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Footprints Into the Future

Footprints from the Past, Footsteps into the Future –

And the Beat Goes On in Acahualinca

–        By Janet Foerster

On the edges of Lake Managua in Nicaragua, Barrio Acahualinca is named after a set of ancient footprints left thousands of years ago, preserved in ash from a volcanic eruption, and now conserved in a small museum run by a local family.  Discovered in 1874, these footprints are determined to be over 6,000 years old, making them the oldest human footprints on the continent of the Americas.

In recent decades, Acahualinca has become known less for its archaeological and cultural history, and more for its modern day conditions of poverty, as a blighted and densely populated community neighboring La Chureca, Nicaragua’s largest municipal garbage dump.

Until recently, La Chureca was home to over 3,000 men, women, and children who lived among mountains of trash, and, along with workers from Acahualinca and other nearby communities, had few options but to scavenge daily for bits of aluminum and glass to eek out a meager existence. While the dump now provides off-site housing and has greatly improved working conditions, residents of Acahualinca still make their living primarily from La Chureca’s low-paying recycling and garbage-sorting jobs, with many youth facing limited educational and professional opportunities that would enable them to break this cycle of poverty.

But today, a new set of footprints is re-positioning Acahualinca as a site of cultural and historical importance in the country of Nicaragua. As the oldest human footprints of the Americas echo inside a dirt-floored house largely forgotten by the world, the footsteps of change are being heard all around Acahualinca as children dance, sing, and act out stories as performers in the Youth Troupe for Community Transformation.

The Nicaragua Youth Troupe for Community Transformation is a new project of InnerCHANGE WORKS (ICW), a U.S.-based non-profit building strategic partnerships for community-based solutions in Nicaragua. The Nicaragua Youth Troupe for Community Transformation employs theater and the performing arts as tools for creating healthy and empowered communities, and for communicating important educational and social messages. The project is based on the belief that engaging today’s youth in this messaging, and in imagining solutions for a better future, is critical to achieving systemic and sustainable change.

The Acahualinca-based pilot of ICW’s Nicaragua Youth Troupe for Community Transformation involves a partnership with Universidad Americana (UAM), Universidad Catolica (UNICA), and Acahualinca’s local after-school media-arts enrichment program, Podcasts for Peace, www.podcastsforpeace.com.  Every Saturday from May through June 2013, a team of Nicaraguan teachers, University students, and project directors hosted a theater class for local children and young adults of Acahualinca. The children learned acting skills, such as stage presence, vocalization, and memorization, and together created costumes, sets, and rehearsed roles for the performance of a play, “Los Animales del Paradiso,” by José Luis Marqués Liedó.

In addition to key acting skills, the children learned self-confidence, self-discipline, responsibility, teamwork, and conflict and anger management—all essential life skills that created a “change from within” for each of the 14 participating children over our two-month workshop.  Achieving 100% attendance over nine Saturdays, the committed theater troupe of 14 boys and girls made dramatic strides in personal growth and communication skills.

On performance day, the primary school playground became our theater, with a full stage, curtain, and hand-painted scenery for the backdrop.  Nearly 75 people attended the performance, including family members of the actors and some special guests from Managua. The performance invitations were hand-made and distributed by the younger children at Podcasts for Peace. The play was introduced by the ICW President, Janet Foerster and Project Director, Javier Quinto Re, and the national anthem was sung to open the play. After the production, each child actor received a formal diploma of achievement, and each child in attendance received a thank-you gift. The event included a presentation by Potters for Peace on clean water and the Filtron water filter. A lottery ticket drawing was held for six family members in the audience to receive a water filter as a prize. Fruit punch and large frosted animal cookies, made by a nearby cooking school, were served at the end of the morning event.

