A few weeks ago I mentioned to one of the youth leaders in Guajoyo that I would love to see the theater and break dance groups perform, since I still only heard about how great they are. They took advantage of the visit of my friends Jesse and Natasha to put on a show that was beautiful and unforgettable. Both groups put on several numbers, and then they invited Jesse and Natasha to get up and sing a few songs (they have a band in Austin called Georgette). At the end, everybody sang me happy birthday and came up to give hugs to Jesse and Natasha to thank them for visiting, and to me for my birthday.
Only the apprentice break dancers were able to perform that night, because a few of the older ones were out of town that night, but we went the next day to the backyard where the group practices 4 days a week on a slab of concrete that these incredible youths spent months getting money together to be able to pour. They put on music, and then take turns doing moves, everyone from a 7 year old apprentice to the 25 year old twins who are sort of the leaders of the group. They are incredible, words cannot suffice how unbelievable it is to watch these young people dance with cows roaming around beside them and mountains and volcanoes in the background.
We were talking with a friend who lives in San Salvador about the violence that is such an issue currently, and what he thinks could possibly happen for El Salvador to overcome the culture of violence that is debilitating the country. He said he sees it as a poverty of the mind, that because of the history in El Salvador and the structures that define its culture, that people don’t know how to look towards the future and imagine things being better than they are. If you grow up in an impoverished, dangerous community, how do you imagine a life without violence and a life in which you don’t have to go to extreme measures for basic needs to be met?
Projects for youth aim to address just that. The projects themselves help the community, but more than that, they create opportunities for youths in the community to think beyond their current situation, to imagine a better life, to think about ways that they can be part of making change happen.
For the break dancers, they saw something that was inspiring to them, and they had the imagination and drive to believe they could learn to do it too. They taught themselves how to dance just by watching videos and listening to the music. I know I wrote about this before with the youth projects, but I think it is super important to emphasize that while money and projects are great for the opportunities and structure they help provide, what causes real poverty is hardly material. And that is important because the same can be true anywhere. In the United States we can poverty of the mind, a poverty that inhibits us from thinking beyond ourselves and from imagining a future that is different from what we currently know.