Last year Stan Parker, a journalist, Courtney Branch, an artist, and I made our way down to the tiny town of Vicente Guerrero of Baja California, Mexico to add color and excitement to the courtyard of Oasis after school program. Our friend and fellow Pepperdine graduate Karly Dallas has been devoting her life to this community for the past three years. Her responsibility is vast: she fundraises every penny of what fuels the school, dictates how the finances are used, oversees six lunch room chefs, and teaches 40 kids several days a week. And the program is about to double in size. As Courtney and I painted a 3,500 square foot mural of a desert oasis full of elephants and lions, Stan documented the program through film, furthering their outreach and garnering attention.
Karly has made Vicente Guerrero her home for two and a half years, and in that time has seen American volunteers come and go, countless missionary parties land for a week and then take off, and through it all, an after-school program blossom and a town grow. Her secret to success: keep grounded, learn about the people, and cater to their needs, not what you think they need. One of Vicente Guerrero’s hardest struggles is keeping kids in school and out of trouble. The need for education becomes obsolete when faced with a family of six living in a shed only large enough for a dog. Kids are enlisted to care for their younger siblings while parents are working, or sent off into the strawberry fields to pick the produce alongside their fathers. School is a luxury. The graduation rate is dismal. Girls become pregnant while still young. The fathers of their babies are involved in adolescent gangs and drinking, and are often abusive to the mothers. A perpetual and stubborn cycle ensues.
Art has transformative power in any location and situation, but Vicente Guerrero holds a special place in our hearts, and has called us back to dedicate time and energy to the residents. This time, our team will be revisiting Oasis and the precious children there, but also expanding our outreach to New Beginnings Women’s Association. This Vicente Guerrero rehabilitation center welcomes in women with abusive or troublesome pasts to a safe haven where they are provided food, clothing, and place to call home. They are taught literacy, life skills, receive training for jobs, and are helped in furthering their education so they can become productive and valued members of society. We plan to build relationships with the women, foster an excitement about art and creativity, and share their stories through murals throughout the center, portraiture, and short videos. We want every woman at the center to know that her story matters and has the potential to serve as inspiration for countless women around the world.
We will return to the States having teamed up with similar organizations in Los Angeles, North Carolina, and Montana to share the stories of the women through portraits and collaborative art creation with American women dealing with similar issues. Our hope is to stimulate a dialogue and extend over cultural borders utilizing art and creativity to foster healing. These goals reflect our experiences from our prior trip. We returned last year harboring a small notion of pride: the mural we created was stunning, Stan had captured the essence of the people in film, and we were welcomed back anytime with open, eager arms. Our minds had whirled with ideas and hope for improvement in the town, but also in our own creative careers. We returned to California with several focal points for our work: simplicity, small but intentional impact, strong relationships, and purpose. This year’s trip will spark all of these into action.
Last year, with every awkward stare we received from town folk, we gained further respect with the work we did and eventually became known as the Oasis artists. We were acknowledged not as outsiders, but as components of their community. We look forward to January 12th, the take-off day when the second adventure begins, and the SUV bumping along the dirt roads down the coast will once again be brimming with paint cans, brushes, sketchbooks, aerosol cans, film gear, and the agitated energy of four art activists on a mission.
Lindsay Carron is an art activist living in Los Angeles. Her work focuses on human and animal rights issues and stimulates dialogue and learning.