Nature Rules with the South Lakes Partner Group

“For us, life is an art form,” said Paola Tzep as she weaved a string to and fro across the wooden loom. “We include everything precious to us in our art; the sun, moon, sea, and animals. The traditional dresses that we wear are a representation of life and art as interpreted by Maya culture.”Tzep adorned one such Mayan dress as she wove. It flowed from head to foot with colors, the mouth of a serpent visible here, the feathers of a Quetzal flashing there.Her audience, a group of high school Spanish students from South Lakes Virginia, looked on in captivated silence.

Tzep’s weaving was far from finished, but already bore an unmistakable resemblance to the beautiful scarfs that her ancestors had worn for centuries. The weaving demonstration this day was part of an AMA one-week service learning trip during which volunteers build stoves and gain insights into the Maya culture and spiritual beliefs. The South Lakes volunteers had spent the previous three days building stoves in the indigenous community of Buena Vista, Sector Dos. Their next project would be participating in AMA’s Maya Art Project- an initiative that teaches indigenous children to be proud of their heritage, not ashamed.

Later that day, the South Lakes volunteers met with local school children of Buena Vista. The project theme was natural in essence, and the volunteers and children worked together to paint two trees, each complete with hanging fruit and handprints for leaves. The murals sparked a discussion of each child’s equality on earth and our symbiotic relationship with nature. Amongst the shouts of jubilation and painted faces that day wandered NYU New Paltz art professor Beth Toms. Toms was on a mission to form an AMA service learning trip for her university students in New York, and was inspired by the interaction between the South Lakes volunteers and local children.“Most people don’t realize that learning through art is a great way to keep your students concentrated and engaged,” she told me. “I love that AMA is using art to explore life’s deeper questions. What does it mean to be indigenous? How did each of us come to arrive at our position in life?”Toms plans to use art as a medium to help students with more difficult subjects such as math and science. She informed me that her service group will be working with students and teachers alike upon their arrival next year. “Art has a special ability to transcend language and cultural barriers,” she told me as we boarded the bus. “And it is our duty as educators and role models to employ the power of art to the benefit of children.”

Laura Catania