The Rewards of Guanajuato

Today is Liz’s birthday. We spent the morning wandering around the city of Guanajuato, relaxing, chatting and eating a small lunch with some rather dodgy wine. While we ate, a kid of eight or nine years old came over to us. His clothes were hanging off him, he was covered in dust and he was hungry. We gave him a bread roll with some butter on it and he wandered off satisfied in some small way. It made us think for a moment about why we’ve been in Guanajuato for over three weeks now and our conversation turned to the workshop that Liz would be doing later in the day (and is now at while I write this).

CameraWe’re working with Katie, who is the Director of a not-for-profit organisation in Guanajuato that works with people around the city to raise awareness of issues, develop positive relationships and generally help those people who are less fortunate than most. With Katie, we’re working with two groups of young people who’ve had a raw deal (and still are having a raw deal). Liz is now in La Venada, a poor district of the city which suffers from the ravages of poverty. She’s there teaching photography and developing a ‘photo-map’ and 3-D map of the area with both children and adults to explore some of the plusses and minuses of the place. In many ways there’s a strong community in La Venada but it’s a largely forgotten and misunderstood area of Guanajuato. A photo-map is a simple thing but it helps people to explore what they like, don’t like, want to change and develop ideas. Even in poor communities people have the right to aspirations and new skills. Liz is enjoying her visits to La Venada and we inevitable spend a lot of time talking about our two projects. Liz has La Venada, I have Buen Pastor Home for Girls.Lav1

IMG_BPastorsmall1I’m working (and laughing) with a group of young girls who during the week live in a church run home for girls, but each weekend have to return to their real homes to face poverty and sometimes abuse ranging from minor stuff to extremely major stuff. I’m working with the girls (and one lad) to teach them how to use photography to document and explore their lives at the home with the nuns, or Madres who look after them. They’ve also chosen to use photography and interviews to explore the world of street dogs and the people who do what they can to care for them.
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Every single child on the project has asked to take part and they come along to the workshops religiously. (Excuse the pun – entirely intended). They listen, they enjoy themselves and they concentrate on the projects in hand. They are dedicated to photography and to each other. Not one of them complains about their situation, or shows any sign of anger (to us) or goes around with a chip on their shoulders. These are children who deserve our time and are children who I’ve come to respect for their strength of character. I’ve also come to admire the Madres who look after them.
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There are few people who are more cynical about religion than me. (Religion as opposed to faith that is.) I find it too difficult to believe in a Divine power that seemingly sits back and allows so many atrocities of mankind to take place. No- religion is not for me thank you very much. However, just as man commits atrocities, man is also capable of incredible acts of kindness. I have only admiration and deep respect for nuns who look after the children at Buen Pastor. I’ve heard that God is all about love. I have no idea if that is true any more than I know if God exists at all, but what I do know is that the place in which I am working is overflowing with love. Love with a capital ‘L’. I have never heard a raised voice; I only hear laughter and reason bouncing around the thick walls of the old Colonial building. There’s calmness about the place. The streets of Guanajuato rattle with the sounds of barking dogs, busy traffic and difficult lives. When I step through the tall narrow double doors where these girls live and I hear the latch close behind me, calmness descends in a veil of tranquility. It is literally a safe haven from the outside world. I walk along open corridors to be greeted by the big, white smiles of the girls. I walk around a corner and find a Madre sitting on a stool as she combs the hair of a little girl and they both look up and say hello warmly. A couple of other girls run past and shout “pizza” at me. An in-joke from when I ordered one-too-many pizzas with them while out photographing the city with them. Then I see the psychologist and I’m reminded of what this place really is. It’s a happy place for girls with deep, deep scars. It’s a privilege to be trusted by them and I’ve become very fond of them. Both the girls and the Madres alike.
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For anyone who travels and would like to really get under the skin of a place while also doing something for someone else, take a look at www.dogoodasyougo.org

IMG_BPastorsmall5In the mid-sixteenth century, John Bradford was reputed to have uttered the words “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” His words were later popularised as “There but for the grace of God go I.” Well, maybe there’s some truth in that.

In the meantime, we’re also trying to prepare for the 2012 End of the World Maya Rally. We’re supposed to be taking part in the challenge-event from the 12th to the 21st December but things hang in the balance for us. Our four-wheel-drive Lada Niva only has two wheels at the moment and its questionable that we’ll get the parts in time to fix it before the start of the rally. However, we have good friends in Guanajuato and should we miss the rally, we’ll laugh in the face of adversity with Katie (aka Clancy), her boyfriend – Alex (aka The Doctor (‘cos he is)), and Beth (aka – Sweet Cheeks).
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Our good friend from England – Andy Patrick also arrives today or tomorrow to join us here and on the rally, should we make it. The Niva may not be well but things could be a lot worse.

Happy Birthday Liz. I hope you like the new wheel bearings and other spare parts that I got you!

Next time:
Elvis is in the building,
More doing good stuff; and,
The 2012 Maya Rally starts to warm up.