I had an idea last week as I was sitting at the kitchen table with Lara and Luz. We were discussing a fellowship I applied to while in college, when it dawned on me that I could work on a similar project here with the women in the community. The long and short of my proposal for the fellowship was to spend a year working in the health systems of several different countries and write the testimonies of people that I met along the way. Well, I didn’t win the fellowship in the end, which was a good thing! BUT, I would love to write the stories, the testimonies of the women here. They are absolutely incredible – strong, wise, and know so much about life through the hardships they each have uniquely endured. It’s very inspiring to speak to these women – to these people, in general. I often leave conversations with tears in my eyes. The world can learn so much from these ladies – from these families.
Lara was a little skeptical of the idea, as it will require a ton of work. Many of the people here have not been educated past a second or third grade level. They are smart and wise but the idea of sitting down and writing a story is intimidating…probably as intimidating as translating an entire oral testimony from Spanish to English is for Lara or Luz. Anyway, Lara encouraged me to bring up the idea with Elena last Friday, when we were in Zone Z teaching. Elena and I sat down outside her little store on some stumps, and we started talking. She starting crying and told me for years she has wanted to write a book “about this place” – about the life, about the people, about the hardships. I said, “ok, we’re going to write that book.” I would be so honored to help her do it, after all, these stories are hers. This life is hers – I’m just so blessed to have entered it! She said that many of her neighbors feel the same way about recording a history (the Spanish word for “story” is “history”- how neat, right?). They want the world to know about this place – they want their own children to know about its history, about the sacrifices made for a better future. She got so excited and wrote down a list of themes for me as well as a huge list of people whom I should talk to in the community. Well, I left that meeting agreeing to come back with a list of questions and themes and more discussion on Monday (yesterday).
Lara and I thought the best way to start would be to write up some prompts to inspire stories – whether oral or written. I wrote about 30 questions to act as prompts (about personal experiences, education, hardships, joys, faith, etc) and Luz helped me translate those questions into Spanish. I then divided up the questions into sets of 6 (to hand out an entire page of prompts would be intimidating, I fear), made copies and took them up to Elena. She had told the Zone’s director that we were coming to speak about the project, as well as some of the other women in the zone. We all sat down around her little kitchen table (the whole time I was amazed anew that I was invited into a house like this) and Luz pointed at me to begin the discussion. SO I presented in Spanish the idea as best as I could, which was hard so Luz and Lara helped. Elena and the president were thrilled and happy to help and loved the questions. I tried to be clear that people didn’t have to write anything glamourous – we would help with the writing and the telling. We just want, as Luz said, “things in their heart and in their mind” that they want to share. The president invited us to come back to a zone meeting yesterday evening to present the idea. It ended up being a very good thing, as apparently some members of the zone have been skeptical about our presence, as an education project run by volunteers and friends seems too good to be true. These people are also used to being taken advantage of, which is sad. Apparently some years ago another non-profit or education group came into the area promising to help. The people ended up only collecting the information, I think in the forms of interviews and data, and promptly left. Empty promises – from “non-profits”, from government authorities, from the town – that’s the life here. It’s understandable that some members of the community would be skeptical of us – and of my idea to collect stories. I mean, how do they know I won’t run off with their stories and pictures and publish a book to profit only myself? This issue definitely came up in the meeting, but more and more of the community is beginning to trust us. It helps to have amazing people (like the entire board of the zone z) on our side. Poor Elena has been accused of “making money” off of this project – but she is so strong and really trusts us and believes that we can help. She does all she can to help us too, which is great. So at this zone meeting (which was outside in the cold in front of a house), Yrma and Luz and Lara explained to everyone again about Light and Leadership and why we’re here. We presented the “book” idea and passed out the prompts, so I’ll see what turns up by Friday. I honestly have no idea what to expect. I have an idea of what this could look like in print form – but it depends on the willingness of people to make their stories known, and it will require a lot of help from the volunteers here in Huaycan once I’m gone! Lara also has a film student/family friend coming in late July – so this could very well turn into a multi-media project. For now, we’ll just start with a story at a time.