labour of love…
Hard to believe it has now been four years that I have been going to Havana to volunteer. Each year I have witnessed firsthand the progress made in the project but this year was something quite remarkable. The artists and new recruits from the neighbourhood have continued the work on “el tanque” and the results are spectacular.
This site has become a vibrant hub for all of the children in the neighbourhood along with their families, to attend artistic workshops of all sorts, special events, concerts, etc. The interior walls of the tank itself have become a gallery and backdrop for the artists and children to show their creations to the community but also to the “turistos”. Because of the recognition this project has received from the Cuban government, the major tour operators have now included the project as a must-see destination for visitors to Havana! This means that at least twice a week, a large tour bus rolls down the roads of this neighbourhood and unloads a bus full of eager tourists from all over the world, hoping to get a “real” Cuban experience and connect with locals outside the touristy streets of old Havana. Since I'm now being introduced as their “Canadian ambassador to the neighbourhood”, I had an opportunity to talk to a number of the tour groups that arrived while I was volunteering this year and I loved the chance to boast about this project from my own perspective. The best part for me is that I was able to speak to them in English which is always a welcome break from my usual “spanglish”. Although I have the best translators made available to me when I am giving workshops, no one is around 24/7 to translate, so language is still a huge issue. I am fully able to get by while I am there however I absolutely long to get to know people in much more depth than I am able to at present. Each year we all vow on both sides to learn each other’s language more before our next encounter but it is difficult for us all to find the time.
This year’s workshops were unique and well- received. I conducted workshops for the children, the artists, and this year I finally had the delightful opportunity to work with a group of grandmothers whom I had heard about in the past but never worked with personally. They are a small but active group who get together bi weekly to make dolls and objects by sewing both on machine and by hand. The grandmothers made goddess doll necklaces with beautiful fabrics, colourful threads and beads.
I gave the artists the printmaking workshop they had asked for last year, and finally, the children and I worked on a collaborative installation using screening material, beads and wire which now hangs prominently in the courtyard of “el tanque”. As always I am incredibly grateful and happy to say that all of the materials for the workshops were brought with me from Canada with plenty of extra to leave behind, but the biggest “moment” of the week was when I laid out about 20 pairs of reading glasses on the table at the grandmothers’ workshop!! Those who needed them were absolutely thrilled and any leftovers were scooped up by some of the aging artists who were so grateful that I realized again how something so small can mean so much to these people.