GUEST POST: A DAY IN THE DUMP

It’s great to see alumni of The Cartwheel Initiative doing great things in communities around the world.  Here’s what Sean Murray has been up to in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro.  Keep up the good work Sean!

 

A Day In the Dump: By Sean Murray

When you go to Jardim Gramacho, or “The Garden” don’t plan on doing much else that day.

At one of the world’s largest landfills—think the landmass of 244 football fields just miles from the picturesque beaches of Rio de Janeiro—the stench clings to your skin, ruins your clothes and turns your stomach.

The carcasses of decaying pigs scatter the landscape along with every conceivable refuse human’s can create—from food scraps to household wares mixed with the jagged edges of bloodied medical waste.

It is here that children live and play.

In September I spent a day with the 300 children that call this “garden” home.

I was brought by Marcus and Mariana Liotta, just a regular couple with normal jobs who’ve made these kids their love-soaked mission. Each week they spend hours at this dump handing out supplies, praying for whoever asks and doing what would repulse many—physically embracing these tattered children.

Because of this, the kids flocked to us when we walked through the dump.

These kids were just like any other kids I’ve ever known—bright-eyed, attention-starved and lovable. At any moment I would have ten in tow as they grabbed hands, clung to legs or what seemed to be the trophy spot—perched on my shoulders.

The boys were proud, but tough. The girls were darlings with curly brown hair and blond tips bleached by the sun.

A thick green algae covered the community’s water source, yet the children played in it like a swimming hole.

Their toys, which could be a syringe or discharged IV bag some how still brought them joy. One kid innocently giggled and laughed as he tried to poke another with a diabetic lancet.

While we were treading carefully with boots, these kids fearlessly—or naively—scaled their trash mountains with bare feet.

I left the dump and was rendered speechless—the conflicting world of this hopeless place colliding with childhood innocence.

In June we are bringing 300 shoes to the children of Jardim Gramacho. To find out more about this project and to donate please visit our project page.


STOP MOTION ANIMATION WORKSHOP AT CMA

The Cartwheel team members who are traveling to Sri Lanka this summer
for our second field project met with the Children’s Museum of the
Arts (CMA) on February 25 for a workshop on stop-motion film making,
which will be part of our teaching curriculum this year.

Joe Vena, CMA’s Media Labs creative director, along with instructor
and visual artist Emily Collins, took us through an orientation of
what a typical classroom experience looks like. We viewed examples of
professional and student films and then, after instruction, went on to
create mini-films for ourselves. At the end of the workshop CMA
generously presented us with two pre-used Apple computers for our
summer workshop. Joe invited us back later in the month to observe a
week-long workshop on stop-motion.

The possibilities of this year’s project are so exciting and we look forward to our collaboration with the CMA!

To watch a clip of some of the first films we made, click here: http://vimeo.com/61006220

HURRICANE SANDY

By Ashok Sinha, Founder, Cartwheel Initiative

Last weekend, fellow Cartwheeler Geoff Green and I traveled to the community of Rockaway Beach to volunteer our efforts to a community affected immensely by Hurricane Sandy.  We both wanted to contribute our skills as photographers, and provided affected homeowners with photographs of their property damage for insurance claims.  After a whole day of meeting local residents, going into their homes and seeing the destruction firsthand, we were overwhelmed but happy that we could do our part, no matter how small.

As a New York-based organization, the Cartwheel Initiative has been closely following Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. We’ve been encouraged by the government’s response, and inspired by spontaneous efforts by individuals and ad hoc groups to assist those in need. But the road to recovery will be long and difficult.

FEMA has released some handy tips for helping children to physically and emotionally cope with this disaster. We encourage parents and educators to have a look.

http://blog.fema.gov/2012/11/keeping-children-safe-in-sandys-wake.html

Some more images by Geoff and I are below.

LETTER FROM JAPAN

By Billy Fox, Cartwheel Initiative Music Workshop Instructor

“Thanks to a grant from the Asian Cultural Council, I’m currently conducting research in rural Shimane Prefecture, Japan. My primary area of interest is provincial religious practices that survived Meiji-era reforms intended to establish centralized, State Shintoism.

