By Jess Ortaleza, professional dancer and choreographer
In July of 2018, I travelled to El Salvador with Kindred Culture, a group of dancers I am privileged to call friends. We were there to learn about the It Takes A World program with World Vision, which has seen students, families, communities and leaders come together to advocate for a bright El Salvador, free of all kinds of violence against people, especially children.
It was the most eye-opening, inspiring, and fulfilling nine days of my life. There is so much beauty, resilience, persistence and love in the children I met that the world needs to understand, witness and experience.
As a witness to that love, I’d like to share my trip diary with you. Reading back the thoughts and feelings that I captured in the moment still inspires me to continue being an advocate of change. I hope it inspires you too!
EL SALVADOR DAY TWO (07/23/18):
On our first full day in El Salvador, we visited a school in San Salvador called Centro Escolar Colonia Guayacañ.
Biggest challenge and the beauty in it: learning about the violence in El Salvador.
Our ride for the week! Photo: Jess Ortaleza
On our way to the school, World Vision staff spoke about the issues of violence in communities and its impact on El Salvador as a whole, as well as its impact on youth. When we were speaking to a grade 9 class, who had performed for us during the presentations, they were aware of the violence that takes place in their communities and were so knowledgeable of current issues.
The beauty in this however: the students’ resiliency and hope for change. One girl said, “It starts with us,” and there was unanimous agreement among them that was so powerful to witness and understand. They are examples of actors for change with their forward thinking towards safety and violence at a young age and the ways they try to overcome it - specifically though the arts.
EL SALVADOR DAY THREE (07/24/18)
: We visited a school in Soyapango where we were greeted with welcoming performances and presentations put on by the students.
One of the biggest challenges and the beauty in it: walking through the upper years’ art exhibition and learning about the difficulties youth encounter with access to recreation and the rights to them. The paintings can advocate for themselves.
One painting in particular that was created by a group of grade 12boys, saw children painted as black silhouettes, playing outside with a blue sky and trees in the background. When we asked them to describe their painting, the boys expressed that it originated from their thoughts on recreation, stating that sometimes playing outside isn’t a choice for El Salvadorian youth. This was when I realized the harsh realities of the violence in El Salvador, and how it has affected the safety of children outside of their homes or schools, as well as their perspectives on public space. Public areas such as parks, basketball courts, fields and so on, are used in a different context than what I have grown to understand them to be. They are different from how I have used them and continue to use them.
The three young men hold up their painting. Photo: Kim Rupnarain
This leaves me inspired and motivated to advocate for their community and ours back home - as a dance teacher, supporter of the arts, and as someone who enjoyed the liberty to recreation and public spaces without having to worry about safety, or that those spaces will be used by gangs. The El Salvadorian youth in this community have something special to offer here, and it’s being cultivated with love.
EL SALVADOR DAY SIX (07/27/18)
: It wasn’t about the steps, or tricks, or anything flashy for me. It was about the country we were in, the schools we visited, the friends who I shared stages and experiences with, the World Vision El Salvador staff, teachers, and students who I met and got to know. It was about the message we were sharing and who we were sharing it with. The impact I wanted to leave and the impact they left on me.
I’ve been dancing and performing for 10 years. In this moment, I can tell you that I have never before felt so present - at this school in Ciudad Barrios, performing for these students, teachers, staff, my friends and myself. I can tell you whose faces I saw, how big childrens’ smiles were, how Juan was sitting, where Alfonso was, and how at peace I felt.
Our art form is so special. When we use it in the right ways and when we’re genuinely present, it’s so fulfilling. Let your outlet bring people together and experience the magic of art and community truly colliding. I know I want to continue doing that.
Jess and Kindred Culture are part of a world-changing movement that knows no boundaries. Though they live a world apart from the youth they interacted with in El Salvador, they are determined to advocate for positive change through their art form. You can be a part of the movement too- sponsor a child in El Salvador.