When I went back to last year’s journal about how this story started, I am amazed at how much I learned. It was a year full of creative growth, loss, listening, learning, travel and connection. It was exactly one year ago that, based on a curiosity and intention to connect, my husband, son and I travelled to El Salvador to participate in a mission trip. I had no idea that going there would bring me to discover my creative purpose, that I would step off the plane and smell the earthy wet jungle, sweet warm honey suckle and green gardenia and learn how connection to a place and people might inspire a product that I was destined to make.
Before we left
For a couple of years, I had been asking the questions but not getting any clear answers. I wanted to go deeper into my work, giving you something from my heart that reinforced my company values of creativity, connection and craftsmanship. It was a time of inquiry - I threw myself into the Artist’s Way, a 12 week exploration by Julia Cameron that I feel is important for anyone trying to uncover their creative next steps. In May, still not sure, I took the online course Necessary Creatives, offered by my friend Emelia. Meet weekly online and discover what I HAD to create- I would die if I didn't get it out. It sounded as hard and scary as it was. Each week I did my eyebrows and poured my heart out to 7 strangers who were as open and earnest and vulnerable as I was, women who were doing the hard work to figure out the answer to the question, What was I put on this earth to make? This was as close as I got to defining it, from a prompt May 29th, 2017:
How that journal entry started to make sense, 3 months later
North of San Salvador, a small group of us showed up to a small refugee village with three medical professionals to give checkups and hand out antibiotics, toothbrushes and other supplies. I had a bag of gifts with me. LIttle stuff like pencils and stickers and candy. Small journals. After we handed them out, Hope and I played with the kids, while her mom, the pastor who has been giving her heart to this community for over 20 years, communicated with parents and the pastor of the church, talking about the needs of this small refugee community of 500. I didn’t know much spanish then, so i played for hours with the kids, playing mika (tag), futbol on the steep hill leading up to the church, drawing, and making cootie catchers with the 30 or so kids waiting with their parents for medical appointments. One of the girls, Dayana, a 12 year old, made a big impression on me, and she didn’t leave my side all day. We communicated in ways we could, playing for hours together, and we exchanged phone numbers before we left.
By the end of 1979 economic and political conditions were such that the country of El Salvador would see the coming decade consumed by Civil War. It was a conflict that lasted for 12 years and took the lives of an estimated 80,000 people. More than one million civilians were displaced. Due to forceful relocation or the destruction of their towns and villages over 550,000 people were forced into refugee camps. During the peace process, some people were lucky to receive plots of land. Of these camps scattered throughout the countryside, some have, more than 25 years later, become villages of their own. Guaycume is one of these villages, home to approximately 500 people.
The homes are very simple and small. Made of concrete floors, metal corrugated roofs not quite meeting the hand made stone walls, open air kitchens powered by propane, some with large concrete cisterns for their washing. None have running water, or toilets, and few have electricity. The only flushing toilet in the entire village of 500 is at the church, and while it is a modern toilet with a handle, it only flushes when it is filled with water from a bucket, as there is no water intake.
Back at the orphanage where we are staying that night, I reflect on the days activities, and I’m struck by how I feel, reminded of the freedom I had as a kid, running down the hill at my home on Flora Vista, playing without concern. And turn back pages in my journal back to the May 29th entry: Running down the hill full speed, water, flowers, safe and protected, collaboration. And I finally know what those words mean. This is what I’m supposed to do. Help this community. Do something so these kids can have a safe and protected home. Children that are living in a gang run community. Children without access to health care. Children getting ready for school without running water or bathrooms.
Our group is back right now in San Salvador, and I'm beyond sad I won't be able to see Dayana and her friends and neighbors. As much as I wanted to be there, I'm helping from Chicago, sharing their story and using my resources to put the finishing touches on the product inspired by this community. But before I tell you what it is, there's more to share. Tune in next week for the trip I was scared to make.