The Artist of Esquipulas

2 07 2011

The generosity of the Nicaraguan people continues to astound me.

Part of Social Entrepreneur Corps’ mission is to determine the needs of villages and cities throughout the country. We are constantly looking for new products that are difficult to obtain (either because of their cost or because of distribution problems) that if provided, would immediately and positively impact the lives of Nicaraguans. This work entails traveling from house to house and talking to people in rural areas, in destitute barrios, and in city centers. We have conversations about their needs, their wants, and their issues.

Last Saturday, while an already established community partner was holding a campaign, myself and a fellow intern, Hannah Sieber, went out into the community of Esquipulas to talk to the people and conduct a needs analysis. We went to a few houses near the center of the city and questioned them about the nutrition practices in their community. Then, in order to assess a slightly different market, Hannah and I walked about half of a mile to houses that were clearly more deteriorated and streets that were in disrepair. We were interested in how these people perceived nutrition and if they would be interested in a new product that Soluciones Comunitarias might offer in the future, Nutributter.

The conversations generally followed the same trend. We found that people were interested in Nutributter and in keeping their children healthy, but they had only limited economic resources and couldn’t pay for a large supply of it. Not to be discouraged, Hannah and I walked from house to house in the hot morning sun. Eventually, we came upon a house that didn’t look any different from the rest in the neighborhood. We called inside to see if anyone was home and were invited past the door to sit.

As we asked the owner of the house (an older man with thick glasses) questions about nutrition in the community, he responded willingly and in detail. Our needs analysis went well. Then, Hannah asked the man about a very distinctive painting on the wall of his sitting room. Artwork in Nicaragua in usually limited to depictions of Jesus, and it was very unusual to see a striking blue, naked woman staring at us. The man responded that he was an artist. He led us further into his house.

Hannah and I looked around at the room this man had taken us to. We were both amazed. The best way to describe this room was a “study.”  Inside, there was a large wooden desk and leather bound books. And covering the walls was this man’s art. He had modern paintings, pottery, indigenous themed creations, and fabric pieces. It was clear this man was extremely talented. He modestly told us that he had taken up art after he injured his hand and was unable to perform his previous work.

The study was practically a museum. Each hand painted piece was more gorgeous than the next. Hannah and I could barely contain our shock at this man’s collection. Here, in the run down outskirts of Esquipulas, was an incredible art studio. It was nice enough that the man had enthusiastically answered our questions. It was even better that he let perfect strangers into his private study. And then to top it all off, he plucked painted wooden baskets off the shelf behind his desk and handed them to myself and Hannah.

We tried fervently to return the beautiful pieces of art, but he wouldn’t have it. He told us that we should keep them in order to remember him. A Nicaraguan, who we had known for less than 15 minutes, had just given us gringos unbelievable art from his private collection. Wow.

The people of Nicaraguan are incredibly welcoming. They rarely turn us away from their homes when we want to ask them questions and are very liberal with their time. This artist is further reaffirmation that amazing acts of kindness can happen in the most unlikely places.

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