The project was not only an educational opportunity for the children, but also provided economic development opportunity for small businesses within Acahualinca and nearby neighborhoods in Managua. The costumes were sewn by a local seamstress, Brenda Flores, and the fabric for the costumes was donated from our Managua partner, The Solid Rock Foundation, www.solidrockfoundation.org. Indira Baldelomar, D., the Executive Director of the foundation, is now setting up a women’s training workshop in the community at Podcasts for Peace to teach the skills of costume design and sewing, mask making, and jewelry making to local girls, women, and mothers.  The masks and original foam art creations were made by local artist, Bridget Canales, to bring to life to the panther, snake, crocodile, tiger, butterfly, rabbits, and other animal characters being performed by the children. The original music was composed and performed on keyboard by Engel Castro, a local resident of Acahaulinca who has been studying music at a nearby cultural center for the last several years on a scholarship basis. He is now building his small business around music instruction on keyboard, guitar, voice, and original compositions for productions such as our children’s play.

With the increased visibility provided by the project, the art and work of local residents such as Bridget, Brenda, and Engel will now have a wider audience for promotion and development.

The entire production, along with each Saturday workshop, was filmed by local youth and young adults, many who are involved in the media arts classes of Podcasts for Peace. The filming and documentary team is now working on creating a documentary of the project.  In addition to the documentary, our filming crew will be preparing training videos to enable our theater teaching team to train other communities to create their own Nicaragua Youth Troupe.  With these training videos, we will not only continue our work in Acahualinca but also extend our theater classes to other communities in Nicaragua.  We have been invited to bring our theater program to a number of rural communities including Villa El Carmen, El Crucero, Citilapa, El Transito, Limon 2 near San Juan del Sur, and Selva Negra and El Quetzal in Matagalpa.

From thousands of years ago to present time and into the future, feet and hands and hearts are connecting to create changes for a better world.  Through ICW’s Nicaragua Youth Troupe, the beat goes on with children and youth across Nicaragua, and as the project grows across cultural and geographic borders, these steps will be heard and shared with youth troupes around the world.

Join with us on Facebook through our Nicaragua Youth Troupe page

(www.facebook.com/NicaraguanYouthTroupeForCommunityTransformation)

and visit our ICW website (www.innerchangeworks.org)to keep up with our latest projects.

You can make a world of difference for these and other youth by becoming a partner through our sponsorship program or making a secure, charitable donation on our website at http://www.innerchangeworks.org/donations.html. If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor, please contact Janet Foerster, President of ICW, at  janetjfoerster@gmail.com 

Nicaragua Youth Troupe for Community Transformation – Acahualinca

InnerCHANGE WORKS in the US

Janet J. Foerster, President, Colorado Springs Office

Jennifer Foerster, Director of Development, San Francisco Office

Allyson Foerster, Director of Communications, San Francisco Office

Shannon Anderson, Project Associate Intern from UCCS, Colorado Springs, CO

David Besson, (recent graduate of the US Air Force Academy) Project Associate Intern from University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Podcasts for Peace in Nicaragua

Alison McCullough, Program Coordinator

Josue  Reyes, Computer and Digital Arts Teacher

Nicaragua Youth Troupe – Acahualinca Theater Team  in Nicaragua

Javier Quinto Re, Project Director

Mary Helen Espinosa, Director of International Programs, UAM

Maria Mercedes, Student, UNICA/ National Theater School “Pilar Aguirre”

Adela Davalos, Student, UAM

Tamarha Luvianka Espinoza, Student, UAM

Camilo Rivera, Student, St. Louis University, National Theater School “Pilar Aguirre”

Documentary Production in Nicaragua

Alvaro Cantillano Roiz (Producer, Screenwriter)

Tomas Arce Mariena (Screenwriter, Sound technician)

Nicolas Abaunza Motheau (Director of Photography)

Myrna Baez Sirias (Production Assistant)

Foorprints 2

One Comment

  1. J. Gieo Pensoneault

    September 11, 2013 at 11:04 am

    What a great project for the children to become involved with. This is a unique approach to community development that will continue to provide opportunities for the people living in Acahualinca.