Day Three: Casa de los Artes
I’m having trouble getting the stench of garbage out of my lungs and the sights of La Chureca out of my mind. It’s hard not to have your heart broken by places like that, and maybe mine should break a little bit.
But when despair hovered too close, I felt small arms thrown around my waist in joy. The children were wonderful. They greeted us not as strangers but as new friends. It was so clear that the children at the Los Quinchos center felt safe within its walls, even surrounded by 100 acres of garbage. Imagine how they could thrive if they didn't live in a landfill.
We saw for ourselves at the Los Quinchos project in San Marcos. It’s the next stage of the program, taking children from Managua away for the weekend to the farm and cultural center run by the organization in the hills 45 minutes outside the city. Here in the fresh mountain air, I could breathe, and the children can, too.
We stopped first at the music lessons. Six boys were learning to play marimba, a Nicaraguan xylophone. They performed a polka for us! Cesar was especially intense and looked the part of folk musician with his straw hat pulled down over the hood of his sweatshirt.
I love that, at Los Quinchos, music and art are central to the work they do with children. It’s so easy to focus on the material needs of these kids; those are enormous. But so is their need to be kids. Art and beauty should be a right, not a privilege, a sentiment fully embraced here.
At the Casa de los Artes, three 16-year-old boys are working quietly on their drawing skills in the small library. In Managua, these boys were street kids, addicted to sniffing glue (which at least took away their hunger pangs). They’ve worked with Los Quinchos for several years now, one of them since he was six. In the back courtyard, there’s a mural in progress on one wall: a gorgeous depiction of Frida Kahlo. Here I talk to Francisco, who’s been involved at Los Quinchos since he was 11; he’s now probably in his late 20s. He wants to practice his English, which is better than my Spanish is ever likely to be. He tells me he loves to paint, and hopes to do it in many places. That’s why he’s working on his English.
It’s amazing the connections you can make with people over a few understood words. To reach the farm where the boys live, we drove over dirt roads with potholes the size of small craters. Looking out the window at the lush jungle setting and nearly whacking my head at one bump, I called our driver, Rolando, Indiana Jones. He grinned.
We ended our day at San Marcos’s newest hot spot – Los Quinchos Pizza Parlor. Zelinda Roccia, founder of Los Quinchos, is from Italy, and she’s brought friends and volunteers over to train some older girls and boys in pizza-making. The kids learn a trade, Los Quinchos makes a bit of money, and the town gets a new restaurant. If you ever get to visit, I recommend the pepperoni, with a Coca-Cola Light.
Kimberly Burge is Bread for the World's senior writer/editor.
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