ArtVenture – Volunteering Abroad in the Arts

Going abroad, it seems that most artistic volunteers are looking for a new adventure, international experience and inspiration in other cultures. Volunteer opportunities promise to give life purpose by helping other people, but I was not looking for that. Of course, everybody desires to have a fulfilling life that has meaning. My artistic journey has often been linked to making a difference in others’ lives and I got recognition for that, but I never saw my work as serving them. It was more about discovering and challenging myself by doing mural art and about enjoying the strong connections with the locals.
 
About a year ago I met the staff of the General Hospital Roatán in Honduras to collaborate on the design for a mural by listening to their ideas and appreciating the insights the locals gave me into their lives. With my design I wanted to show a different view on the island’s culture by celebrating its vibrant Garifuna heritage. The historical cultural heritage is playing a very important role, because cultural identity enables people to know where they came from and leads the way where they are going to. Since the media is focusing more on the obstacles that the country has to face, I wanted to show the good things which should be preserved. I wanted to help the Islanders to discover something great about themselves.

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Developing the general idea for the 50-foot long mural, the hospital staff wanted to welcome their patients and visitors with a warm and friendly atmosphere. Since the pediatric clinic is greeting over 7,800 children and their families each year, the mural especially addresses its little visitors. The hospital staff wanted something uplifting on the wall - to show that even if it might seem scary to go to a hospital, doctors and nurses are there to help the kids to grow up healthy and happy. We chose daily activities of children on the island which are fun and allow them to learn. A boy is exploring the colorful coral reefs. They are one of the most amazing and ancient natural formations on our planet. Appreciating the marine wildlife, he is swimming with sea turtles and dolphins in the crystal clear water. The middle section of the mural is referring to the culture and traditions of the Garifuna community. In an island scenery locals perform the punta dance to the sound of the drums and the blowing of a conch shell. It shows the multicultural variety in the community and a cruise ship for the growing industry of tourism on the island. A loro parrot and a monkey lala lizard are discovering the many native medical plants of the island. In a traditional woven basket you find noni, plantain, papaya, coconut, chayote, pineapple, chili and lemon fruits as well as healing plants like achiote, gelsemium and guaiacum. A girl is looking around the corner, playing hide and seek with friends. Fresh laundry is blowing on a clothesline in the tropical breeze at a house in the background. To capture an authentic view of the island life, I took photos in the neighborhood of Coxen Hole and gathered information from the local community.

Painting the mural, Christoph and I were working with participants, ranging ages from primary school children to adults. Local artists joined us to share their talent and passion for art with the community. The exposure to hot weather and the busy main road were quite challenging for our team. For the first few days we had a tent, but after two cars crashed into it we were working in the hot sun again. We had to protect the children so that they could paint and didn’t get hit by the traffic. The project with over 40 participants had quite an impact on the local community. A lot of people were impressed that anyone and everyone could participate. There was no artistic experience required. I enjoyed connecting with locals and being immersed in their culture. Living across the street of the mural site and buying all our art supplies and groceries locally in Coxen Hole gave us the opportunity to experience a completely different lifestyle. I am always curious about the people’s stories. After a while friendly relationships with participants and passersby evolved to friendships. A local musician and craftsman gave us a basket with fruits and a sunhat he had woven. He entertained our participants by playing his flute. Neighbors brought us drinks and checked on us frequently. A family even invited us for dinner to their home and the hospital staff took us on a daytrip to show us the island. These memories we shared with the locals will be cherished and are beyond what words can describe. We had really awesome participants! Some of them had great potential, but were not aware of that. Their choices were conditioned by their life circumstances and economic situation. They never got the chance to experience their creativity. It was important to remind them of their potential and to make them believe in themselves. You can achieve almost anything if you believe in yourself. You just have to be passionate and put your heart and mind into it. We all have special talents and if you live your life exploring them that makes our world a richer place. 

To learn more about this mural please visit our project website here