I didn’t expect to find parallels to my experiences in Sri Lanka, but as I learn forms of music and dance that are new to me, and observe children practicing and performing, I’m continually reminded of the transformative power of the arts.  Intertwined with local religious traditions is a form of music and dance called kagura, which is performed for the entertainment of kami (often translated as “gods,” but perhaps “spirits of a place” is more accurate). Kagura normally takes place in shrines during seasonal matsuri (festivals). These are intense affairs, typically beginning about 10pm and continuing without break until sunrise. Not only are they marathon sessions, but dancers perform physically demanding routines while wearing ornate costumes and masks that are bulky and hot. More than once I’ve witnessed dancers faint the moment they step off stage.

Tanijyugo Kagura Shachu, the kagura group based in the village where I’m residing, graciously invited me to join them for rehearsals and performances. I’ve been learning Shioharai, a purification dance, and have performed it twice during matsuri. I’m also learning to play small handheld cymbals, which are simple looking but diabolically tricky to play correctly. I normally play these for about three or four hours during each matsuri, which is quite a test of endurance.

Although I’ve been mightily impressed with Tanijyugo Kagura Shachu’s talent and discipline, the thing that most impresses me is their dedication to nurturing the talents of children. Several boys under the age of 10 perform as dancers and musicians in a few pieces each night. I’ve been astonished at their skill and artistry, and it’s reassuring to know that the future of kagura is safe in their hands.

These experiences bring back thoughts of Sri Lanka—how poised and mature the children we worked with were despite suffering the horrors of a brutal and protracted war. I’m also reminded how artistic performance and creative expression are crucial tools for shaping character and achieving emotional balance.

As a neophyte, I’m humbled to perform with a top-notch kagura group. But I also see myself growing as an artist and person during these trials by fire. I’m experiencing the transformative power of art in myself, and I am now all the more devoted to the Cartwheel Initiative’s mission. I know that our workshops truly do have the power to change the lives of children who have survived conflict and disaster.”

For more on Billy’s experiences in Japan, visit: www.billykitsune.tumblr.com

NOTES TO SRI LANKAN STUDENTS FROM CARTWHEEL SUPPORTERS

We are not sure that any of you have ever mailed anything to Sri Lanka, but it tends to take along time. The lovely notes that you all wrote to our students are finally on their way, and, when they arrive, will be taken to the schools that each of the children attend. In the meantime, we thought that we would share some of them here for those students who have internet access and check the blog. We were really touched that over 70 notes were handwritten encouraging the kids to keep making artwork! Most of the students do read English and will be thrilled to have feedback on their work. For anyone who was not in attendance at the CMA exhibition that would like to write a note to a young artist, please, contact us at info@cartwheelinitiative.org. We are happy to make arrangements to get a photograph to you

HOW IT ALL BEGAN (PART 1) …

My first time in Sri Lanka was in October 2010.  I was part of a group of invited travel media professionals from the US on a tour of the country that was slowly emerging from its long hiatus after a bitter 30 year civil war and becoming the next must-see destination.  Everyone in the industry was writing about Sri Lanka’s Eden-like paradise.  The New York Times even named it #1 in its list of“The 31 Places To Go In 2010”.

Although I was aware of the country’s pristine beaches, I soon realized how little I knew of this island nation’s treasures. Within a short span of a few days, a kaleidoscope of experiences kept me mesmerized. Climbing the steps of an ancient rock fortress to see exquisite centuries’ old wall paintings, walking alongside elephants in a one-of-a-kind animal orphanage, drinking Pimm’s cocktail in a mahogany bar of a British colonial era tea estate and of course, marveling at the relentless waves of the Indian Ocean lashing against miles of sandy shoreline were only a few of them.  This trip, I thought, was going to end on the all-so-familiar high of visiting (and photographing) an amazing foreign land.

Then something unexpected happened.

Almost on a whim, I was added to a list of people who were granted special access to visit the northern part of the country that had been synonymous with the fight between government forces and the much feared L.T.T.E. (a militant separatist group seeking a homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority) for over 30 years.  Although the war had ended for about two years then, once we landed at a small airstrip (in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka), I realized I was in a different world.  What I saw on the ground (now I know), was a life-changing experience.

Stay tuned for the next post on my journey.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of our airlift to Jaffna.