Art Corps’, Alayna Wool, Empowers Women Through Art
Except for an early morning routine that consists of awakening to crowing roosters, making coffee, and preparing for the 30-minute bike ride to the nearest community, no single day is ever the same for Alayna.
Philadelphia native and San Juan, Puerto Rico adoptee, Alayna Wool, is one of four ArtCorps artists to return for a second year in 2009. A 2005 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art with a major in general sculptural studies and a minor in photography, Alayna began working with ArtCorps partner World Neighbors Guatemala in 2008.
This January, Alayna returned to the small town of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz "a four and a half-hour drive via chicken bus from Guatemala City" to facilitate a series of women's empowerment workshops that can be easily replicated by young women leaders in their communities.
"Teaching is easy, the problem is getting the community members to act in a way that reflects their new knowledge on topics like hygiene and nutrition," explains Alayna. "It is like the millions of people that know McDonald's is unhealthy, yet still eat it daily. How can you change consciousness? That is the battle I face..."
Together with FUNDENOR staff members, Alayna co-facilitates a group of 12 young women scholarship recipients ranging in age from 12 to 22 and representing five rural communities. The workshops have been developed by Alayna and FUNDENOR facilitators to empower these young leaders, who in turn teach the same life-enhancing skills to groups (ranging in size from three to 20 participants) within their own communities.
The young women's group meets monthly at Qachuu Aloom office in Rabinal to discuss issues that affect the region's women and girls. The range of topics includes women's health, nutrition, gardening and environmental conservation.
The young women gather in a circle, waiting and wondering what FUNDENOR has called them together to do. Using a cartoon storyboard approach, the ArtCorps artist is able to introduce what might otherwise be a challenging and sensitive topic: sexual and reproductive health. Following a brief explanation, Alayna guides the young women in the creative task of producing poster-sized books that impart lessons about family planning and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases through a simple story. The women present their storyboards to each other and then use them as a tool for acting out the stories in the groups they lead in their communities. Subsequent requests from the young women and community members for more information about how to obtain and effectively use contraceptives signal an important change in attitude.
Hygiene is another topic that Alayna broaches through art. After discussing the crucial elements of cleanliness and sanitation, the women divide into three groups and create drawings that depict both the current hygienic state of their communities and the ideal. Each of the six drawings is then cut into six different squares, which are randomly taped onto cubes. The women are tasked with putting the puzzle together from these cubes, as the basis for a conversation about a healthier future.
Rabinal is home to a strong indigenous culture known for its festive customs. Many women create their own hand-woven skirts and shirts called corte and gipil; an abundance of intricate artisan crafts made from gourds and clay fill the markets. The area is known for its delicious, sweet oranges, and the town's annual January festival is famous for its native dances, including the "Rabinal Achi".
In contrast to Rabinal's colorful cultural traditions, the region is scarred by the horrors of Guatemala's civil war, which lasted from 1960-1996 and left behind many widows. In just one day, over 250 people, mostly women and children, and almost exclusively ethnic Achi Maya were abused and killed in the 1982 Plan de Sanchez Massacre in the Rabinal village for which it is named.
In addition to these war scars, the Rabinal population struggles to meet its basic needs. Clean water is scarce and turns brown during the rainy season; many people live far from health clinics; and the lack of chimney ventilation causes smoke inhalation and other respiratory problems.
While the education of Rabinal women and their communities is Alayn's primary focus, her work has a multiplier effect. The FUNDENOR staff is currently in the process of being trained by Alayna to implement the ArtCorps Art for Social Action methodology in their workshops and regular work activities. Alayna also supports the planning and facilitation of the annual regional gathering for the 33 young women scholars from Rabinal and Alta Verapaz.
What Alayna finds most satisfying is the confidence that she has seen emerge in the young women: "They are becoming women who will not only lead their communities, but will continue to give back to their communities and share their knowledge."
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