saying. Computer, phone, tablet. I make sure to have downloaded music and movies because where I am going, Internet might be an on and off thing. Put on my earphones, close my eyes, and float away.
  6. A sentimental diversion, something that immediately takes you back to the people you love. In my case, it happens to be this little Godzilla that reminds me of my kids and my grandkids. I’ve decided to start taking photos of him in the places I go, like that travel gnome? Yeah, well, my Godzilla rocks that gnome.

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And that’s my six essentials. The simple life, one small suitcase, and my essential traveling companions and I am ready for anything!

 

MY WORLD PROJECT IN THE SAHARA

I spent almost the entire month of December in a village called Tissardmine, in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. My mission was to complete the final draft of ‘Book of Angels,’ #2 in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, and work on the MY WORLD PROJECT with kids in the village. Both endeavors were a great success. Most importantly, the experience of working with these kids enriched my life in ways that cannot be measured in words on this page. Instead of focusing simply on myself and what I could accomplish through my writing, I was giving children who otherwise had been completely isolated an opportunity to write their words and know that what mattered the most to them–peace and the environment–would be shared across the globe.

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The Sahara is an inspiring place in which to create–for one thing, internet is illusive so you really are completely disconnected and this affords a clear mind and a unique perspective, especially when weeks are spent like this, not simply days.

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Kids at the school come from three different villages. They travel up to six miles one way, six days a week, to reach the one-room building that sits on a hill overlooking the village. Lunch is provided by the school, it is the same every day, and everyone enjoys it and no one says, hey, how about something different for once.

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When I explained to the two teachers, Habib and Hafid, what I hoped to do, they were completely onboard and welcomed me warmly. They were two of the most dedicated and caring teachers I have ever met.

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The kids were happy, polite and a joy to be around. With the help of a wonderful young woman artist from Canada named Julie who spoke fluent French (mine was quite rusty), I was able to share the art from the kids we had worked with on the Hoppa Reservation in Northern California and Amazonian Ecuador.

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Above Moretecocha kids in Amazonian Ecuador. They most loved nature, but were worried that their world was being destroyed by the oil companies. And below, the art of the Hoopa kids. They, also loved their natural world. But every single child, when asked about challenges, responded with drugs, alcohol and violence.

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In contrast, the kids in Tissardmine couldn’t really think of anything negative about their world. They drew positive pictures and shared the words that meant the most to them. Overall, the most popular word was Salam…Peace.

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Together, we created a large painting, which I will be sharing with the Hoopa children at the end of March.

My World Project Key of Mystery

In the late afternoons, I would bring out some drums and the children would run out of their homes to greet me. We would climb to the top of a dune and play the drums and draw until sunset. It is bitterly cold in the desert once the sun goes down and there is no heating and no electricity. The village is quickly quiet. The children told me that they dream of finding meteorites and dinosaur bones. There are many such fossils, but the meteorites are valuable. Every child in every country has a dream. It would be nice if, as they grew older, the dreams stayed pure and sweet and did not become nightmares.

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Next stop, after revisiting the Hoopa, will be Syrian refugee children in Slovenia. And children in schools in Los Angeles. What are their dreams? What are their fears? In Tissardmine, and the other Saharan villages, a gunman coming in and shooting up the school is an unknown. Drugs, gangs, these do not exist. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other challenges. But perhaps we can learn from our children across the globe, that, really, we are all the same. We all have dreams that we do not want to turn into nightmares. Special thanks to Leia Marasovich, Jackie Lowe, Christina West and Julie Catherine for their dedication in conducting the MY WOLD PROJECT.

In closing, here is the beautiful letter to the world from Habib and Hafid:

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AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

MY WORLD IN THE SAHARA

I spent the month of December in village Tissardmine, in the Sahara Desert, Morocco. I was there on a mission, to work on the last draft of Book of Angels, #2 in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, and to conduct the MY WORLD PROJECT with kids in the village.

First, I had to figure out how to work with the kids. I started by going out in the afternoons, drumming with them on the dunes, making friends–they were so delightful, so excited and happy. I visited their one-room school up on a hill, overlooking the village and spoke with the two teachers, Hafid and Habib, who I found to be dedicated and supportive,. They invited me to do the project at the school. I discovered that the kids in the school come from three different villages and travel up to 6 miles one way, six mornings a week. The school provides them with lunch  before they journey home.

I started by sharing the art and writing of the kids we had worked with on the Hoopa Reservation in Northern California and in Amazonian Ecuador. I asked the Tissardmine kids, if there was one word they could share with the kids around the world, what would it be? Overwhelmingly, that word was Salam, or Peace. This is the word that everyone in Islamic countries uses to greet each other. They made a booklet, each child drawing a word that was important to them.

 

 

Here are some of the awesome kids in Village Tissardmine, in collaboration with Café Tissardmine, an artists residency program, I brought this project to the kids in the school. They are sharing what is most important about their world with kids in the Hoopa Tribe in Northern California, the Moretecocha children in Ecuador and kids imn Los Angeles. Their word they want to share is Salam, which means Peace. This is a good word for this Holiday Season and for always. In the Islamic countries this is the word people always greet one another with and I can’t think of a better way to say hello!