If you’ve checked out our Instagram account recently, there’s no doubt you’ve noticed the rich content and beautiful photos documenting life here at Playa Viva and the surrounding communities.
The mastermind behind this work is Ilhui Hernandez, who not only manages our social media accounts but is also a biologist and educator passionate about youth development. For the past seven months, she has been working to bring art, music, self-reflection and environmental awareness to the children in Juluchuca during a time with very few in-person activities taking place.
Volunteering at Playa Viva
At Playa Viva, our volunteers have a wide array of specific skills and special areas of expertise. While we are completely open to volunteer ideas beyond our usual programs, we do have four core areas where volunteers can most quickly get involved:
Most volunteers find that there is a richness in the overlap of these areas and are encouraged to work in more than one space. For Ilhui, the overlap occurred as a storyteller and as an educator.
“After having been a few years outside of Mexico learning about different projects, I came back to my country with the objective of finding sustainable projects that had a positive social and environmental impact and were agents of change,” she said.
“Searching online I found Playa Viva, and I immediately felt that I had to learn from its regenerative model. To promote social networks, learning to tell the story of what you experience around you and share that message is a constant search for encouragement and amazement.
“The work in the community is the same — being able to develop a sense of wonder for the culture that is experienced day to day will give you the tools to be creative and get inspiration to give back in a positive way.”
The Waldorf Method: Head, Heart, Hands
Growing up in Tlaxcala, Mexico, Ilhui was raised in a family of artists who valued education and self-expression. As a child, Ilhui attended a Waldorf school that strived to develop students’ intellectual, artistic and practical skills in an integrated and holistic way.
“When I was a child, the Waldorf school changed my life,” she explained, “When I arrived in Juluchuca and met the children, I realized that there were educational deficiencies and that the coronavirus had impacted many children, leaving them without access to education. That’s when I decided to develop art workshops in which children are guided to develop cognitive skills, empathy, teamwork, critical thinking, confidence, cultural belonging and self-esteem — all while including a focus on the environment.”
Since October, Ilhui has led weekly workshops where the kids learn new painting techniques and receive singing lessons to practice harmony and intonation. Every workshop includes a focus on the natural world and how we as humans relate to and interact with nature. Whether it’s signing a song about the river flowing through town or painting landscapes of the ocean, the kids are developing artistic abilities that will help them develop as individuals and as a community.
Combining Music & Art for Unique Children’s Classes
With the Waldorf approach, the learning process is essentially threefold, engaging head, heart and hands—or thinking, feeling, and doing. The goal is to nurture and engage each child through a curriculum that integrates academics, arts, and practical skills. The first step toward generating change in children is to promote that they take ownership and be proud of their environment and culture on the way to developing security and self-esteem.
To do this in Juluchuca, Ilhui started mixed classes, half painting and half singing classes. One of their classes was spent making a song for Juluchuca in which teamwork is essential because each child contributes a line to complete the song. In it, they are equally aware of why they take care of their environment.
For example, in the song the children sing:
(Luisito) I live in Juluchuca, and I like the sea.
(Lucero) I like turtles. I like to swim.
(Lily) I swim with dolphins, and I will always be with the flowers.
The artistic development helps them to ask themselves who they are and to question themselves beyond ordinary thinking.
The kids learned different painting techniques in that same class alongside voice intonation and harmony with each stroke.
Another example of a class exercise is to draw images of how they perceive themselves, and on the back of the sheet the children wrote down the positive aspects they perceived from their peers.
“It’s fantastic to see kids who previously did not paint and were shy to sing now doing both,” gushed Ilhui. “Their artwork is now more harmonious, and they are aware of the importance of each individual to form a song, thus understanding the importance of teamwork. Seeing them avoid the words ‘I can’t draw’ or ‘I can’t sing’ feels like real progress.”
Moving Art & Music Lessons up the Watershed
While Juluchuca is the largest town nearest to Playa Viva, it is not the only community where we work. Moving up the watershed are the towns of Rancho Nuevo, La Ceiba and Las Placitas, each smaller in population than Juluchuca but still with a significant number of elementary school aged children eager to learn and have new experiences. Thanks to the work of Ilhui in Juluchuca, we are hoping to expand our music, art and environmental education program up the watershed to these other communities.
If you have experience in art or music education and are interested in volunteering with us, please reach out to Colleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does that sound like a dream but simply is not feasible for you? Consider supporting our work from afar via a tax-deductible donation, please consider a contribution via our fiscal sponsor, The Ocean Foundation. Donations will be used to purchase art supplies, musical instruments and to pay for transportation to these more remote communities.