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The challenge of coloring and drawing for Salvadoran rural women

For a lot of people, coloring and drawing can be a very natural, relaxing, and even therapeutic activity almost like any other, if we are familiar with these actions. Other people may feel insecure because they don’t know if they’re doing a good job or they consider it to be an activity only for children.

However, what does coloring and drawing specifically mean for the Women’s Empowerment Project entrepreneurs?

When we start with a new group of entrepreneurs, as we did this year, little by little we get to know their stories and personal experiences. In San Ramón, the majority of current participants have gone through high school or ninth grade.

The situation in Tepecoyo is different. Education and health centers are far apart and agriculture and animal breeding are still a source of income for families in the area. Therefore, few participants have finished high school, and several, although they attended some years of school, they stopped going for different reasons. Some also learned to read and write on their own but others cannot fully read and write.

Salvadoran women drawings

Despite these differences, there are common factors in their lives because they are all women. The evaluation of the condition of being a woman in El Salvador is almost always accompanied by the constant systematic and structural denial of rights related to basic needs such as access to education and a life free of violence, just to mention a couple. Likewise, gender roles have a lot to do. Women are expected to be caregivers and responsible for domestic tasks from an early age, with this situation being more critical in rural areas.

WEP participants have not been exempt from these expectations and in many cases, their educational processes were interrupted (and in some cases, they were not even started) or they had to go to school along with other responsibilities to be able to contribute financially to their families, take charge of the care of sisters and brothers, start a family on their own, among other experiences.

However, schools have not always been safe spaces for children either. Traditional educational strategies have failed and have not made it a priority to integrate children with learning difficulties or living in adverse circumstances. Being able to meet these needs also becomes problematic when we consider the work overload faced, even today, by teachers.

Thus, for several of the participants talking about the school (of those who could attend one) is also to remember episodes where it was difficult to fit in, especially if they were seen as if they were the ones with the problem if they did not understand something or could not do it like the rest.

With this context as part of their life stories, it is not surprising that when it is mentioned in a workshop that we are going to draw and color, they feel insecure. The most common comments for these activities were: “What can I draw in this part?”, “Nothing comes to mind”, “I don’t know how to draw / I’m not good at this” or “Sorry that you can hardly understand my drawing ”. They are valid concerns.

For almost all of them, it is the first time in years or in their lives that they have time and support to put their ideas, dreams, and concerns on paper that as people and, more importantly, as women they have but due to the same condition of being a woman their dreams are relegated or downplayed.

The staff’s main objective is to ensure that the activities can be enjoyed instead of generating frustration. With this in mind, when this situation was identified with one of the groups, strategies that could facilitate the process and be a safe activity for all were reviewed. A conclusion was reached, why not take a step back and take some time to experiment with the materials and the sensations first?

For these reasons, in Tepecoyo, one of the personal empowerment workshops was modified. Entrepreneurs used construction paper and pastel chalk instead of colors and white paper. This seems like a simple change but these materials are more related to art than school.

They started doing simple traces, just filling the page with color. They did similar activities for the first part of the workshop and actually enjoyed it. They were relaxed instead of being alert and disappointed because of what they consider “an ugly drawing”.

They were encouraged and enthusiastic to share their experiences in each of the activities, unlike previous workshops in which they felt self-conscious.

Something changed that they. That’s the reason why in the Women’s Empowerment Project it is of vital importance to recognize, adapt and open up the experiences of our participants through activities that allow them to express themselves and feel safe rather than develop content in a way that is alien to their realities. 

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